Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Defence Minister Richard Marles is confident about AUKUS, nuclear submarines, and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Not everyone is so sure.

Australian National University emeritus professor of strategic studies Hugh White argues there are risks in making the AUKUS agreement at all.

In his new Quarterly Essay, Sleepwalk to War – Australia’s Unthinking Alliance with America, White warns it takes the alliance too far in the strategic contest with China.

Richard Marles on AUKUS nuclear safeguards , The Saturday Paper, By Karen Middleton. 23 Jul 22

” …………………………… “Non-proliferation was a condition of our support for AUKUS from the outset, when we were in opposition,” Marles says in an interview with The Saturday Paper, on his return from Washington, DC, this week.

While there, he discussed progress on the trilateral nuclear technology transfer agreement between Australia, Britain and the United States……..

The first non-nuclear country to seek nuclear-powered submarines, Australia will be required to sign a special International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement. The document is likely to run to hundreds of pages, specifying in minute detail how the material will be handled – accounting for every gram – and with the tightest restrictions on its use. Amid some concern among international law specialists about exploiting existing treaty language around “peaceful use”, the wording will be designed to leave no wiggle room for more malign countries wanting to follow suit.

The greatest potential legal obstacles lie in the fact that the nuclear material is for use on a military platform. Australia’s lack of a nuclear power industry could be a reassurance, reducing the risk. Every aspect of the use and management of the enriched uranium – including in the event of an emergency – will need to be codified.

Marles says Labor’s party room will demand further assurances before consenting to move to the agreement’s next stage, which will involve the choice of future submarine design and how to resolve any capability gap in the meantime. He is confident the concerns can be addressed……………..

Navigating the non-proliferation safeguards with the IAEA is just one of the challenges for the new government in seeking to enact the monumental security agreement it has inherited.

Marles will not say if a Labor government would have taken the same decision as then prime minister Scott Morrison and his Defence minister Peter Dutton to dump the multibillion-dollar French contract for conventional submarines and switch to an American or British nuclear-powered option instead………………

“We have been supportive of the AUKUS agreement when it was announced, and we are supportive now.”

It’s clear that it wouldn’t have happened the same way, not least because of Labor’s volatile internal politics around nuclear energy.

In senior levels of the new government, there is a view that this is part of what motivated Morrison in pushing for the nuclear option to be sealed and announced with such haste. Some are convinced he believed it would wedge Labor on nuclear energy, an intergenerationally contentious issue within the party and particularly in Albanese’s Left faction.

……………….. in Labor’s upper ranks, suspicion about Morrison’s motivation raised further questions about the then prime minister’s attitude to national security.

Now in government, Labor is focused on bringing the wickedly complex submarine acquisition to completion and ensuring national security is not compromised any further along the way.

There’s a high pile of issues to be resolved before Australia has nuclear-powered submarines in the water. With the contract to buy up to 12 Attack-class submarines from France now scrapped in favour of the AUKUS agreement, the government has to decide whether to opt for the American Virginia-class boat or the British Astute-class alternative. While it hopes to get the first of whichever it chooses by the late 2030s, Marles has warned it could be the early 2040s.

That means filling the gap in the meantime.

With the existing six Collins-class submarines already extended from their initial retirement date of 2026 into the 2030s, there is a growing view in government that they will have to be extended again. What else may be required – in the form of some other possible stopgap purchase – is still unclear.

In an apparent bid to force Marles to clarify options, Peter Dutton wrote last month that he had planned to buy two American submarines to plug the capability gap. He said he had “formed a judgment that the Americans would have facilitated exactly that”.

The Saturday Paper understands that Dutton’s public commentary angered Britain, because of its presumption that Australia would choose the American option…………..

Just back from US consultations, Marles dismisses outright Dutton’s assertion about planning to buy two early American boats……………………

there are expensive decisions to be made with enormous consequences for Australia’s security.

By March next year, Marles wants to be able to announce which submarine he has chosen and when the first one will be in the water, quantify the capability gap and explain how it will be filled, outline the cost, describe industry arrangements for construction and detail the undertakings to be given to the IAEA to meet non-proliferation obligations. All this in the next eight months.

