In any other context but the alliance, the facts attending the US global strategy at both the conventional and nuclear levels would be seen by Australian strategic analysts and policy-makers for what they are – profoundly threatening developments and habits of mind which threaten international peace and security and the ecology of the planet. But this realisation, apparently, is beyond them. And the silence indicates not only complicity but a deep malaise.
Australia’s alliance policies and strategies are afflicted with a form of double blindness: they do not see either the internal degeneration of the United States to a condition antithetical to democracy, or the corresponding decomposition of US strategy to one in which defence is overtaken by the objective of absolute dominion.
If it is presumed that such conditions in the dominant alliance partner will presage disaster, and thus a changes in policy and strategy, and given that these conditions have been gestating over decades and even longer, an urgent question is raised: why did they elude Australia’s strategic planners and policy-makers?
If the short answer is that Australia simply saw nothing untoward, then it’s official organs are at least either criminally incompetent, or just possibly, suffering from that mental state which is cognitive dissonance. Either is a cause for serious concern but the latter state is accompanied by the mental discomfort consequential to having to act in contradiction to beliefs, ideals and values – a condition not observed in those responsible. This leads to the conclusion that the manifestations of the US are deliberately denied as a condition of enjoying Washington’s favour – such as being designated by President George H. W. Bush as a Major Non-NATO ally of the US in 1989 – at the expense of international peace and security and Australian sovereignty and interests.
In plain terms. the extent and magnitude of this default closely aligns Australia with a war prone, militaristic, belligerent, declining great power whose attitude to the killing of others exceeds the pathologically criminal. Daniel Ellsberg recalls that, in the early years of US nuclear dominance, the principal strike plan was “insane:” it called for the annihilation of the USSR, China, and Easter Europe – a conservatively estimated 600 million people, or 20 percent of the global population. By hosting the Joint Facilities Australia was integrated into this form of thinking and acting. And it never goes away.
In October 2016, amid rising tensions between Russia and the United States, and between China and the United States, the Pentagon announced that it had just tested the dropping of two variants of the B61 nuclear munition (without active warheads) in the Nevada desert by B-2 bombers. Add to this the fact that human decision-making time continues to be compressed and displaced; indeed, it is more appropriate to describe it as being obliterated by the development, and, in some cases, the deployment of hypersonic weapons by Russia, the United States, China, and India.
Then there’s the burst-height compensating super-fuze (B-HCS-F). In summary form it was a relatively minor innovation component designed only to ensure the reliability and safety of US nuclear missiles under a force modernisation programme begun in 2009; there was no mention of any enhancement of existing nuclear weapons capabilities.
In an analysis published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, three of America’s most respected weapons scientists conclude that, in reality, the installation of the B-HCS-F has created an “astonishing” increase in the killing power of the existing US nuclear arsenal by effectively increasing it by a factor of three. Thus, in their judgment, the resulting US force structure is:
exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.
The authors note that these implications were largely concealed from the general public and even escaped both non-government policymakers and, quite likely, most government policymakers in the US despite the impact they are bound to have on global security.
The recent Nuclear Posture Review exacerbates the situation with the call for “low yield” nuclear weapons which could be used in response to non-nuclear attacks. One of the drafters of the Review, Keith Payne, is on the record as saying that the US could sustain 20 million casualties in winning a nuclear war and this was “a level compatible with national recovery and survival.”
As might be inferred this is a permissive climate for what is now seen as the “Post-Democratic’ US military whose upper echelons proliferate in the Trump Administration. Suffice to say that contrary to democratic tenets, members of the US military now rejoice in their description as “warriors” without even a suspecting glance back to the Federalist Papers or even to centuries of history wherein the warrior was a caste in an otherwise militarised society.
It is a well-funded “warrior” culture to be sure. Notwithstanding the Defense budget of some $USD700 billion, the true costs when accounted for under the rubric of national security reach all the way to $USD1 trillion.
Within it furthermore, are the elite forces of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM): some 70,000 personnel operating in 150 countries, mainly from the 800 bases of various descriptions that the Pentagon maintains. Understandably the present is seen, in the words of one SOCOM commander, General Joseph Votel III, as “a golden age for special operations.” He then went on to say, “We want to be everywhere.” And everywhere includes Australia, which is part of “a Global SOF network of like-minded interagency allies and partners” and thus hosts Special Operations Liaison Officers (SOLOs) who are embedded in the US Embassy as advisers to the Australian military.
So-called conventional missions have returned as well. As the Executive Summary of the National Defense Strategy makes clear, conflict is a real prospect in Europe, the Middle East, the East China Sea and the South China Sea, against those powers seen as “revisionist,” or lesser challengers to the status quo.
Overall, perhaps there are three immediate developments which are most concerning. The first is a quite recent survey in the US conducted by The Wall Street Journal which revealed a rise in public support for US nuclear attacks across the globe – an indicator that the citizenry are unlikely to constrain decision-makers intent on ordering them. This finding is of extraordinary significance given that, when a recent White House review included the declaration of a “No First Use” protocol for consideration, it met with strong opposition from senior cabinet officials and US allies on the grounds that it reduced the credibility of the US deterrent overall and for the security of allies concerned with threats posed by China, North Korea, and Russia, more specifically.
Second the recent US reviews confirm that nuclear deterrence, a principal but not exclusive rationale for Pine Gap, can now no longer be assumed in the light of US weapons innovations and declared strategy.
Third is the testimony given to the Senate Armed Services Committee last year by the controversial former commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, and then head of Pacific Command, in which he stated unequivocally that North Korea had “provided provocation already” for the US to take pre-emptive action in the form of an invasion. Admiral Harry Harris has just been appointed US ambassador to Australia.
From 1982 to 1988, Michael McKinley taught diplomacy international relations and strategy in the department of Politics, at UWA. From 1988 to 2014 he taught diplomacy, international relations and strategy at the ANU. He is currently a member of the Emeritus Faculty at the ANU.