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The AUKUS Shell-game

Written By: - Date published: 3:54 pm, October 4th, 2021 - 44 comments
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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.


44 comments on “The AUKUS Shell-game ”

  1. SPC 1

    There are two distinct matters involved.

    One the security of Oz, and the confrontation with China over Taiwan and the South China sea atoll/aircraft carriers.

    To the extent that Oz is committed to participation in the second matter, it's now more at risk.

    To the extent that we are committed to Oz security, our risk has also increased – and we were not (apparently) consulted by Oz about this.

    If we were to withdraw from ANZUS as a result, one wonders what the consequences would be?

  2. Scud 2

    A lovely picture of HMAS Melbourne doing heeling trials post refit, the wife’s Pop was in her first commissioning crew from the UK to Sydney prior to his discharge from the RAN late 56- early 57 as he reached his terminal rank on the lower deck for Air Defence & Fighter Direction. He could’ve taken a Commission which the RAN wanted him to do, but back in those days meant 18-24mths in UK unaccompanied with a young family & already having spent 5yrs away during the WW2 plus 18mths away on the HMAS Sydney during the Korean War a enough was enough for the CPO Gibson.

    Which was a shame, as rumour has it when CPO Gibson cross the bar. That he would’ve made Flag Rank had he stayed on as he was very highly regarded in RAN & the RN Training Establishments for his experience, training the Lower Deck, the Snotty’s & the Subbies incl Aircrew & the welfare of his Subordinates.

  3. Brigid 3

    Analyses of the hilarious 60 Minutes Australia Episode "War with China"

    • gsays 3.1

      Good watching, although the humour is kinda dark and resigned to a grim outcome.

      Carl Zha's point is spot on. 'To American citizens, If the PRC 'integrates' Taiwan, your life will not change. If the US and China have a nuclear exchange, your life will change.'

      Edit: re-reading yr comment it was the 60 Minutes piece that was hilarious.

      The next point was how China has no reason to rush in regards to any action in Taiwan as it’s star is rising, however the fading US empire has a small and diminishing opportunity to ‘wave its MIC willy”

      Gives a new perspective to the observation ‘In the UK one hundred miles is a long way, in the US one hundred years is a long time.’

  4. garibaldi 4

    Yes the deal is all about America having a huge presence in Australia because their aircraft carriers and their subs are basically obsolete with the new rockets the so called "enemy" have now (or soon will have).

    To me the big question is this….Is the crumbling ,near non existent "American Dream" worth giving up our lives for? Since WW2 that dream has become a bloody nightmare.
    Who will fire the first nuclear bombs? I know who I think it will be.

    • Tiger Mountain 4.1

      Who has ever actually employed nuclear weapons?–bingo, full house…–yes, US Imperialism, against the largely civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII.

      With various tipping points being reached or approached around the world, maybe Climate Change will do the humans in before nukes do! Australia seems set to become a burnt out sand pit, that no amount of subs will save them from.

  5. Patricia Bremner 5

    America is The Roman Empire. Decadent and past their best. Biden trying to patch the States together with the next "new thing" imo. AUKUS Awkward more like. Big money won't pay for this folly small taxpayers will. I know some here admire America, but I think you are looking backwards. America changed after Vietnam and The Bay of Pigs. Now 1.6 trillion USA arms and 8 billion to UNO.

  6. SPC 6

    The Juice Media does a backgrounder.

  7. Gristle 7

    For a course I was taking (in Australia) the then Collins Class Submarine replacement programme was studied in terms of project risks. Among the conclusions our group arrived at was that the project scope, which limited the solution set to diesel/electric propulsion, was at odds with true performance requirements, and as such the project had a potential flaw in it.

    Though at the time there was neither the political will or public acceptance of moving to nuclear propulsion. And the defence procurement organisation were fighting for the original $90b budget and would have seen that going for a nuclear option was a bridge too far.

    Accordingly, the performance spec would have to be down graded for lesser submersion periods, and smaller hotel load, and shorter patrol periods.

