AUKUS links Australia to US' dangerous policy
Published: Apr 16, 2024 07:51 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

In September 2021, the then Australian Government, led by Scott Morrison, resorted to what is often successful around the world, a national security scare campaign, directed against China, its centerpiece being a hastily concocted, ill-thought-out AUKUS agreement with the US and the United Kingdom.

Lambasted at the time as being an Anglo, white man's club, hearkening back to times past, it is now on the verge of falling over. Australia will be its main victim.

Bound by the agreement, Australia is supposed to ultimately acquire eight nuclear-propelled Astute class submarines around 2050. These AUKUS submarines will be constructed in partnership with the UK. 

The current Australian submarine fleet consists of an aging class of Collins-class submarines, due for retirement. To bridge the gap between the retirement of these and the proposed Astute class, the US is to provide a number of Virginia-class submarines. US shipbuilding, however, is only turning out half the number that had been initially planned to be built. It is unlikely that the US will bear the cost and provide Virginia-class submarines to Australia as they are unable to keep up with their own needs. 

The cost for all this to Australia is a proposed $A368 billion ($242 billion). Not only has that fantastic figure eaten into needed budgetary expenditure for education, health and infrastructure, but it has also constrained other military expenditure, more appropriate for Australia. Australian security analyst Allan Behm has opined that the number could be tripled when it comes to military expenditure as that is what usually happens between projected and actual cost, so the real cost to Australia may well be over $1 trillion.

The military ramifications for Australia of AUKUS are horrendous. Even if the AUKUS plans miraculously came to fruition and by around the middle of this century Australia has eight nuclear-powered submarines, it is likely that just two of these will be at sea at any time to defend the country's massive coastline of some 36,000 kilometers. Furthermore, how Australia, with no experience in nuclear-powered ships, will operate these submarines is little discussed. There is a likely 20-year period when the nation, left with only a few very aged Collins class submarines, will have few trained submariners.

Former Australian senior defense and intelligence official, Hugh White has described AUKUS as, "a plan of immense complexity and staggering cost, beset by a host of technological, economic, political, strategic and diplomatic risks." 

There is a fallback position when AUKUS inevitably fails which involves the possibility of US stationing submarines at Fremantle, near Perth. This, along with the usage of key Australian bases in the north according to The United States Force Posture Initiatives, will effectively mean Australia is abdicating its sovereignty. This is likely to be the actual planning of the US.

Of course, while the Australian involvement in AUKUS is ostensively about the defense of Australia, the real purpose is to secure Australia as part of the US containment strategy regarding China. These submarines are not meant for the defense of Australia. If that were the aim, much better options are available. Rather than defend the Australian coastline, their role will be to join the US Navy in sitting off the coast of China. 

Besides, the fact that the UK will be part of this hearkens back to the fading days of the British Empire. When Britain sought to exercise military power "east of Suez" during World War II, it saw the Prince of Wales and Repulse sunk.

The purchase of these submarines is also premised on little advance being made in the detection of submarines over the next 20-30 years. The result is that these massively costly vessels may be "sitting ducks" to a Chinese navy understandably reacting to hostile acts within its coastal domain. Behm concludes, "China will view Australia's decision as a willful contribution to an existential nuclear threat to China." If any conflict occurs, Australia will almost certainly be left "to hang out to dry" by its erstwhile allies.

Australia has a choice to dump this hastily conceived agreement and return to a past policy of self-defense, which would entail purchasing a much more appropriate class of submarines in much larger numbers, perhaps as many as 30. These are on offer, ready-made by France, Germany and South Korea. They would be more suited to the Australian capacity to operate and would also avoid problems sure to bedevil an Australia, inexperienced in deploying complex nuclear power vessels. Most importantly, by being used for self-defense, Australia would not be linked to a dangerous aggressive US policy directed against China.

The author is a writer, historian, and social commentator based in Newcastle, Australia. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn