AUKUS: Democracy Reinforced

September 17, 2021 Updated: September 17, 2021


The new strategic alliance between three of the Anglosphere powers, the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia—AUKUS—is a magnificent achievement. It is likely that Defence Minister Peter Dutton and probably Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie played a significant role in the conception and realisation of this project.

The immediate and practical question for Australia is whether it will bring to an end four decades of gross mismanagement of the defence acquisition budget, which has seen successive governments push to establish a domestic submarine industry linked to naked electoral advantage.

There was an added factor that was always extremely risky. Rather than relying on a proven off-the-shelf submarine design, politicians tasked a foreign submarine builder from France—never one of our closest allies—to design something new and radical.

First, it was the Labor Party’s Collins-class submarine in the early 1990s, which was hardly a success and was acquired and maintained at enormous cost.

But then in 2016, Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition government not only repeated Labor’s mistake, but it also magnified it by proposing that the French Barracuda-class nuclear submarines be converted to diesel-electric subs, and be fitted with American weaponry.

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Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President of France Emmanuel Macron, along with Australian ministers on the submarine HMAS Waller at Garden Island, in Sydney, Australia, on May 2, 2018. (AAP/Brendan Esposito/via Reuters)

I wrote at the time in Spectator Australia whether keeping former Defence Minister Christopher Pyne in Parliament and Turnbull in the prime ministerial Lodge, was really worth our spending billions on a fleet of Barracuda submarines minus their nuclear-powered engines?

Recalling that both Turnbull and Pyne are passionately republican, I noted that the submarines would still not be delivered in time for our future King, William V, to review our fleet for the 2045 Centenary of the Victory in the Pacific commemorations.

No wonder the French were chortling over “le contrat du siècle”the contract of the century.

AUKUS, however, is still centred on local production with at least no significant departure from established models being indicated.

But this still means the first submarine is unlikely to be seen in 15 years. It seems this time gap will be filled by extending the life of the aged Collins-class submarines, with British and American submarines based along with the Australian fleet.

Surely it would be wiser to buy or lease suitable submarines rather than this foolish wasteful dream of building them here?

AUKUS is, incidentally, much more than submarines, but extends into other areas, including accessing U.S. missile technology for a domestic guided weapons industry.

It comes at the right time for U.S. President Joe Biden, who can try to use it to balance the impression that after Afghanistan, the United States was no longer a reliable ally.

It also signals that after Brexit, the UK can once again be a global power with serious interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15, 2021. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Of other Anglosphere powers, Canada has fewer interests in the area, while New Zealand remains locked into its erratic, anti-nuclear policy which, in the 1980s, resulted in its suspension from the ANZUS treaty. It was always doubtful whether this was a genuine policy of the then-Labor government or just a sop to traditional supporters to distract attention from their radical free enterprise economic policy.

In announcing AUKUS, all three leaders were at pains to stress that the Australian fleet would not be nuclear-armed. Being so categorical was probably to ensure the opposition Labor Party’s support, particularly with a federal election due early next year.

Would it not have been better to keep the enemy guessing, however?

Australian vessels could, for example, carry nuclear weapons, when appropriate. These could remain under British or American control but subject to an Australian veto. This is, after all, a world in which nuclear weapons are proliferating, with Tehran—responsible for much of the world’s terrorism—once again close to acquiring such weapons.

It was of course purely domestic politics that required the declaration that Australia was not seeking to establish a civil nuclear capability. Let us hope it was just a typical political untruth, rather than a lack of elementary common sense.

With so much of the world’s uranium in Australia, why not take advantage of this?

With both major parties committed to net zero CO2 emissions in Australia—without ever being honest to the people about the cost and effectiveness of this policy on the climate—the obvious solution is what the prime minister just ruled out, a nuclear industry.

It is surely time to be honest with the people.

In any case, AUKUS above all binds the three allies even more closely.

After the illegal annexation of much of the South China Sea, which occurred without any strong opposition from the Obama administration, Taiwan is now at the forefront of Beijing’s territorial ambitions.

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Naval vessels from the U.S., Japan, India and the Philippines conduct formation exercises and communication drills in the South China Sea, May 2019. (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force/U.S. Navy)

If the United States draws the line over Taiwan, as Britain did over Poland in 1939, Australia and the UK will effectively be involved.

If Beijing is rational, AUKUS will act as a restraint against a further round of Chinese leader Xi’s adventurism.

It is likely that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will accelerate its unlawful economic punishment of Australia for insubordination and direct a similar campaign against the UK.

Those who mouthed the mantra that we did not need to choose between Beijing and Washington must now admit that it is no longer true, if in fact it ever were. This is notwithstanding the substantial pro-Beijing lobbies in the United States and other nations—most hoping to make economic gains.

The CCP will in honest moments admit that AUKUS is a coming together of free countries sharing common values and principles. Knowing that they can never have such allies, they will continue to try to trick developing countries with corrupt governments into becoming client states.

The CCP remains obsessed with one fear, that dictatorships inevitably fall from failed military adventurism. They believed they had Biden’s measure but now will suspect that there is some toughening in Washington, D.C.

AUKUS is based on genuine respect and admiration. For Australia, not only are there the links with our mother country, there is also a long-held admiration for the United States as a model for economic progress, constitutional institutions, as well as a major cultural influence.

The result is that of all countries, Australia is the one which can most claim joint Anglo-American parentage.

From the momentous visit of Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet in 1908 arranged by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin without British approval, to General Sir John Monash commanding both Australian and American troops in the decisive Battle of Hamel, through to our being involved with the Americans in every major military engagement since, the relationship with the United States is indeed special.

This is a momentous agreement. Hopefully, it will not be again side-tracked into some massively wasteful obsession about domestic production and on trying to improve already-proven submarine designs.

AUKUS is much more important than such foolishness.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

David Flint
David Flint is an emeritus professor of law, known for his leadership of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and for his tenure as head of the Australian Broadcasting Authority. He is also a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the World Association of Press Councils.