    The nuclear submarines will take at least 20 years to be delivered if Australia has the construction role. 8 to 12 submarines are going to take ages to build. The first one may be ready to leave the shipyard in 20 years, but just wait and see the problems in commissioning it and getting it accepted into the fleet.

    Meanwhile population predictions for China is that its population may well half in the next 35 years. The rise of China as a dominant super power will not be plain sailing. Economic downturn, climate change, population reduction will all stress China internally.

    • RedLogix 7.1

      Thanks. This is the kind of informed and thoughtful comment that's always really welcome here.

      and as such the project had a potential flaw in it.

      The night before last I was chatting to a marine tradie just arrived here from SA for a new job, straight from working on the Collins maintenance and upgrades – and as usual the people on the ground know what's going on. It was apparently common knowledge for ages the French contract was 'flawed' – although the word he used was the other one starting with f.

      • Subliminal 7.1.1

        This flaw in the French subs is the lack of nuclear propulsion? Do you not think that a lot of discussion went into this prior to deciding what subs to get? So why were nuclear subs rejected? There is no nation with nuclear propulsion that doesnt also have a civil nuclear industry. At present it is ilegal for such an industry to exist in Australia. Does this matter? Australia could not sustain and maintain a nuclear propelled navy without this infrastructure. To the Australians this meant that if you can't maintain your own navy it is not sovereign. You do not have control of it. But even supposing they did want to go nuclear further down the track the French subs offered that possibility in their design and did not require the high levels of enrichment that now make the fuss over the Iranian JCPOA a complete joke if it were ever anything else. Malcolm Turnbull lays out the thinking behind the French deal here. Probably a little more insightful than a tradies "the French subs are f**ked

        • RedLogix

          So why were nuclear subs rejected?

          At the time the deal was first inked there was no obvious need for them – the diesel electrics would have sufficed for the coastal defense role that was required at the time – albeit with constraints.

          But that was back in 2013. Everyone was happy doing business with China – and it would be good if that state of affairs had remained.

          • Subliminal

            The calculus was still the same. No domestic nuclear infrastructure. On defence of Australia, the smaller more maneuverable French subs were and are better in the shallow local shipping lanes. What has changed is US desire to be able to close the SLOC and thus cripple China as a trading nation. This requires the ability to stay submerged and quiet for long lengths of time. The change is that the focus is now on attacking the percieved weakness of Chinas civilian trading and to drag Australia into this belligerence.

            • RedLogix

              No domestic nuclear infrastructure.

              Which given that AU is one of the larger suppliers of uranium ores, and has an exceptionally capable mineral processing industry – then it's only a matter of political will and time to change that.

              A decade ago there was not much appetite nor motivation to pursue a domestic nuclear industry, but it's my sense this is changing for a number of reasons. Not all of them related to China.

              What has changed is US desire to be able to close the SLOC and thus cripple China as a trading nation.

              Why should the rest of the world protect Chinese shipping? You take for granted the historically exceptional period since WW2 when it became normal for merchant ships to be able to go anywhere they liked without fear of constraint or raiding. It was for the most part the massive US Navy that provided that security guarantee for everyone – even for Soviet merchant ships during the Cold War.

              But all that is in the past now.

              • Subliminal

                The rest of the world protecting Chinese shipping?! I think there was something in your tea this morning. The ability to attack and close Chinese SLOC is the point of nuclear subs. Protect?? Good grief!

    • SPC 7.2

      A lot of money extending the Collins class subs out another 10 years to 2030 … then nothing … for 10 years

      For what to build hulls in Adelaide and then send them offshore to become an actual sub?

      If building hulls in Adelaide is more important than having any subs …

  8. Byd0nz 8

    We are defending the People, (Governments of the world) say as they waste resources and money into weapons that become obsolete and are left to pollute the planet.

    If they are serious about defending 'The People then surely they should concentrate on the wellbeing of those people by supplying top class Health facilities, top class education facilities, top class infrastructure, top class everything but war shit and alliances with war monger bullies.

