AUKUS tilts the balance: Australia looks more and more warlike

Jan 6, 2022
Scott Morrison nuclear submarine announcement uk us AUKUS
Prime MInister Scott Morrison announces the AUKUS arrangement, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden. (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Australia cannot go down the nuclear-submarine path and claim that it follows the UN Charter and that its armed forces are only for self-defence.

With the season of ‘Peace and Goodwill’ just passing, a question arises – one in urgent need of a definitive answer. The question is simple enough – but the answer is deeply concerning.

The question is “Can it truthfully be said that Australia is a country that favours peace?”. It is question that might be addressed to the government of the day. Or it might be asked of the Australian people at large

Faced with the climate crisis, this is a question that has never been more important.

Does this nation do all that it can to secure a future in which it can co-operate, peacefully, with other nations to find a way through the strife that the climate crisis is bound to bring to all of humanity? Or is it a nation that considers the only path to national significance is through the catharsis of war; that considers war necessary to the nation’s progress?

I have lived in Australia since 1970 and, as one with a firm commitment to the cause of peace, the question has frequently passed through my mind. I recall the euphoria of 1972 when Whitlam was elected and Australia withdrew from the war in Vietnam. At that time one would have affirmed, without hesitation, that Australia had a demonstrated preference for peace.

After 9/11 doubt began to creep in. The invasion of Afghanistan looked like a repeat of the big mistake that had been Vietnam. Nevertheless, Australia could still, officially, claim to be in favour of peace; claim that its military actions were taken to preserve peace in the face of the ‘‘terrorist threat’’.

Then came 2003 and the invasion of Iraq. Australia (the nation) was happy to join an act of international aggression – despite the fact that the Australian people had given a strong indication of their objection to it. Still, the answer to my question just managed to retain a few shreds of plausibility. Apparently joining the US in attacking Afghanistan and Iraq was equivalent to defending Australia, because it reaffirmed our commitment to ANZUS. Or so the convoluted logic ran.

In 2011, Australia agreed to the stationing of US marines in Darwin. That should have been an appropriate time to demand an answer to the question. Then came 2021 and the AUKUS agreement. And it is AUKUS that has made the unexpressed answer starkly clear.

The answer is “No. Australia is no longer a country that favours peace!”

For, with AUKUS in place, it is no longer plausible to even try to maintain any pretense that Australia is peace-loving nation. The nation cannot ‘‘buy’’ AUKUS (a profoundly commercial transaction, in any analysis) and continue to profess any interest in promoting peace or even any willingness to avoid going to war.  AUKUS and peace are utterly incompatible.

AUKUS says that Australia will acquire nuclear-propelled submarines. As Richard Tanter has pointed out in Pearls and Irritations, these have no significant, defensive advantage over the diesel-powered ones that the Turnbull government negotiated with France. They do have certain advantages in stealth and distance – but this only makes them more suitable for attacking others. They are an attack weapon; a weapon of aggression.

Australia cannot go down the AUKUS path and claim that it follows the UN Charter and that its armed forces are only for self-defence. In any case, our leaders seldom talk about the real defence of Australia. They only talk about how we can best fight alongside the US, which is what AUKUS is all about.

AUKUS, so far from taking us down an appropriate, defensive, peace-oriented path, takes us in a radically different direction. The path that AUKUS leads us on is one that has war at its end-point.

It is not just the submarines that display this. The AUKUS agreement allows the US to position more troops and more military equipment and munitions on Australian territory. It allows for more visits from US ships and aircraft, which may or may not be carrying nuclear weapons (which the Pentagon will neither confirm nor deny). The US is, without question, the most belligerent nation in the world. AUKUS provides it with a ‘‘forward position’’ in South-East Asia. By our association with and deepening commitment to US military activity, Australia is declaring to the world a) that it is prepared to go to war, whenever and wherever the US decides and b) that China is its potential enemy.

On every count, AUKUS is providing a clear answer to the question.

AUKUS tells us that Australia has lost interest in promoting peace and has turned its face towards waging war. We are even encouraged to believe that military industry, the war industry, provides a net benefit to society. We seem intent on becoming a nation that, like the US, nurtures itself on, by profiting from, violence and war.

Although no official will ever utter it, this answer to my initial question is the ‘‘official’’ one. However, in reality and in the long run, it is the Australian people who will in fact decide the answer. The question to them is slightly different:  “Do you want to live in a nation that favours war over peace?” – because, if we mildly acquiesce in the AUKUS process, that is the reality that we, the people, now face.

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