The AUKUS agreement attempts developments that will shift Australia into a zone that will threaten the existence of Australia itself.
I am not merely thinking of the militarisation of Australia, although that is definitely one likely outcome. I also have in mind our way of life that, while still set in settler-colonial assumptions that give First Nations people no substantial value in Australian society, is relatively relaxed when compared with the way of life of people in the United States. Australia has not experienced the focus upon security that high-powered militarisation associated with nuclear weapons brings. This is the world our leaders are leading us towards.
I want to take up two lines of inquiry into Aukus in this brief article. Firstly AUKUS brings together three Anglo-settled countries – two examples of settler-colonial domination that date back two centuries and more. plus of course the original Anglo-source nation, the United Kingdom. This may seem like an insignificant reference to an aspect of European colonialism that has shaped the whole world for centuries. However, Anglo colonialism has a particular complexion. Here I am drawing in part on the book by James Belich, Replenishing the Earth, about the history of Anglo colonialism. It is well-known these days in anti-colonialism circles that the Anglo slavery pursued in the Caribbean by England was the worst form of slavery, with cruelty on a scale that makes slavery in the United States seem enlightened. Anglo colonialism is typified by relations of difference that deal with colonised peoples with a vengeance. It is noteworthy that Anglo-settled countries like Australia have not at all come to terms with the cultures that pre-existed them. All invading cultures find this difficult, but Anglo-based cultures, as Belich shows, are a special case. It is no coincidence that Adolf Hitler looked with admiration to the United States for its ‘handling’ of its First Nations ‘problem’—a form of extermination of the Native American population—in how to think about the treatment of Jews and Slavs in Europe. Anglo cultures’ commitment to freedom and democracy has a repellent underbelly of racism and cultural suppression, not to mention genocidal elimination.
Significant cultural reform is always difficult but clearly the Anglo-powers have made the decision, at a time when in many respects their backs are up against the wall, to stand and fight—not for their own territory, but against the emergence of China, which was itself on the humiliating receiving end of Anglo colonialism in the nineteenth century. AUKUS in a strong sense is a thumbing of the West’s nose at all the emerging powers in Asia—on racial grounds. They must toe the line.
This is surely a crisis for an Australia seeking in the first half of the twenty-first century to survive in our region. To survive here Australia has to change its spots profoundly. It needs a form of cultural regeneration, in significant combination with Australian First Peoples, to justify its presence outside of the strategies of colonial power. While cultural change is always slow and complex, it is Australia’s only hope of both flourishing and being accepted in this region. It is also crucial because our allies are, in any case falling apart.
While I think the Voice could be the first step towards a significant and substantial change, only a weak version of the Voice, suitable for photo opportunities and feel-good policy, will survive the reassertions of this new Anglo alliance. Australia combines an especially empty form of recognition of First Nations with the arrogance of a superior colonial presence, coloured only a little by multiculturalism, and all this in a region where it has no basic right to exist.
The AUKUS alliance represents an incapacity to flexibly adjust to an emerging situation in which a new world power has emerged, one that will not go away. It is deeply ironic that the United States has fostered this emergence by its global development strategies, just as it fostered its opponents in Afghanistan at an earlier time.
That China is a new superpower is a reality—not that being a superpower is good for China or for us. Like large bureaucracies, superpowers develop self-oriented agendas related to their size, and are not to be trusted. But linking up with the remnants of the old powers to resist emergence means that Australia has resorted to a last gasp Anglo-cultural alliance rather than enter a serious process of rethinking its social composition and its place in the world.
The second line of comment is about nuclear submarines, drawing on a piece that appears in Arena Quarterly, just published.
