Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Much posturing, but little content, on how AUKUS, and the nuclear submarines, will work

what does not make sense is a decision which, in essence, announces you are going to have a glorified interdepartmental committee look at whether it will actually work (the only missing ingredient from the Prime Minister’s usual modus operandi is mention of his department head Phil Gaetjens).

There are no details on just how this new alliance will work, but vast quantities of posturing, which is presumably designed to show the Chinese that we mean business.

However, a government desperate to avoid a referendum on pandemic management — and now threatened by challenges from independent candidates in blue-ribbon seats such as Kooyong and Wentworth over its inaction on climate change —— desperately needs something else to talk about.

Scott Morrison’s AUKUS submarine deal and ‘BFF theatre’ leaves Australia in a tricky spot,  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-25/missing-details-on-australia-uk-us-submarine-deal/1004905647.30 / By Laura Tingle Sat 25 Sep 2021   The federal Coalition have always been keen advocates of contracting things out.

It started in the Howard years, when the delivery of services was contracted out and, over the intervening years, spread to contracting out policy advice — from the public service to richly rewarded consultants who sometimes produce little more than vacuous PowerPoint presentations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the current government is willing to contract out responsibility for things such as quarantine, vaccines and vaccine-mandating rules to the states.

But who would ever have thought it would contract out our national security and defence strategy?

For, in a nutshell, that’s what has happened in the past week with the decision to embrace a new alliance with our old allies and “forever” friends, based on the decision to buy an (unspecified) nuclear submarine that will not go into service until 2040.

Capability gap

There is a vast amount to unpack in this decision, even amid a sense that, by the end of the week, the political caravan was moving on to climate change.

It is hard to think of a decision by Australia with such profound implications for our future that has been so redolent of symbolism, yet so completely lacking in substance.

A decision driven so much by valid concerns about defence capability, that leaves us so exposed as to not having any of that capability for the next 20 years — the time period when the power balance in our region is going to be decided.

In short, a massive strategic step-up announced to cover a massive capability gap.

The majority view in the political and strategic establishment in Australia says the strategic position has fundamentally shifted in the past five years and continues to rapidly evolve.

China’s capacity to scan the oceans, as well as both its military firepower and assertiveness, have all grown exponentially.

And most think that makes nuclear submarines, rather than conventionally powered ones, a rational decision.

It might also make sense to ramp-up your armaments — such as long-range Tomahawk Cruise Missiles — and talk of more US troops, planes and ships, and even British submarines, being based in Australia.

Looking to the US

However, what does not make sense is a decision which, in essence, announces you are going to have a glorified interdepartmental committee look at whether it will actually work (the only missing ingredient from the Prime Minister’s usual modus operandi is mention of his department head Phil Gaetjens).

There are no details on just how this new alliance will work, but vast quantities of posturing, which is presumably designed to show the Chinese that we mean business.

Things such as getting all our spooks to go to Washington this week.

Things such as emphasising the so-called Quad arrangement between the US, Australia, India and Japan, which makes it look like we have even more friends on our side.

Yet, when the Prime Minister holds a press conference in Washington DC ahead of the Quad meetings, what do you say it is about? Vaccines and energy policy.

No mention of China or strategic alliances here. And that sort of makes sense, given the constraints on Japanese military action, and that India has a very different take on Chinese issues to the Americans.

The implication in all this announcing is that the Americans are now committing to the region. That we can rely on Dad to sort out China for us.

All the talk of the new Cold War in the East raises obvious comparisons with the one in the West that occurred last century — and possibly even the crucial role the US played in Europe at that time.

Enduring questions

However, even among the more hawkish analysts, there is a gnawing question of how we (Australia) actually hold the feet of the Americans — and the British with their splendid history of reliable commitment to Asia and Australia in the 20th century — to the fire if things do indeed escalate with China.

And how do we now, on a day-to-day basis, differentiate ourselves from the US position on China when we have made so much not just of our operational dependence, but also of the whole “BFF theatre”?

This goes to questions of sovereign capability. That is, our capacity to run our own strategic policy, both in an operational sense and a diplomatic one.

Labor has backed the government’s decision on nuclear submarines with three caveats.

However, its foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, asked some valid questions on the point of sovereign capability in a speech on Thursday, such as: “How will we control the use of technology and capability that is not ours?”

“With the prospect of a higher level of technological dependence on the US, how does the Morrison-Joyce government assure Australians that we can act alone when need be; that we have the autonomy to defend ourselves, however and whenever we need to,” she said.

The alacrity and misrepresentation of Wong’s remarks by the Prime Minister in response only added to the suspicion that there is just a tad too much politics in the way this momentous dogleg in the country’s strategic position has been undertaken.
“Well, I think Australians would be puzzled as to why there can be bipartisan support for this initiative in the United States and within days, within days, the Labor Party seems to be having an each-way bet,” he said.

You can see why Labor has chosen to just stay as far away from this issue as it can, within the constraints of a responsibility to set out some reasonable questions about strategy, rather than nuclear submarines per se.

It is determined not to get wedged as it once was on Tampa.

The fallout

Labor’s determination not to get wedged may have taken away some of the political dividends of this huge shift, as has the debacle over informing the French of the decision, which has embarrassed not just Australia but the US.

And, of course, the Prime Minister’s ever-changing descriptions of how he had informed France’s Emmanuel Macron that he was tearing up a multi-billion dollar contract has been, well, just embarrassing.

“What I said was, is that I made direct contact with him,” he said in Washington on Thursday.

Having been unable to get Macron on the phone the night before the announcement, he said he “directly messaged him Australia’s decision in a personal correspondence”. 

Australia dumped France, it appears, in a text message: A modus operandi more usually associated with 14-year-olds.

The nuclear subs decision may have all sorts of ramifications, from halting negotiations on a European Free Trade Agreement to entertaining prospects for cooperation between the US and China on climate change.

Its complexities are not best teased out in the lead-up to an election.

However, a government desperate to avoid a referendum on pandemic management — and now threatened by challenges from independent candidates in blue-ribbon seats such as Kooyong and Wentworth over its inaction on climate change — desperately needs something else to talk about.

September 27, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics, politics international, weapons and war

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