Isn’t it interesting that in the Prime Minister’s attempt yesterday to make us all very frightened indeed about the national security threats that a Labor government would expose us to — ranging from hordes of asylum seekers at the gates, including paedophiles and murderers in their ranks, to increased domestic violence against women — he completely forgot to warn us about the elephant in the room, namely a major war in the South China Sea over Taiwan. This is now widely canvassed among academic strategic experts, including Hugh White and Paul Dibb, as being distinctly possible in the not too distant future. But apparently as far as the PM is concerned, impoverished refugees and drunken husbands pose a much greater threat to the Australian community.
Comment on Mike Scrapton’s article ‘The casual talk of war‘.
The first issue is that America may very well not win such a war. China’s militarisation of the South China Sea, including the installation of ‘carrier killer’ ballistic missiles, effectively makes US naval forces (except submarines) a hunted species. This means that if a conflict occurred, it could go nuclear. America has successfully used nuclear blackmail against China several times since World War II, but would this be effective again? China’s position now seems to be that they will no longer give in to nuclear blackmail. Would America exchange Los Angeles for Taipei? China doesn’t think so. And hopefully they are right.
The second danger here is that it is not at all clear that Australia has planned for this contingency. The ANZUS treaty is not like NATO. Unlike the highly developed war plans for when Russian tanks come belting over the North German Plain, under ANZUS there exists very little contingency planning as to what would happen in the event, say, of a naval offensive by China on Taiwan. Things could move very quickly and a supine Australian government could well respond to the rallying call of ANZUS even if we are not technically bound to support the US in the event they responded to a move against Taiwan by attacking China. Involvement in a war against China, particularly fighting for a cause that has a low rating against our national interest red lines, would be disastrous for Australia. America could exit the region, slink home and lick its wounds. We could not.
It seems essential that a new Australian government should (a) develop a sensible position on this based on the national interest, and (b) ensure that Australia’s position is well understood in Washington.
Jon Stanford is a Director of Insight Economics and principal author of last year’s report – Australia’s Future Submarine: Getting this Key Capability Right.