While the agreement between the 19th Century anglophone maritime powers the US and the UK to admit Australia to the exclusive nuclear submarine club gained all the headlines, another much more significant and imminent agreement was reached between the US and Australian governments on expanding US bases in Australia in the AUSMIN statement. The US gains another unsinkable aircraft carrier.
They needed it because all their other carriers are eminently sinkable. The key wording in the statement is here:
Reestablished at AUSMIN 2020, the bilateral Force Posture Working Group convened in May 2021 to develop recommendations to promote a secure and stable Indo-Pacific region and deter our adversaries.The Secretaries and Ministers endorsed the following areas of force posture cooperation:
- Enhanced air cooperation through the rotational deployment of U.S. aircraft of all types in Australia and appropriate aircraft training and exercises.
- Enhanced maritime cooperation by increasing logistics and sustainment capabilities of U.S. surface and subsurface vessels in Australia.
- Enhanced land cooperation by conducting more complex and more integrated exercises and greater combined engagement with Allies and Partners in the region.
- Establish a combined logistics, sustainment, and maintenance enterprise to support high-end warfighting and combined military operations in the region.
Aircraft of all types could include nuclear-capable bombers B-52s and B-2s. Increasing logistics and sustainment capabilities of US subsurface vessels in Australia almost certainly means basing US nuclear-propelled and possibly nuclear-armed submarines in Western Australia. Setting up a base for high-end warfighting and combined military operations in the region is the classic American approach to preparing for war. Only this time it is not against countries such as Granada, Vietnam or Afghanistan but a major land-based power.
And Biden hasn’t ruled out the nuclear option in US attempts to contain China. In a statement released after the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Suga to Washington in April, the subsequent statement said:
The United States restated its unwavering support for Japan’s defense under the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear.
The Australian nuclear submarines will take years to arrive. The US bombers and submarines will be there much sooner. And missiles are on the way as well:
The Secretaries and Ministers discussed Australia’s intent to establish a Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise. They committed to cooperate on delivering this complex, long-term endeavor, which will complement the United States industrial base and assure defense supply chains in the Indo-Pacific.
This is why the Chinese have warned that these arrangements make Australia a possible nuclear target.
Australia has chained itself strategically to the US for the foreseeable future. It is a huge one-way bet, as all the signs are that the anglophone maritime powers are the ones in decline, as China and the East become ascendant. As China seeks moderate prosperity for all, the neoliberal West sees inequality rising and its citizens see future prospects declining.
New Zealand has come important and crucial choices to make. We are fortunate in that we are small and far away, and even more fortunate that we are forged by Treaty in two cultures and two languages, not to mention two sets of values and world-views. VietNam and Afghanistan at least should have taught us to stay out of “enhanced land cooperation by conducting more complex and more integrated exercises and greater combined engagement” with the Anglophone powers.
We should also reconsider our new-found foreign policy and defence establishment’s enthusiasm for locating us in the US-preferred and China-containing Indo-Pacific, and concentrate our efforts in support of our pacific neighbours. They need all the help we can give.