He has also vowed to produce a new force posture review in the wake of the 2020 Defence strategic update, which raised fresh questions about the strategic landscape in the region. …..

Delivering submarines makes AUKUS central to that. There is much debate on what else the agreement is meant to be and whether it makes Australia more or less dependent on the US.

In the AUKUS paperwork that has gone before the parliament so far, the submarine deal is described as its “first initiative”.

“AUKUS is about much more than submarines,” says Asia Society Australia executive director Richard Maude, who was foreign policy and security adviser to prime minister Julia Gillard and chief author of the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.

“AUKUS is a central platform for more co-operation and sharing of technologies that the Australian Defence Force wants.”

Maude says the issue is the nature of the submarines, not AUKUS. “The risk in AUKUS stems not from the agreement itself but from the decision to jump from a conventional to a nuclear-powered submarine.”

He points to concerning reports from the US that the Virginia-class submarine program’s production time line and costs are blowing out, raising further questions about delivery of an American boat.

“So, it’s not just our capability,” Maude says. “It’s our partner’s capability.”

Australian National University emeritus professor of strategic studies Hugh White argues there are risks in making the AUKUS agreement at all.

In his new Quarterly Essay, Sleepwalk to War – Australia’s Unthinking Alliance with America, White warns it takes the alliance too far in the strategic contest with China.

Maude says the issue is the nature of the submarines, not AUKUS. “The risk in AUKUS stems not from the agreement itself but from the decision to jump from a conventional to a nuclear-powered submarine.”

He points to concerning reports from the US that the Virginia-class submarine program’s production time line and costs are blowing out, raising further questions about delivery of an American boat.

“So, it’s not just our capability,” Maude says. “It’s our partner’s capability

Defence Minister Richard Marles downplays any broader binding role for AUKUS.

“AUKUS is not a security alliance. That’s not what it is,” he says. “Sharing capability and building technology – it doesn’t seek to be any more than that.”

Asked if it will mean an expansion of the US bases at Pine Gap or North West Cape, he would not comment…………………..

At the top of the decision pile for the “first initiative” is which submarine to buy. Neither the British nor the American version is exactly the right fit in size, crewing requirements or capability.

Whichever way they turn, the cost is horrendous at a time when the nation is a trillion dollars in debt…………………….

In Jakarta, there were assurances about respect, in the wake of Indonesian anger that it was not given an AUKUS heads-up. When AUKUS was announced last year, Indonesia said it intended at the next NPT review conference to seek to address what it calls the treaty’s “loophole” that would allow Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. Dealing with nuclear weapons, proliferation and “peaceful use”, the NPT does not specifically go to the issue of nuclear-powered vessels. Rescheduled from January, the conference is in the US next month.

The new government has also had to reassure the nations of the Pacific.

At the recent Pacific Islands Forum, secretary-general Henry Puna, from Cook Islands, presented a report on the South Pacific nuclear treaty, known as the Treaty of Rarotonga, and “other nuclear issues”. The Saturday Paper asked the forum secretariat this week for a copy of the report but did not receive a response before time of press.

Ahead of the forum – and after a visit from Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong – Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa voiced the concerns of some Pacific countries that they were not consulted on AUKUS.

Dr Tess Newton Cain, project leader of the Pacific hub at Griffith University, says there is some unhappiness about a US pattern of using Australia as a diplomatic and defence conduit instead of approaching Pacific nations directly.

“Some of this reflects a belief in the US administration and the US policy community that a good way of understanding the Pacific is to listen to Australia and New Zealand,” Cain says. “From the Pacific side of things, that’s not necessarily how people would see it.”

Overlaying that, Pacific nations have a heightened sensitivity to nuclear matters. Having been the unhappy historical hosts of nuclear testing, they’ve had their own experience with the mushroom cloud.  https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2022/07/23/exclusive-richard-marles-aukus-nuclear-safeguards#mtr

July 23, 2022 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international, weapons and war

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