Nuclear-powered subs high risk and provocative

The new pact between the US, UK, and Australia to share nuclear-powered submarine technology is certainly momentous but also high risk and provocative at so many levels.  

Announced by the Prime Minister as delivering peace and security to the Indo-Pacific, this ‘closer cooperation’ is likely to do the opposite. It sends a strong signal to China that we will side with the US more than ever. 

Professor of Strategic Studies at the ANU, Hugh White on ABC Radio National this morning, warned that this agreement for Australia to build nuclear-powered subs changes our approach to Asia, mainly serves US interests in the Pacific, and increases the power of the US to ‘contain’ China.  

Far from creating peace and security, this muscling up to China is likely to exacerbate the arms race, further divide Asian nations, and increase hostility from China.  

What should we do instead? First, we should recognise, as our neighbours in South-East Asia do, that confronting and containing China won’t work. Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to live with China’s power and growing influence. That doesn’t mean doing whatever China says, but it does mean stepping back from Washington’s policy of trying to push back China by threatening war.

Hugh White in The Saturday Paper 17 Sept

Committing to nuclear-powered subs also makes us dependent on the US and UK for technology and makes us the only non-nuclear weapons country to have nuclear-powered subs.

  • Will our interests be compromised if America is unwilling to see the issues in this part of the world in Australia’s terms?
  • Is Australia, in effect, flagging its willingness to go to war against China?
  • Does it mean Adelaide will have a military nuclear reactor?

White warns of the need to be cautious about the longer term. A Trump or Trump-like administration may again withdraw from fights on foreign soil as it did in Afghanistan but retreat from conflict with China could leave Australia isolated in the region. 

Will Australian governments stop at nothing to win the approval of America? The deal certainly won support from News Corp commentators who called it a ‘historic defence of democracy’. Labor, naturally, has chosen the small target strategy and gone along with the pact so we can assume it’s done and dusted.

The Renew Economy: the sub deal is bound to lead to a nuclear power push, despite the PM’s assurances and lists the many adherents to this in the Parliament.

The Monthly: When asked how much Australia was willing to invest in defence in the coming years, Morrison boasted of his government’s increased spending: “We will need to do what it takes, because that’s what you have to do to protect Australians.”

The Guardian: China will deride Australia’s nuclear shift saying it is America’s lackey – but Beijing has only itself to blame, Richard McGregor, senior fellow at the Lowy Institute.

And by the way, how is it that such a ‘momentous’ and risky agreement entirely bypasses the Parliament? The answer is dead easy because, unlike most OECD countries, the government can make the decision to sign a pact or to go to war without consulting anyone, not even the Parliament.

Photo by chris robert on Unsplash

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