Nuclear Submarines- a horrendous folly to win an election?
Many of us despair at the Morrison government; whether it is the callous approach to asylum seekers, Robodebt and welfare generally or the naked favouring of their constituency where JobKeeper payments are not required to be repaid. The total breakdown in ethical standards where public moneys are rorted with grants to electorates that will favour them at the polls and might even be the reason that they were re-elected. The dismantling of public service capabilities and intellectual resources with the granting of private contracts for welfare payments with the Indue card, given to Liberal-friendly companies or to compliant companies to run detention centres or Great Barrier reefs research. The lack of support for TAFE and trade skills, replaced by skilled migrants on visas that have no Medicare or income support when they became stranded, the casualisation of university teaching positions with and no support or quarantine for foreign students despite the fact that education is our 3rd biggest export industry. It just goes on and on.
The mismanagement of the COVID epidemic in terms of being unwilling to build quarantine facilities to allow overseas citizens to return home and the lack of purchase of vaccines, and their desultory distribution practices is the current big issue that is upsetting their popularity. They were willing to throw money at JobSeeker when it went to big business, but now that it continues and has to go to individuals they want to end welfare and will stop payments as soon as vaccination rates hit 70% of the over 16s, which is only 57% of the population. As I have said on this page before, this is a level of irresponsibility beyond all else, justified by the idea that the economy has to go on and only the aged and sick will die. The divisiveness and callousness of this leaves one breathless, and as it plays out it is likely to be the end of the Morrison government.
So Morrison, the master media manipulator needs a very major distraction. China is asserting itself, which is clearly a problem, but the demonising of it seems very convenient for Morrison. The French submarine contract was not good, but it seems that the nuclear one is worse.
We were going to get 12 conventional submarines at a cost of $90 billion, the first coming in 2034. Now we have dumped the French contract and get nuclear submarines at a cost of either $3.45 billion each for the US Virginia model or $2.83 billion for the UK Astute model (2018 prices). The delivery dates are likely to be around 2040, so our old Collins class ones will be a long way past their use-by date.
The noted defence commentator, Hugh White had a very critical piece in The Saturday Paper 18-24/9/21, teased with ‘The old plan was crazy, the new plan is worse’. Two ex-Prime Ministers, Keating and Turnbull were both highly critical of the decision in the SMH of 22/9/21 and 29/9/21 respectively. Turnbull even spoke at the National Press Club on the subject. www.smh.com.au/world/asia/morrison-is-making-an-enemy-of-china-and-labor-is-helping-him-20210921-p58tek.html
The deal, dubbed AUKUS, was announced by Morrison with US President Joe Biden and UK PM, Boris Johnson. One could hardly believe this was not some sort of parody. The old Anglo alliance, rooted in history, but totally at variance from the image that Australia since Keating had been trying to project, a country engaging with Asia.
Boris Johnson wrote a hagiographic biography of Churchill and fancies himself as a latter day Churchill, which is absurd hubris. The UK has no power ‘East of Suez’ as was demonstrated when 2 British warships sent to defend Singapore in 1941 were promptly sunk by Japanese aircraft. Have they done anything significant here since?
The US is playing a far more strategic hand. Australia has been a lap dog to the Anglosphere for all its history and this changed from the UK to the US in WW2. Even in the absence of reasonable Peace lobby in Australia one might have hoped that the debacle of the Afghanistan war would temper our enthusiasm to go all the way with the USA, but it seems not. The US is preoccupied with China. It wanted a base in Australia. It may be hubris for the US to set up bases to try to contain China, but that is still where their thinking is at present. Why would Australia need submarines to go to China except as part of a US force?
Gillard was the first Prime Minister to allow US troops to be stationed in Darwin, but the US wants a submarine base. Australia may not have been willing to let the US have such a base as it would make us a nuclear target. So the answer was simple. Promise to sell us some nuclear submarines. We would then need a nuclear submarine base and to maintain our subs. Presto, Australia is paying for nuclear submarines and a base that our ally can use. The US will not be able to contain China, which will sadly be demonstrated when China decides to take Taiwan. China wants to be the dominant power in the world, and it seems that the world is going to have to get used to this idea. China is likely to want to dominate economically and technologically, so the invasion of Australia is unlikely to be necessary and we should retain our economic and technical sovereignty, but rely on diplomacy to look after our interests.
The French conventional submarines were as fast underwater as the nuclear ones will be, but have a lower range and lower costs. The French version of these is nuclear, so one of the reasons that they were chosen was that they could be re-engined at any time with nuclear propulsion with a lower-grade uranium, which was not weapons grade. Naturally they had a lesser range, but if the object is to defend Australia, this may not have been a problem. Nuclear submarines can stay underwater indefinitely, but their reactors produce a lot of heat, so if they are still they leave an area of hot water, which either is or will be visible to a satellite. So the idea that they are less vulnerable to attack may not be correct. It is not impossible that in future submarines will be as vulnerable to satellites, missiles and drones as battleships were to aircraft in WW2.
In terms of the perception of Australia oversea there are considerable downsides to the deal.
The Chinese representative said to Stan Grant on China Tonight on ABC TV 20/9/21 that the submarines would make Australia a nuclear target. Grant seemed indignant and said that there were no nuclear weapons- it was just the propulsion. Presumably the Chinese representative was referring to the fact that there would be a US nuclear submarine base on Australian soil, and he assumed that Grant knew that. It appeared that Grant had not thought it through. https://iview.abc.net.au/show/china-tonight/series/0/video/NC2130H008S00
The Indonesians are concerned that we have long-range submarines that we do not really need for our coastal defence and that we are firmly partisan in the US-China standoff and have brought the conflict into their area, quite apart from any aggressive intentions that we might harbour against them. The old colonial ties are all renewed- what sort of country are we, Asian or Anglo?
The French are naturally furious, and they are very influential in the EU while we are on the verge of a free trade treaty. This is very poor politics on a very big trade issue. We have unilaterally torn up a major deal. How reliable are we?
Morrison has been seen in happy snaps with the US and UK leaders. He is appealing to his Anglophile base. He thinks this parody of statesmanship can be spun into an election victory, some say as soon as November, before the COVID debacle reaches its final stage. If Morrison can win again it will be the last straw in taking Australia down a dismal and unconsidered path.