OPEN LETTER Nuclear Submarines : Dependence, Delay, Delusions, Deception, Duplicity,…
NUCLEAR SUBMARINES – DEPENDENCE, DELAY, DELUSIONS, DECEPTION, DUPLICITY, DISAPPOINTMENT, DISENCHANTMENT, DECREASE OF ECONOMY
Australian exports and imports represent about 25% of its GDP, making it a significant trading nation. Most trade is by shipping around the world. Major trading partners are in ranking: China, Japan, European Union, USA, and South Korea, all with healthy trade surpluses in Australia’s favour except for the EU, where there is trade deficit of 57% of trade, and the USA where the deficit is at 24%. Australia has free trade agreements with all other than the EU, which is currently in negotiation.
In 2021 the world’s economies based on GDP ranked in descending order are: USA, China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, India, Italy, Canada, South Korea, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and Indonesia. Data and logic dictate that Australia needs to keep its access by sea open and as far as possible good relations with its trading partners.
After decades of benefiting from the “tyranny of distance” the end of European colonialism, the rise of Asian nationalism and Asian economies have created the Indo Pacific region in which Australia is a pivot. For the last 3 decades of the 20th century and the first 2 of the 21st century Australia sought to develop its own independent foreign policy to deal with its evolved geopolitical reality.
On Thursday 16 September 2021 the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (a.k.a “that fella down under, … erh pal”) pivoted out of independence announcing in joint teleconference with UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and US President, Joe Biden a new security grouping of their 3 countries (AUKUS) to enable sale of 8 nuclear submarines to Australia. An important element is to allow for the “interoperability” of these submarines with the US fleet. This indicates that the operation of Australian naval forces is subsumed into the overall operation of and control by the USA.
Application of US foreign policy as suits the US alone
In this the US is able to push a policy of containment on China while leaving its relations with China open to “strategic competition” – building up the R&D and industry of US to challenge China on economic bases. The Australian naval forces become part of US overall strategy to deal with a China that is set to overtake the US in economy in 10-15 years. Australia has no input in this strategy formulation or application.
Justification of rupture of French contract for conventional submarines and opting for nuclear submarines – “sovereign needs”
The justification coming from the AUKUS partners is that Australian nuclear submarines can travel much longer distances undetected – right to the gates of China, albeit under the control of another (USA). Conventional submarines do not allow for such aggressive stance and are more suited to the defence of Australia’s maritime territory. It’s worth noting that the submarines contracted from France were nuclear submarines that Australia required to be converted to conventional submarines.
Enforcement of international law
Interestingly the maritime rights to be enforced by this power at sea are those set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 – a convention that the USA has refused to ratify.
This proposal for the acquisition of nuclear submarines is subject to a further 18 months’ discussion on transfer of technology necessary and then its implementation.
Other than possible manufacture of hulls no skills or construction will be provided in Australia or under Australian control. It is hoped that submarines will be available in the 2040s
Australia – back wheel on the bicycle
On the Australian side there is the belief that Australia is now locked into a “forever partnership” with the USA (and the UK). This is taken to mean that Australia will be protected by these countries against any Chinese aggression unprovoked or provoked by Australia’s habit of poking the dragon in the eye or provoked by US moves restrain Chinese pretensions to regional hegemony. This is from the concern that China will inevitably seek regional hegemony to reflect its economic power. Australia needs to recall that it is “forever” locked into China’s neighbourhood by geography
USA – sole steering wheel on the bicycle
It is far from clear that “forever” will outlast the Biden administration that is likely to cease in 2024 and may even be replaced by a Trump or look alike isolationist administration. In any event any US administration may find the cost of containment too expensive or just too dangerous. The 2040s are a long way off. At any time the Americans can always then go home while reaching some shared regional hegemony with the new superpower.
UK – the third wheel on the bicycle
The UK has no political, military, or significant economic presence in the Indo Pacific. Boris Johnson’s call to “kindred” ties between the UK and Australia is redolent of Rudyard Kipling, the British empire of the Victorian era and frankly repugnantly racist to Australia’s indigenous peoples and all those millions of Australians who trace back to forebears from Ireland, continental Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas.
“America is back”
At no time has the Biden administration fronted up to inform NATO allies in general or those on whose military cooperation it depends, e.g. France as another nuclear power and holding the fort against terrorism movements in West Africa, of its intentions. This is despite the acknowledgement that the negotiations for AUKUS have been going on at least since March 2021, before the meeting of the G7+ in June 2021.
