The AUKUS Con

GREG Sheridan yesterday published the most intelligent analysis of the AUKUS submarine deal in an overcrowded market. Executive summary: there is virtually no chance this nation will ever take possession of any nuclear boats. Even if decisions were made in rapid time about which submarine chassis Australia will use – British, American or bespoke and entire – an optimistic timeline won’t see a bottle of champagne swung against a hull until the 2040s. Sheridan says a fleet of eight boats could not be completed earlier than the 2060s. Most so-called experts who rushed to hold forth on the ‘game-changer’ arrangement made the error of conflating the geo-political imperatives of 2021 with the mystery realpolitik of the middle twenty-first century. Even if forward planning is no less necessary for being inherently inexact, there are several good reasons to judge the AUKUS plan as impetuous, dubious and suspicious.

The stupendously silly delivery schedule has already been mentioned. Sheridan is not in the habit of resorting to the blue in his columns but “batshit crazy” is right. Then there is past form as guide to future performance. When it comes to large-scale defence acquisition and construction projects, Australian governments are traditionally so mesmerised by what Sheridan calls the “dialectics” of procurement – he means the retail politics and pork-barrelling – that gamesmanship trumps the endgame every time. The result under Scott Morrison: “incompetent, lazy and inexplicable failure to champion its own defence programs” and the appointment by him – and Malcolm Turnbull – of hopelessly inept ministers. What Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds know about submarines could fit on an A4 page. Let’s be generous: single-line spaced.

There is always a cheer squad for ‘ruthless’ pragmatism in Australian politics; as regards national security most of all. Whereas I too would have applauded a nice blokes finish last worldview, say, ten or even five years ago, now I regard the arrogant two-timing of France as a sovereign risk to the country’s reputation. The mendacity and anti-democratic lurch of the Anglophone world’s defence and national security establishment has become a bigger threat to our ‘way of life’ than Beijing has ever been. And for what? Imaginary submarines. The AUKUS stakeholders just lost a twenty-year war in Afghanistan and America hasn’t even bothered to rescue its own citizens from the daggers and cranes of the Taliban. Plus, we’re told AUKUS is not a one-in/all-in pact. Is this thing – even the acronym is bereft of mission – is it not an odd tautology? Are we not already allies? Why not a sober memorandum of understanding between Washington and Canberra on nuclear propulsion technologies? Speak quietly, then see if you can build the big stick.

Like Robert Johnson after he went down to the crossroads, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Defence Minister reappeared after their AUKUS intersection as prodigies. Not of blues riffs but of Net Zero by 2050. Quite the coincidence that the green Boris Johnson and the yellow Joe Biden gifted the beige Scott Morrison nuclear beads and mirrors weeks before the Glasgow climate fair. All they ask in return, apparently, is a functioning electricity grid. The government will therefore go to the next election promising to build nuclear submarines in a wind-powered shipyard.

On the broader ‘debate’ about AUKUS, like everything these days it has become a dumb proxy war between disgruntled egomaniacs. It is not that Messrs Turnbull, Rudd and Keating have nothing useful to say about AUKUS. On some technicalities, Turnbull has been right. On transparency and international relations, Rudd is not entirely wrong. Keating is correct on one thing: an Australian submarine fleet will only ever unleash a payload in a US-led conflict or serve Kennedy-esque ends in a quarantine. Sheridan himself has a philosophically puzzling record on the contest between the call of high principle and the bellow of alleged inevitability. His misuse of Thomas Aquinas (who didn’t believe prostitution should be illegal) to argue states should no longer mandate exclusively heterosexual nuptials was one of the sillier pieces of casuistry introduced to a national discussion. On the increasingly dodgy AUKUS, by contrast, he scores a direct hit.

This entry was posted in Defence and national security, Foreign policy. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The AUKUS Con

  1. rosie says:

    While also knowing less that what could be fitted on a post it note about submarines I appreciate your objectivity CL.
    None of us are right about everything, every time, and just because someone we don’t care for espouses a particular view isn’t a reason to dismiss it out of hand.
    I’m very ticked about carbon zero.
    Morrison forgets Labor climate policy was rejected by voters last time round but always with the me too.

  2. Entropy says:

    AUKUS is a lot more than subs. It is also missiles technologies and US bases here in Australia. That can happen quickly. Anything to make us into a spiny echidna is good.

    Sub strategy has been a disaster for decades and this at least is a step towards reality. It has the obvious flaws CL mentions, but is still better than the French fiasco.
    The other risks:
    * Scotty appears to rule out OS builds, insisting on construction in the mendicant state. Hopefully this changes after the election.
    * the not unreasonable fear we will try something uselessly and complexly bespoke rather than identical to US Virginias.
    * Scotty appears to have ruled out leasing which would be a short cut. And a wrong decision.
    * we need to get cracking on nuclear engineering upskilling
    * sub base upgrades need to start now.

    Other short term solutions:
    * imbed RAN in USN boats ASAP. Our crews need to learn useful doctrine and nuclear engineering.
    * base USN and RN squadrons in Perth and say, Brisbane ( imagine them rocking up prior to fed election)

  3. RacerX says:

    I prefer the acronym USUKA.

  4. Rex Anger says:

    Scotty appears to rule out OS builds, insisting on construction in the mendicant state.

    That same attitude got us the manifestly unsuitable MRH90 and Tiger helicopters, solely because they were built at a Factory in Brisbane. From kits provided by Airbus Helicopters.

    Some things are far more important than vote-bribing. Defence of the real (and the end users of this equipment) uppermost…

  5. Entropy says:

    Yes Rex. There is a case though for us to be alb etc build them, but adding boondoggle special features than make them unnecessarily complex and not interchangeable with allies’ kit is not one of them.

  6. Rex Anger says:

    Until Collins, every submarine we ever operated was foreign-built. Usually English.

    And nobody gave a hoot until it became all about vote-bribing and industry handouts.

    As such, if the Poms can give us a good deal and a guaranteed quick build time (now they have more or less sorted the program out) on some of their Astutes, we buy those.

    If the Yanks are happy to divert 12 Virginias from their current build program and/or commissioning processes now, then we get them.

    In either case, Command Crews and prospective submarine crewmen and officers need to go into the RN’s ‘Perisher’ course and the USN or RN Reactor schools right now. Or within the next 2-5 years.

  7. C.L. says:

    As Sheridan points out, a nuclear sub would be the most complex object ever constructed on this continent.

    And we’re going to build 8 of them as the power grid tapers off to renewables at exactly the same time?

  8. jupes says:

    It’s hard to remember a time when the government made decisions in the national interest.

  9. HGS says:

    3 poor leaders make a marketing plan and come up with a surprise announcement.

    Who is the audience? What is the product? What is the real message? What is the real product?

  10. Tel says:

    The government will therefore go to the next election promising to build nuclear submarines in a wind-powered shipyard.

    Much better than the stupid French deal … trying to build wind-powered submarines in a nuclear shipyard.

    If the Yanks are happy to divert 12 Virginias from their current build program and/or commissioning processes now, then we get them.

    Leased Virginia class surely … we don’t need 12 on the one day, it will take the first three years to hire a crew and find the on switch.

  11. Tel says:

    As Sheridan points out, a nuclear sub would be the most complex object ever constructed on this continent.

    Does the tax system count?

  12. C.L. says:

    Much better than the stupid French deal … trying to build wind-powered submarines in a nuclear shipyard.

    LOL. What a debacle.

  13. Rex Anger says:

    As Sheridan points out, a nuclear sub would be the most complex object ever constructed on this continent.

    Does the tax system count?

    Well done, that man!

    🤣

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *