The Enormity Of AUKUS – OpEd

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A$368 Billion Submarines: What Will It Really Achieve

The enormity of the AUKUS deal that Australia has concluded appears to be lost to the Australian public. 

For one, it is the most expensive defence purchase in Australian history. The sales price at A$368 billion for eight submarines or $48 billion per submarine may be advertised as a bargain by the supporters of the deal. But for the man in the street, this amounts to A$14,000 for each person or over A$30,000 for each family. This is a lot of money to pay for a few and likely to be obsolete, but boats by the time they all finally arrive. 

More galling is that contrary to PM Albanese’s speech on 14 March at the Aukus agreement ceremony at San Diego in which he proclaimed that “good jobs with good wages” would flow to Australians from the deal, the consensus grudgingly conceded to among supportive think tanks is that the principal beneficiaries will be the United States and Britain and their military-industrial complex. 

The Australian leader had also enthused that “this investment will be a catalyst for innovation and research breakthroughs that will reverberate throughout the Australian economy and across every state and territory.” Perhaps but very unlikely.

For now, a widely circulated cartoon in social media showing Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak laughing and in conversation on the conclusion of the deal is closer to the truth of what the deal’s economics and politics will bring to the three signatory countries of the agreement. 

Then, Rishi, we told the Aussie guy that we wanted to park our China attack subs in his country and HE SHOULD PAY US $368bn for the privilege!”


China As Australia’s Multi-Generational Enemy 

Apart from its touted military and economic value, the submarine deal has been lauded as the most geopolitically significant foreign and military policy measure undertaken by Australia. According to the same Albanese speech, It is to ensure “freedom, peace and security” not only for today but also “in the years ahead, and for generations to come”. 

How this grandiose and pretentious vision is to be accomplished by the submarines and new security agreement was not elaborated on. Clearly China is the target for the submarines which will be patrolling waters thousands of miles away from Australia, the country they are intended to protect. They are further away from the US and Britain whose defence they are supposed to be contributing to but that is a minor issue for the two, now three, greatest defenders and warriors of ‘freedom and the international rules based order’.

The three speeches allude to China as a common threat. But it is the Australian lead and money that is committing the country to the submarines and to identifying China as the enemy for not only the present generation of Australians, but also for their kids and possibly grandkids.

To say that this approach or strategy pinpointing a country which has been its foremost peaceful trading partner for the last decade as a threat and enemy not only for the present but also for the generations ahead is astonishingly imperceptive and foolish is to put it mildly. Paul Keating has described it as “the worst deal in all history” and “the worst international decision” by a Labor government since Billy Hughes tried to introduce conscription.  

Why the Morrison Liberal and Albanese Labour governments have reached this toxic, and possibly no return, point in their view of China and the Australian-China relationship can be debated. According to Bruce Haigh, former Australian diplomat, in a roundtable held on 6 March before the Aukus agreement ceremony .

We have an alliance and arrangement with the US, which is immature, and which makes us psychologically, emotionally and intellectually depend upon the US. 

It’s really strange for Australia to agree with the US that China is our potential enemy when it’s also our biggest trading partner. There’re factors that are feeding into this: the Murdoch press in Australia, the collapse of what we call the mainstream media, the move to the right by other outlets, what you might call more liberal outlets such as the ABC. It’s been a concerted move.    


More Delusion 

Another delusion or deception foisted in the Australian media on what appears to be an apathetic and largely ignorant public is that the Aukus agreement has the full support of ASEAN nations. This conclusion is more than contestable. 

Malaysia in an immediate response to the Aukus agreement has emphasised the importance of promoting transparency and confidence-building among all countries and refraining from provocation that could potentially trigger an arms race or affect peace and security in the region. The official foreign policy statement also called on all parties (that is, the trilateral security partnership) to fully respect and comply with the Malaysian and ASEAN regimes in relation to the operation of nuclear-powered submarines in its waters. 

The response of Indonesia – not so long ago Australia’s public enemy number one – is possibly more significant to Australia. Tubagus Hasanuddin, a senior member of the ruling Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and of Indonesia’s parliamentary committee overseeing foreign affairs, defence, and intelligence noted

“Indonesia’s standpoint is clear that [our archipelagic sea lanes] cannot be used for activities related to war or preparation of war or non-peaceful activities,” 

“Now about AUKUS. It is not a [forum] for training, it is like a defence pact, just like NATO but of a smaller scale, [created] to face the Chinese activities in the Pacific. It means the vessels are the inseparable parts of AUKUS.

“It definitely is related head-to-head [rivalry] with the Chinese maritime powers. It means it is not a peaceful means so that Indonesia will reject [them sailing through its waters].”

As with Indonesia and Malaysia, other ASEAN countries do not view Aukus and the trilateral security pact as a force of peace or stability for the region.  Rather they view Aukus as significantly raising the level of externally generated militarization and as a threat to the peaceful development of the region. 

Australian foreign policy makers should also be aware that should the ASEAN countries be compelled to choose sides in any conflict – political, economic or military – between the tripartite, Quad, Five Eye or any other non-military groupings and arrangements that Australia has or intends to enmesh itself into to bring down China, it is unlikely that they will be on the side of Australia.

So what has A$368 billion really achieved or can lead up to for Australia? More security or insecurity; more stability or instability; peace or war? 

Albanese and his colleagues may have won the khaki vote for now. But there is a grim price that Australians have to pay.

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