“That fella down under is to blame”
In fact, when the proverbial hit the fan the US administration said that it presumed that Australia would inform the others. So that’s where the blame lies for lack of notice to all affected.
Lack of communication
The Biden administration showed in the retreat from Afghanistan that it was not prepared to keep informed the NATO and other allies (including Australia). AUKUS demonstrates again why other countries, particularly allies will be wary. All this while announcing AUKUS is based on mutual longstanding trust.
Where is the trust?
Australia’s advice to France of rupture of submarine contracts dating from 2016 at 8.30pm on 15 September 2021, the night before the termination and substitution of US nuclear options doesn’t encourage trust.
“Sovereign needs” = tripartite plotting
We now have an explanation of why Biden’s meeting with the “fella from down under” at the G7+ meeting in June 2021 was not a “one on one” but was joined by Johnson.
Dinner in Paris
We do not have an explanation of how then Morrison dined at the Elysée on his way back to Australia, assuring his host of continued close military and political cooperation. Through this assurance Morrison obtained serious support from France against the economic coercion of Australia by China. “It’s one thing to keep your cards close to your chest, but it’s another to keep them up your sleeve”
South East Asia
After years of building up relations with the neighbours, particularly the ASEAN countries, Australia gave up any serious independent contacts and relationships with the neighbours, frightening Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and others with fears for US confrontation with China, unconditionally backed by an Australia totally subsumed into US foreign policy.
South Korea and Japan
Uninformed, both South Korea and Japan will be wondering what role has been allocated to them by the US for containment of China, and the risks entailed. Will they need to equip with nuclear submarines under US direction and control? Will this spark a move to nuclear weapons acquisition and expansion?
The questions will be if playing in the Quad is getting too hot and where do Australia’s actions leave discussion with France on military cooperation and the “strategic dialogue” that they have been operating.
Pacific nations who looked to Australia for leadership now see that such leadership as available comes from Washington, not necessarily involved in their well-being.
New Zealand will have even more concerns with Australia’s playing the unthinking deputy sheriff, playing nuclear.
France is the one European country involved in the Indo Pacific with more than 2 million of its population living in the region and its maritime zones are the world’s biggest at 11,691,00 km2, followed by USA at 11,351,000 km2 and the Australia at 8,505,348 km2. France has military and naval bases stretching from Djibouti at the entrance to the Red Sea, across the Indian Ocean from Réunion to the Pacific in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. Before the breach of contract by Australia for submarines the French Government was in serious discussions with Australia on military cooperation in the Indo Pacific.
As an Indo Pacific player France was building its strategy on the pillars of close cooperation with India and Australia.
DECREASE OF ECONOMY
By joining in the US containment policy of China Australia has assured an increasing squeeze on exports to China, and alternative equivalent markets cannot be found elsewhere. The second and third export markets for Australia were education and tourism. China was by far the major consumer of these. No substitute markets are available. Universities and other tertiary education institutions already reeling under student cutbacks due to Covid, will not recover. R&D by universities and related institutes will suffer from lack of funds. The tourist and hospitality industry will not recover to its pre Covid glory days. Whenever it can China will increasingly seek alternative markets for Australian exports. (For more info. on China see series #1, 2, 3, and 4 on this LinkedIn site).
The EU has indicated that the breach of the French contract will probably interrupt current free trade negotiations with Australia. Germany has always shown that it is keen to maintain and increase its exports to its biggest market outside Europe – China. Germany under Merkel pushed through the mutual investment agreement between the EU and China in December 2020 despite concerns of the US. France expressed itself closer to the US in terms of human rights abuses by China. The EU without Merkel and unclear results of imminent German elections strengthens Macron’s standing as an EU leader. The illiberal regime of Hungary has drawn close to China. Italy and Greece have responded positively to China’s Belt and Road Initiatives. The way that ”the fella from down under” plays his cards means that conclusion of any free trade agreement by Australia with the bloc of 500 million consumers is far from a lay down misère.
The UK has negotiated a free trade agreement with Australia, the benefits of which will not flow to Australia for 15 + years. That’s a long time to wait for free movement of Tim Tams and Vegemite.
The existing free trade agreement shows a significant deficit for Australia and not a lot of scope to make up for lost Chinese markets.
Cost of nuclear submarines
The cost of the nuclear submarines themselves is unknown, but the real cost of knuckling under to US foreign policy is going to be very expensive, both in dollars and sense.
The ultimate question for Australia
Has anybody really thought this through?
Open Letter from Brian Hillman, Lawyer, Public Notary & RMA