AUKUS is a fig leaf for US plans to base its forces in Australia

AUKUS, the security partnership formed by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, is many things to many people and organizations.

Conceptually, it is a mess. The right-wing media in Australia refer to the AUKUS Agreement. Yet there is no agreement covering the many things in the public domain claimed to be a part of AUKUS.

The only agreement relates to the exchange of information on nuclear propulsion technology for submarines. This agreement was hastily put together to provide cover for the notion of AUKUS.

By any yardstick, AUKUS is a con job. The talk of senior UK, US and Australian defense officials implies that Australia will build/purchase nuclear submarines from UK/US sources to be ready by 2040 at the earliest. Politicians from all the three countries parrot these statements. Notwithstanding, submarine experts from the UK and the US have said over recent days that there is no capacity to make nuclear submarines for Australia, and they are way behind schedule with their own plans. These experts say their shipbuilding yards do not have the capacity to build their own submarines, let alone Australian submarines.

In addition, were it to go ahead Australia would break the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The convoluted arguments put forward to try and get around the problem have cut no ice with the international community, the United Nations and Australia’s neighbors, including New Zealand and Indonesia. Other Pacific neighbors have not raised the issue yet, preferring to keep their powder dry for their lobbying to convince Australia of the need for urgent climate change actions.

Expertise to build and service the submarines would need to be imported from the US. Australia does not have the skills or technological base to do complex nuclear related tasks itself.

How were proposals allowed to get to this point without input from those charged with manufacture? Clearly the idea of Australia acquiring nuclear submarines was a political smokescreen and remains so in the face of a compliant Western media. The smokescreen was to hide the fact that the US wishes to base nuclear submarines in Australia.

The remarkable thing is the extent to which senior members of the Australian defense establishment and political class have been prepared to go along with what is clearly a fiction. Australian naval personnel are to receive training on UK and US nuclear submarines and presumably what the US has in mind will be joint crewing arrangements to give a form of legitimacy to talk of an Australian nuclear submarine capability.

Both the US and Australia have talked of future interoperability of their armed forces. In recent times this has morphed into integration. All this is bandied about under the loose umbrella of AUKUS. None of this has been put before the Australian parliament or put to the Australian people.

So, at this stage what do we know about AUKUS?

We know that it is being driven hard by the US. We know that the UK, apart from sharing intelligence, is pretty much a sleeping partner. Its involvement was driven by the Boris Johnson government, which was desperate to secure its own trade deal with the US. It is hard to imagine the UK extending itself and operating east of the Suez for any length of time. If for no other reason than it can’t afford to. The UK is broke.

The US thinks it is being very clever and cunning in hiding its plans for Australia behind the faux submarine deal. What it appears to have in mind is using Australia, mainly the north of Australia, to intimidate and confront China.

It wants access to the facilities in North Australia and it wants many of these facilities upgraded, such as the Tindal air force base in the Northern Territory. The US Marines have been given the former First Armoured Regiment barracks in Darwin. If it isn’t already happening the US wants the Fremantle naval base, HMAS Stirling upgraded to facilitate US nuclear submarines. They also want a submarine base built on the east coast of Australia.

All of this is proposed in terms of joint operations, but of course all operations will be US dominated, which means US control and command. The US will want to monitor, if not control, the air space of northern Australia and the ocean in a wide arc north of Australia. This will be achieved from a command center in or near Darwin, which would be known as a joint command centre. It is surprising how quickly all this has come about.

The US plans and proposals would significantly undermine Australian sovereignty. The US took advantage of the ignorance of some Australian politicians to push through its plans. The surprising thing is how quickly and readily the new Australian Labor Government embraced the proposals. This can probably be sheeted home to the fact that the incoming government kept most of the key foreign policy and defense advisers from the previous Morrison government.

The really worrying thing is there have been no formal discussions related to the many matters being bandied about in the media as being AUKUS arrangements and nothing related to the matters outlined above has been tabled in the Australian Parliament.

An atmosphere of hysteria related to China has been created and fed by the US and sympathetic media outlets which has enabled and allowed the US to get what it wants from Australia in terms of an anti-China base for future operations supported by a naive government and public service and several prominent anti-China “think tanks”, all under the auspices of an arrangement which exists in name and gossip only. AUKUS is a dangerous new religion preparing for a crusade.

The author is a retired Australian diplomat, political commentator and author who has served with Australian outposts in Africa and Asia, among other places. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Bruce Haigh

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