Australian news, and some related international items

AUKUS Gets Awkward Down Under

A controversy threatens to blow the alliance’s nuclear submarine deal out of the water.

FP, By Maddison Connaughton 24 Mar 23

Even among Australia’s roll call of opinionated former prime ministers, Paul Keating stands out—not least for his unmatched ability to dress down those who oppose him. But few thought he would ever turn this skill on his own political party, the Australian Labor Party, which finally seized government in 2022 after a decade in the wilderness. That was until last week, when Keating publicly condemned the AUKUS defense pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for signing it.

That tripartite deal, details of which were announced with fanfare just two days earlier, was “the worst international decision by an Australian Labor government” since conscription was attempted during World War I, Keating said during an appearance at Australia’s National Press Club. The decision to purchase nuclear-powered submarines—at a cost of up to 368 billion Australian dollars ($245 billion)—would invariably draw Australia into any potential conflict between the United States and China, he warned.

No words were minced: “Signing the country up to the foreign proclivities of another country—the United States, with the gormless Brits, in their desperate search for relevance, lunging along behind is not a pretty sight.”

Another former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull of the Liberal Party, also chimed in with concerns, though he put them slightly more delicately.

…………….Turnbull has questioned whether the use of U.S. submarines—employed as a stopgap until British-designed, Australian-built subs are complete—could compromise Australia’s sovereignty. ……………….

Sam Roggeveen, the director of the international security program at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, told Foreign Policy that his sovereignty concerns regarding AUKUS stretch beyond personnel. “When you build a weapon system that is almost specifically designed to operate thousands of kilometers to our north, and which is perfectly suited to fighting a military campaign against China,” he said, “then at the final moment when the call comes from the White House—‘Will you take part in this war, or won’t you?’—it will be very difficult, almost impossible, for Australia to say no.”

………… Should this relationship continue to devolve, AUKUS could prove “very dangerous” to Australia, dragging the country into a conflict between the two great powers. Ultimately, more debate was needed about the deal, he said, particularly because Australia will bear all of its cost and risk………………………………………………………….

“Many rank-and-file [Labor] members would and do agree with Keating’s criticism, if not all aspects of his argument,”said Chris Wallace, a political historian and professor at the University of Canberra. And some local branches, the bedrock of the party, have recently been pushing back against the deal.

Similarly, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was founded in Australia in 2007, warned that AUKUS posed “both a major proliferation risk and could be seen as a precursor to Australia acquiring nuclear weapons.” The organization said the purpose of the submarines was, clearly, “to support the [United States] in a war in northeast Asia. Whether with China, North Korea or Russia, there is an alarming risk of any such war escalating to use of nuclear weapons.”

Recent polling suggests the Australian people may also be coming around to Keating’s point of view. Leading pollster Essential found this month that the public’s belief that AUKUS would make Australia more secure has fallen to just 40 percent, down from 45 percent when the pact was first announced back in 2021. On the question of the nuclear-powered submarines in particular, Essential reported that 55 percent of people surveyed either thought the purchase was unnecessary or too expensive.

…………………………………. “There is no rational basis for the Albanese government facilitating the withering expense of nuclear submarines,” Keating wrote, “other than to suit and comply with the strategic ambitions of the United States—ambitions which slice through Australia’s future in the community of Asia, the basis of our rightful and honourable residency.”

The backlash to the recent announcement, from adversaries and allies alike, Wallace said, should prompt the Albanese government to go back to the drawing board and actually vet whether the deal—including the procurement of submarines powered by weapons-grade uranium—was the best option for Australia. “Instead, the government made the announcement first and expected everyone to back in behind it,” she said. “They were dreaming.”



April 4, 2023 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international, weapons and war

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