Yesterday’s surprise announcement of AUKUS – the new Australia-United Kingdom-United States security partnership – is huge news. Not only is Australia formalising a security pact with her two greatest and closest traditional allies, but she is also being admitted by the US and UK into a very select club: countries operating nuclear-powered submarines. Scott Morrison’s government has walked away from a costly but irretrievably dysfunctional contract with the French to co-build a dozen conventional next-generation submarines, exposing itself to at least several hundred million dollars in termination costs, yet this has not marred the deal’s reception.
That AUKUS was announced, within eight months of the federal election, is even more significant. It’s one thing for a Coalition government to sign such a security agreement and pursue nuclear submarines. It’s quite another for a traditionally anti-nuclear and US-skeptical Labor party opposition to endorse such a radical reshaping of Australia’s national security framework. Yet it has, and yesterday Anthony Albanese publicly committed itself to the agreement should Labor win next year’s election, a definite possibility if opinion polls are right.
Morrison should not expect Labor will tear itself apart over this. Albanese obviously has calculated he can control his fellow Lefties and, like Hayden and Hawke in the early 1980s, prove to voters he is fit to govern.
Furthermore, just weeks after marking its seventieth anniversary, the joint announcement confirms the ANZUS alliance of Australia, New Zealand and the United States is officially dead. New Zealand suspended ANZUS almost 40 years ago because she refused to allow US nuclear-powered ships into her ports. Yesterday New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insisted that would apply to nuclear-powered Australian submarines as well. Given New Zealand’s inflexible opposition to nuclear-powered ships, coupled with Ardern’s refusal to join any Five Eyes strategic arrangements that might antagonise China, AUKUS effectively kills off whatever vestiges of ANZUS remain.
Australia, on the other hand, has been increasingly vocal about China’s geostrategic muscle-flexing, as well as the Chinese regime’s internal behaviour. Morrison was the first world leader who demanded China account for the origin and escape of Covid-19 from Wuhan, and he has given his MPs, including Andrew Hastie and James Paterson, licence to criticise China’s strategic ambitions and human rights record, despite the Xi Jinping regime’s wolf warrior bullying and trade retaliations.
Xi certainly should sit up and take note of this critical new development. The two great Anglosphere powers are joining a third, Australia, in making it emphatically clear to China and the world that the Pacific and Indian oceans are not Chinese lakes. The UK and US giving Australia nuclear-powered submarine capability, with the speed, endurance, and stealth that capability ensures, means there will be a local nuclear-powered, if not nuclear-armed deterrent straddling the Indian and Pacific Ocean approaches to busiest blue water sea-lanes in the world, running through the South China Sea.
No wonder the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman went ballistic yesterday. Make no mistake: the Xi regime knows that this move is a real threat to their dreams of regional, if not world, domination.
Just when we were despairing the Morrison government has no vision, and no idea, this comes along as a bolt from the blue. It should give disillusioned conservatives that all hope isn’t yet lost with this Seinfeldian government.
The Prime Minister deserves congratulations and praise for driving this initiative and, if everything else fails, he will leave himself a worthwhile political legacy.
Terry Barnes edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.
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