Power to the people: peace activists say no to nuclear-powered submarines

Oct 11, 2021
us nuclear submarine
(Image: Unsplash)

The Morrison government’s embrace of nuclear-submarine technology and the AUKUS agreement has been challenged in Australia and overseas. A coalition of people and organisations is being formed to oppose these decisions.

There has been a rapid response in the Australian and international community expressing concern and opposition to the Morrison government’s embracing of the AUKUS war pact and moving to acquire nuclear powered submarines.

There a number of reasons given for this opposition.

Firstly, AUKUS is a war pact directed at China. It will mean more US troops stationed in Australia. Defence Minister Peter Dutton has mentioned up to 3000 US troops in fact. It also means that the US can store war materials such as fuel, munitions, spare parts, armoured vehicles, tanks and possibly missiles in the Northern Territory.

US warships will have unimpeded access to our ports. US military aircraft, including B1 bombers which can carry nuclear weapons, will have unimpeded access to our runways.

AUKUS means Australia is being set up as a US war platform from which it can prosecute war operations. Indeed AUKUS makes us an enemy of whoever is an enemy of the United States and so makes us less safe not more safe. Some believe AUKUS is a sellout of our sovereignty and that it locks us into US foreign policy and war plans.

There is also concern that nuclear-powered submarines could be a trojan horse for the establishment of a nuclear industry in Australia. Further, the US/UK nuclear-powered submarines which are the focus of attention by the Morrison government use highly enriched, nuclear-weapons-grade uranium, making these submarines highly dangerous (said former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull) and make them floating nuclear bombs should an accident occur (said Adam Bandt, leader of The Greens).

Another concern is that nuclear-powered submarines are designed for offensive operations in deep oceans distant from our shores rather than for self-defence operations in the relatively shallow shores around Australia and for which the French diesel-electric submarines were more suited.

Many believe the AUKUS war pact and the nuclear-powered submarines destabilise our region and promote military build-ups.

There is also the question of bypassing normal democratic processes. The decision to embrace AUKUS and the nuclear submarines was a totally undemocratic one, made behind the back of the people of Australia and its parliament. There was no public or parliamentary discussion or debate before these authoritarian decisions were imposed.

Finally, the decisions have reputational impact. The decision to drop the French submarine contract blindsiding France and raising its ire has shown Australia to be an unreliable partner in international contracts and has done considerable damage to our international reputation.

The mass media, apart from some reports by the ABC, has in general applauded these government decisions which are claimed to make us more safe from “security threats” and it has been left to the independent media such as Pearls and Irritations to seriously analyse and warn of the dangers of the AUKUS and nuclear-submarine decisions.

Other community and international voices have however raised their concern loud and clear. Here are some of them.

Within two days of Scott Morrison’s announcement on September 18, a Zoom meeting called by IPAN (the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network) and the AABCC (Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition) to discuss these development attracted more than 100 participants. The deep concerns expressed at this meeting resulted in the production of a statement headed: Australians speak out against nuclear submarines and AUKUS”.

It begins: “Australia cannot become a staging point for the US military, we cannot abrogate our sovereignty to the US, we cannot encourage nuclear proliferation and risk environmental catastrophe.”

Within days, a petition produced from the same meeting and calling on the Australian government to withdraw from AUKUS and cease acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines was produced on change.org. It has attracted 22,736 signatories (as at October 9).

It begins: No Nuclear-Submarines; End U​S dominance; Healthcare not warfare”

The MUA (Maritime Union of Australia) made a public statement: ”No to nuclear submarines-jobs & health, not nukes”. The union declared its ”total opposition to the reckless announcement by Scott Morrison that Australia would be developing nuclear-powered submarines as part of a military alliance with the US and UK.”

Friends of the Earth (FOE Australia) produced a petition: “Say no to subsThe Australian government must withdraw from AUKUS, stop the development of nuclear submarines and end integration into the US military. ”

The National Tertiary Education Union spoke out against the agreement ”to build nuclear powered submarines, with no apparent regard as to the costs to be incurred or regional political impact of the arrangement.”

The CICD (Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament) stated: “The CICD says this government is not acting in our name. Australia does not need this agreement that can only draw Australia into another US war. Buying submarines that are offensive, not defensive, is a waste of time and money.”

The Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) issued a statement: “The AUKUS agreement represents a threat to human health and global security”.

The Australian Conservation Foundation calls for Australia to be nuclear-free: “Prime Minister Scott Morrison must give the Australian people confidence that his planned submarine deal will not put the nation on the path to nuclear power, nuclear weapons and nuclear waste … .”

Pax Christi Australia, a branch of the international Christian Peace Movement, Pax Christi International, stated: ”We wish to raise our objections in the strongest possible terms to the AUKUS agreement. We do not believe that this initiative will do anything towards building peace in our region.”

And then there is the international opposition to AUKUS. The New Zealand government’s announced continuation of its anti-nuclear policy, which will ban any future Australian nuclear submarines from entering its waters or ports, has been welcomed by long-term peace activists, says the International Affairs and Disarmament Committee of the Aotearoa/New Zealand Peace Foundation.

The Kiribati President, Taneti Maamau, says the nuclear-submarine deal puts the Pacific region at risk and raises some troubling memories.

The UK and US tested nuclear weapons in the islands when they were part of colonial Britain. Between 1957 and 1962, more than 30 nuclear tests were carried out.

“Our people were victims of nuclear testing … we still have trauma … with that in mind, with anything to do with nuclear, we thought it would be a courtesy to raise it, to discuss it with your neighbours,” Maamau said.

Malaysia has warned that the AUKUS program could spark an arms race in the region. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said he had raised concerns about the project with Morrison and warned that the nuclear submarine project might heighten military tensions in Asia.

Efforts have begun to form a national coalition to oppose the Morrison government’s decision. It is expected that this will be supported by peace groups, trade unions, faith organisations, environmental groups, those opposing nuclear weapons and a nuclear industry and all who care for a peaceful and safe future for Australians.

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