AUKUS, Australia and the drive to war

Aug 2, 2023
AUSUK flag name is UK, US, and Australia.

My fear is not that AUKUS SSNs, if they arrive, will be late, ineffective, and obsolete. My fear is that they will arrive and will be effective and even lethal. Because, if that is the case, they will play a part in the drive to a potentially devastating war with China that would be a disaster for the entire world.

This was a speech given at an anti-AUKUS protest at the ANU on 28 July 2023

Friends, I have been proud to have been part of a number of protests against the AUKUS alliance and the nuclear submarine deal that is part of it. However, to be truthful, I haven’t always completely agreed with everything that has been said at them.

I heard at one of the protests a speaker opposing the subs deal because they might never arrive, or might be delivered very late, or that, by then, they would be ineffective and obsolete. Apart from the enormous cost, my concern is not that they will be late or obsolete. My fear is that they will arrive and will be effective and even lethal. Because, if that is the case, they will play a part in the drive to a potentially devastating war with China that would be a disaster for the entire world.

In a war with China – what would victory look like? It would certainly not end, like the Second World War, with allied troops occupying Germany and Japan. Even to imagine Australian, British and US troops patrolling the streets of Shanghai is to realise what a ludicrous prospect that is. China – a vast and nuclear-armed country – is not going to be physically occupied.

Would victory mean that China’s dynamic economy would no longer stock the shelves of Kmart and the like around the world and that it would revert to a poor semi-agricultural country. Hardly – unless it is turned into a nuclear wasteland – it will clearly go on to be the largest economy in the world.

Would victory be the successful defence of Taiwan. Well, China has claimed Taiwan since 1949. But it has made no attempt to invade it. In any case, are we prepared to go to war to defend the independence of a place whose independence we don’t recognise and don’t support. It makes no sense.

Would victory mean that China is prevented from interfering in the affairs of other countries – something which every large or wealthy power does – including Australia in the Asia-Pacific. I study Latin America and, when US politicians talk about China’s interference in the domestic affairs of others, I hear, somewhere in my head, roars of bitterly ironic laughter from all over Latin America. Because the US has interfered in the affairs of every country in Latin America and the Caribbean – instigating coups, supporting military dictatorships, blockading harbours, embargoing trade and even military invasion. And it has done so for the last two hundred years – ever since President James Munro in 1823 proclaimed the doctrine that only the US had the right to interfere in the region.

Would victory mean that so-called Chinese military expansionism is halted. Well, it’s true that China has set up military bases on a number of artificial islands. But the US has around 750 foreign military bases in more than 80 countries. To my knowledge, China has one – in Djibouti. If bases and the ability to project military force is the problem, then China is not the main culprit.

Also, the US spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined and most of them are US allies.

The chances of being killed by the US military are enormously higher than by any other country. A recent research project from Brown University in the US showed that, since 2001, about 900,000 people have been killed directly by the US military – nearly half of those were civilians. On top of that, what the project calls “the reverberating effects” of US military action – such as famine, destruction of sanitation, health care and other infrastructure has led to several times as many civilian deaths as caused directly.

Would victory in a war with China mean the successful defence of our trade routes and shipping lanes. Where do our trade routes and shipping lanes lead? Largely to China! So, would we fight China to defend our trade with China?

Another thing I’ve heard said that I disagree with is that the AUKUS deal might drag Australia into a war with China. Australia is not being dragged anywhere. The Australian government is eagerly jumping into this alliance – with eyes wide open – rather than being forced into something not of its own making.

There has never been a war conducted by our great and powerful friends that Australia has not been eager to join – whether to the Maori Wars in New Zealand, to Sudan and to South Africa in the 19th century, to the First and Second World Wars, to Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq – twice. We should not be protesting calling for Australia’s independence – it is independent – we should be calling for it to use that independence to help halt the drive to war – rather than to enthusiastically join it.

I’ve heard some on the other side of this argument repeat the old cliché – “if you want peace, prepare for war”. It sounds good – a nice juxtaposition of opposites etc. But it is logical and historical rubbish. It is essentially the argument of the National Rifle Association of America. The NRA says that to be safe, we need to have everyone armed. Security comes from allowing all to buy AR-15 assault rifles. We know how that has worked out in practice. Preparing for war to ensure peace is the same argument on an international scale.

When we look at the great periods of arms build-up, we see that they led to war rather than peace. It was the case with the arms build-up – especially the naval build-up – before World War One, with rearmament in the 1930s, with the Cold War arms economy which was accompanied by very hot and devastating wars – in Vietnam and Korea for example – which were among the most destructive on a per capita basis in modern history..

The world today contains great possibilities. We have the resources and the human ingenuity to deal with some of our real problems – like housing, poverty, health, education, climate. Some of that ingenuity is right here at the ANU. Let us set that ingenuity to the task of solving the real problems which affect our lives and our society rather than to the exacting but grisly science of blowing human bodies apart.

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