    Defenders of war shit will say that's simplistic and such a country would soon be swamped by war monger nations,but would they?, perhaps the country that follows a peaceful path may well inspire 'The People' of warmonger states by the success of putting the people first.

  9. Stuart Munro 9

    I don't think we need be particularly concerned about AUKUS as a threat to us, or as an immediate cause of war. But Australia does seem to be losing trade security with the EU over it, which is a testament to Slomo's truly stellar lack of ability.

    Some analysis from Caspian Report. (3) French fury as Australia scraps submarine deal – YouTube

    • SPC 9.1

      It ties Oz more closely to the USA, thus a greater chance of Oz being involved in the US-China confrontation. And we are a security partner of Oz.

      • Stuart Munro 9.1.1

        the US-China confrontation

        is largely theoretical at this point. The imposition of mainland rule on Hong Kong however, was real and forcible, and the rising frequency Chinese incursions of Taiwan's airspace suggests that Xi wants that territory sooner rather than later.

        A bunch of dated nuclear submarines a couple of decades away from delivery isn't especially scary – unless you're a French shipbuilder, or your navy is as green as China's.

  10. RedLogix 10

    In the meantime the PRC airforce flew a record number of military flights into Taiwanese airspace yesterday.

    That the OP is long on condemning an upgrade to the long standing alliance relationship between the US and AU, while remaining silent on the PRC's active and increasing military confrontation with at least Taiwan and Japan – is to say – remarkably selective.

      • RedLogix 10.1.1

        The when may well be sooner than imagined. The PRC leadership needs to make a calculation on timing that will look like this:

        Going now has the advantage that the PRC is already at peak readiness, and the US is at this moment distracted by multiple internal challenges and what they must perceive as a weak President.

        Waiting does not accrue the PRC more advantage, but allows their opponents more time to organise. While there is a chance Taiwan will rollover without resistance, this looks increasingly unlikely as each year goes by.

        If it happened next week I would not be surprised.

        • Scud

          It’s been quite interesting looking at the composition of those PLA-AF Air Task Groups flying into the Taiwanese ADIZ. It’s not so much it’s Fighters, but it’s Maritime Aircraft, Signal’s & Electronic Warfare Aircraft & it’s H6 Bombers armed with underwing cruise missiles.

          Which gives the impression that Chinese are trying to bait the Taiwanese to fire the first shot by wearing down the Taiwanese Fighter Pilots & or the Air Defence Missile Units. So far the Chinese Psy-Ops on the Taiwanese ADIZ hasn’t worked. But it’s only a matter of time before someone on either side cocks up & my gut feeling knowing the psychological pressure of when to shoot or not to shoot from my time Peacekeeping that someone cracking pressure well be some poor bugger from Taiwan.

          This is a game of Chicken or Russia Roulette on Steroids.

          • SPC

            I'm fairly sure the order to the fighter pilots is only shoot down anything that has used weapons on a target in Taiwan (maybe even then get permission).

            Besides if the "visiting" aircraft are coming without fighter cover, it's not to attack – it's to scout and to demonstrate its claim Taiwan is part of China.

            A fly(over) that cannot be removed (swatted away) creates a new normal environment.

    • SPC 10.2

      The US fleet moves around the South China Sea, Chinese planes fly around and over Taiwan.

      Was this the point to the creation of atoll/aircraft carrier islands?

      Does no one remember Cuba? The Americans had missiles in Turkey, the Russians were placing some in Cuba. What happened?

      Or the 1980's? Russia with SS 20 missiles in Eastern Europe. So the Americans placed Pershing and Cruise in Western Europe. What happened?

    • Subliminal 10.3

      Scud above recognizes the difference between Taiwanese air space and an ADIZ. An ADIZ is an air defense identification zone and is a non binding request for aircraft to identify themselves. The Taiwanese ADIZ was created by the US after the second world war and includes a chunk of mainland China. So I guess it goes without saying that there will be many incursions by China's air force into this zone… You can read more about this manufactured hysteria here. The US says it does not support any State applying it's ADIZ procedures to any aircraft not intending to enter into its national airspace. So I guess thats that then.