The AUKUS strategy seeks to assert massive power, especially surveillance in the Pacific, surrounding China. Nuclear submarines combined with surveillance are the main focus of this attempt to cripple what actually, as I see it, cannot be stopped, in a way similar to Paul Keating’s argument. AUKUS shifts the whole emphasis away from how we protect our independence to what is needed to contain China. For Australia this seems to mean we have to achieve interoperability with US weaponary and systems, with nuclear submarines a key aspect of this. It means Australia must take a first step into adopting nuclear technology, and its consequences. We should not be assured by those who claim that it will be the last step.
Much has been written about the dangers of nuclear power and weapons over the years, to the point where it seems many in the community are now blasé about it—unless radiation waste is to be placed next door to you. Part of what the nuclear industry and its supporters have done is to launch smaller scale tactical nuclear weapons and also small-scale nuclear power plants because both large-scale nuclear weapons and large-scale power plants have unmanageable consequences and poor public acceptance, either because of non-human-scale destruction or ridiculous costs, which only keep escalating.
No one, with the exception of some military strategists, favours nuclear war. The reasons are obvious. The level of destruction of atomic bombs steps beyond our capacity to comprehend: it steps into another realm, a post-human one. Even the seemingly more mundane questions associated with nuclear waste are on another scale because they cannot be effectively disposed. All around the world nuclear waste is piling up around nuclear power stations as well as ‘storage’ of used nuclear submarines components because the waste is not of this world. There is no solution to the waste question. Nuclear waste is killing us on an increasing scale, as exposed by Kate Brown in her book A Manual for Survival. Contrary to the findings of mainstream Western science, she argues that low-level radiation is a mass killer and a general source of ill health As one Russian scientist she quotes puts it: ‘Chronic radiation is a crime’, and chronic radiation is a process that Australia has just signed up for with its nuclear submarines, adding its contribution to the systemic decline of the Earth’s environment, at least one that is suitable for human habitation.
We need to give some focus to this because it is an embarrassment to the nuclear lobby, which they handle and largely get away with by resorting to silence. But nuclear waste is a contradiction that will not go away. All attempts at solutions have failed in every part of the world. This cannot be emphasised enough.
What sort of contradiction is this?
Like nuclear technology, nuclear waste is usually simply regarded as a special category of danger. But its special effects arise out of a social process that is usually ignored. And this is a disaster because that social process is transforming our world in unprecedented ways.
This new world first burst upon us in 1945, with the practical scientific triumph of the atomic bomb. It was not merely novel. It was a consequence of the practical/conceptual reconstructions in the early twentieth century we associate with Albert Einstein and his associates. It was not merely a new theory. It was a combination of abstract academic theory with practical technology in the real world that gave birth to technoscientific society and culture, most importantly through its systematic approach to the transformation of nature. As such, academic theory entered the world of production, as an alternative or supplement to the transformations performed by the working classes, in a way that has expanded exponentially ever since. For better or worse, our world has become increasingly composed socially of the intellectually-trained.
The novelty of nuclear technology is contained within this social approach. Scientific intellectuals now uncover deep levels of the natural world, levels never before encountered by human societies that turn out to be mysterious and unmanageable. Nuclear is not the only example but it is a key one that destroys whatever it touches.
This is the world we are now entering, and doing so with great enthusiasm. It is not only a question of nuclear war. It is just as much one of the levels of security needed when dealing with what we do not know how to control. Nuclear weapons have been ‘controlled’ by such monstrosities as the Cold War and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) strategies that give reason a bad name. And low-level radiation has been controlled by denial of any major effects, while the environment of Planet Earth deteriorates. As Brown remarks, ‘Western researchers are discovering, like Soviet scientists before them, that radioactive decay at low doses changes the way cells behave in subtle and life-changing ways’, laying the basis for ‘chronic radiation syndrome’.
AUKUS is a strategy that pursues these outcomes systematically, our leaders planning to leave submarine waste in the desert, once again to be dealt with by First Nations people, now to be permitted by the WA Labor government. Among other things, the crime of chronic radiation poisoning needs to be sheeted home to the powers that be, and in particular now, the Albanese government.