      • RedLogix 10.3.1

        The incursions of concern are not over mainland China – the majority of the larger ones happening to the south-west of Taiwan. The idea that the PRC is somehow the bumbling innocent in this matter is laughable:


        • Subliminal

          Theres no bumbling innocence. Its difficult to take seriously a Taiwanese ADIZ that includes a chunk of Mainland China and seriously curtails flight paths along the Chinese coast. So exactly, as in the link above, as the US does in other ADIZ, China ignores the Taiwanese ADIZ when they are in transit. You could try looking at the map of the ADIZ in the wikipaedia link above with an unjaundiced eye and you may realise how ridiculous it is.

          • RedLogix

            A glance at plots of the incursions of concern invalidates your diversionary tactic here. The Taiwanese ADIZ has existed for decades with few serious concerns until very recently.

            I have a reliable connection who routinely pilots domestic traffic out of Xiamen City, well within the technical boundaries of the ADIZ, without invoking any response from the Taiwanese. Pretending that what we're talking about is ordinary traffic overflying mainland China is directly contradicted by my own personal knowledge.

            • Subliminal

              Oh well thats all good then. We now only need to refer to RedLogix' personal knowledge to understand China Taiwan relations. Diversionary tactics indeed!

      • Scud 10.3.2

        Here’s an interesting map I’ve nicked from Twitter, which outlines the Taiwanese ADIZ & it’s Territorial Airspace. Almost most Civilian Aircraft including Cargo Aircraft are by international law must fly with their Radar transponder on at all times, the reason for this. Is to ensure that these Aircraft are not mistaken for Military Aircraft that don’t require to have its transponder on & get shot down. Unfortunately this is no always the case when it comes to “Human Error” & ones human paranoia towards one country or another.


        What the Chinese PLA-AF is doing IRT to the Taiwanese ADIZ at, is raging a massive Psychological Ops warfare on the Taiwanese ADIZ Radar Operators/ Air Defence Missile Bty Commanders by wearing them down both mentally & physical while to the same to the Taiwanese AF Pilots, Jets & the Technicians who service the Jets to a point the Jets start going U/S or the Pilots get over stress forcing to lose “face” and then dosomething equally stupid like shooting down a Chinese PLA-AF.

        The Chinese can keep doing this, till the cows come home for milking as they have the numbers to do this, where as the Taiwanese are on a hiding to nothing in more ways than one as they finite number IRT Personal & Equipment.

        • SPC

          The stress test is a gathering information on Taiwanese capability (synchronised with satellite surveillance of defences).

          Ultimately to convince the Taiwanese, via constant war gaming, that they cannot defend the island.

          A fly that cannot be swatted away lands and has dominion.

          • Scud

            Unfortunately I believe that the Taiwanese have the right to Self Defence under the UN Article 51, A Country has the right to Self Defence if it’s attacked by its neighbor or by any other aggressive country & has a right to Self Determination under the UN Charter as well.

            But I’m not entirely convinced about the Chinese Invasion of Tibet than compare with what happened with West Papua or Timor-Leste prior to us liberating East Timor with INTERFET in 99-00.

            • SPC

              “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.

              Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations.

              Technically, it does not have the right to protect itself, as it is not a member. And the charter authorises the collective defence, only of members of the United Nations.

              There is reference to

              the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

              China has veto power on the UNSC, and regards Taiwan as part of its territory.

            • SPC

              Taiwan fails the 4th test to become a state, or even begin a process/path to self determination via the UN (because of it lacks recognition by other states – because of the claim it is part of China's territory).

              a settled population, a defined territory, government and the ability to enter into relations with other states

              1933 Montevideo Convention

              • Scud

                Thanks for the clarification, as I’ve haven’t touched on International Law or the UN Charter since I’ve left the RAAF 2-3yrs ago, so Taiwan is pretty much screwed then?

                I still personally believe Taiwan still have a right to Self Defence & the right to Self Determination. So we are probably going to disagree on this one then?

                I still believe if & when China does make a move on Taiwan, it’s going to spell disaster Sth Korea & Japan in the Nth and the rest of us in the Sth who depend on Japanese & Sth Korea Trade. Regardless of what China says, just like poor old Neville with his piece paper that Herr Hitler had signed in 38.

                • SPC

                  Only a moral cause, as to self-governance, not an international "right" to self-determination".

                  The Americans made things worse by promoting democracy in Hong Kong and planned weapon sales to Taiwan (also dim-witted to promote TPP as a counter to China, then not join).

                  And Biden and Blinken are no better than Trump and Pompeo – no one takes their moral authority or security leadership seriously after Afghanistan. The Chinese will note Biden did not support the liberation of Kuwait (an actual member state of the UN) but did the regime change in Iraq – so they'll see him as weak on standing by Taiwan and yet also willing to threaten governments of nation states, such as their own. This is going to add a number of complications to diplomatic efforts.

                  • Scud

                    Thence my Moral, Ethical & Values dilemma I have that we must have to stand up for Taiwan against China’s bulling, but US Politics over the decades on this matter doesn’t help either. Or else we will end up like our Grandparents generation failed to do with Herr Hitler or the Japanese until it was to too late.

                    • SPC

                      My preference would be

                      1. end of NATO.

                      A EU-Russia-Ukraine agreement recognising Crimea as part of Russia, eastern areas of Ukraine also (as determined by plebiscite). Russia takes over a share of the Ukraine debt in compensation and of course sanctions on Russia end.

                      EU-Russia-Ukraine FTA and defence co-operation agreement involving basing of EU forces alongside Russians in Kaliningrad oblast.

                      2. The UNSC permanent members (Russia, China, USA, France and UK) formally sign up to an agreement to guarantee the security of South Korea to replace the need for US forces to be stationed there.

                      The point of these two things is to take Russia and North Korea out of the game.

                      NATO has driven Russia into the arms of China, and North Korea without American forces as an excuse for belligerence is neutered as an attack dog for China (threatening Japan and Oz recently). Restrained by Russian and Chinese guarantees to South Korea, it has no viable future but by improved relations with the South.

                      These two things to isolate China if it continues on a path of ambition for hegemony.

                      3. Offer China the end of weapons sales to Taiwan, in return for Beijing agreeing with Taipei a 50 year continued self-governance period.

                      This might be enough to placate Chinese nationalism.

                      4. Allow China and Taiwan into TPP.

                      5. Wait for population decline in China (that tempers its rise to no more than equality with the USA as an economic and military power) and widespread middle class prosperity to both establish an equal place/status and yet also diminish nationalism (especially as America recedes form its imperial hubris).

  11. Adrian Thornton 11

    As usual the usual suspects around here put logic on the torture rack to try and explain and justify US/Western global aggression….and as usual there is no special analysis needed on the subject…the US are actively kicking off a new cold war with China/Russia/ Iran at the behest of their military industrial complex, Silicon Valley elite and masters

    “defense stocks outperformed the stock market overall by 58 percent during the Afghanistan War.”


    This is all about defending western elite corporate hegemony and has nothing whatsoever to do with the interests or the welfare or well being of any of the citizens in any of the countries involved that is for sure.

    I have to admit I have been quite surprised at how it has become so obvious and overt over the past little while that a really brutal imperialist, authoritarian streak runs so deeply embedded within the liberal centrists ideology…we see it expressed here on The Standard almost daily in some form or another.

    But the funny(?) thing is I bet all these ‘liberal centrists” would consider themselves to be quite sophisticated urbane free thinkers….where as by piecing together their comments on world affairs over the past while they are really not that different than the English toff in a pith hat lording it around in India not so long ago…funny, sort of.

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