AUKUS has ensured that Australia’s future will be tied to US warmongering
AUKUS is as hard to swallow as its gruesome acronym is hard to pronounce. It’s equally easy to ridicule. It is turning former friends into enemies. It has made an egregious spectacle of Australia as an untrustworthy, reactionary, belligerent country. Yet Essential Research finds that 81 per cent of Australians think it’s good for our security.1 Apparently, Scott Morrison doesn’t care if this agreement endangers and impoverishes us and leads to a disastrous war, as long as his government is re-elected.
No sooner was the new Anglo-autarky announced in mid-September than howls of outrage reverberated around the world. Not just from France, the country most shocked and aggrieved by it, but from Germany, which was to supply components under the abandoned French submarine contract. Retaliation from the EU as a whole, which has much to gain from transcontinental collaboration with China, is damaging free trade negotiations with Australia. President Macron is urging the EU to develop its own independent military capacity.
Australia, according to China’s Global Times, has ‘turned itself into an adversary of China’. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman warns of three probable results from AUKUS: a new Cold War, a regional arms race and nuclear proliferation.2 India, which wants its own nuclear submarines, detects white Anglo racism, even as it joins the Quad; Japan proposes getting nuclear subs too, breaching its anti-nuclear principles; South Korea is anxious; and New Zealand, as always, has good grounds for being judgmental.
Kiribati, which was used for British nuclear tests in the 1950s and ’60s, deplores AUKUS too. The ASEAN countries, united in wanting to exclude great-power rivalry from Southeast Asia, are less than impressed by having AUKUS imposed on them. Except the Philippines, whose foreign minister wants push-back against China. None of them likes not being consulted in advance.
But what was there to tell? A couple of media statements by ministers announced the enhanced trilateral security partnership, an agreement between ‘kindred’ nations.3 The joint communiqué from the AUSMIN talks was long on shared values, the international rules-based order4 and the ‘legacy of peace and prosperity which our partnership has contributed’ to the region, but short on the central purpose of AUKUS and the Quad: containing China.5
Next to nothing was revealed in the communiqué about what each party will get out of the arrangement, or what each will contribute to it. Instead, they glibly promised a ‘forever partnership’, ‘closer alignment of regional policies and actions’ and ‘greater integration of military and defence industries’. A local council would expect less management-speak and more specifics in a development application for a pet-food factory.
Buried in the classified detail, the devilry includes a Statement of Intent on Strategic Capabilities Cooperation and Implementation. That allows ‘enhanced’ air and maritime cooperation, ominously mentioning ‘rotational deployment of U.S. aircraft of all types in Australia and appropriate aircraft training and exercises’ [my emphasis], and increasing ‘logistics and sustainment capabilities of U.S. surface and subsurface vessels in Australia’. Translated, this means US nuclear bombers, missiles, warships and submarines using Australian ports and land bases at will. More US servicemen in Darwin means more off-base behaviour of the kind locals in Okinawa and the Philippines have endured for decades. Nuclear fuel will be imported from the United States and United Kingdom, unless the silent intention is to enrich Australian uranium to weapons grade and set up a nuclear industry in Australia, both of which are currently illegal.
Dazzling the media with lots of graphics, Morrison made much of Australia getting eight US nuclear-powered submarines instead of twelve conventional French ones, though the exact number, higher price and later delivery date were unclear. An estimate is over $100 billion, in thirty years.6 Nothing was said about the millions it will cost to cancel the French project. And there was an ominous joint statement about ‘Cooperation on Countering Disinformation’, which implies even more surveillance and censorship of our communications than are allowed by the ninety-one laws passed in the Australian parliament since 2001.
As always, other weaponry is shared across the three Australian services, as if each had submitted a wish list for an escalated arms race. All these are uncosted, undated and undetailed. While the Australian Navy waits for decades for the unmanned, unbuilt submarines, they are to receive Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Australian Air Force gets air-to-surface and long-range anti-ship missiles, and future hypersonic missiles. For the Army there will be ‘precise-strike’ guided missiles. Adelaide will have more government-funded weapons-manufacturing industries, and nuclear ships in its port.
For these new ways to kill our neighbours, the buyer is Australia, and the two sellers are the United States and the United Kingdom. No wonder President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson like this arrangement. Estimates vary about the profits Britain can expect, but we now understand why Johnson gate-crashed Morrison’s appointment with Biden in June at the Cornwall G7 meeting. Australia paid for their party, and they must have gone home laughing, via the bank.
If the Australian people have been played for suckers by ‘USUKA’, has our government been played for a sucker as well? Or is this the keystone of an arch the Coalition has been building for years?
The shortness of the detail doesn’t mean there was none, or that AUKUS was put together in haste—quite the opposite. The recently declassified U.S. Pacific strategy doctrine shows that since 2018 the United States’ strategic vision has been to project its maritime power against China in a contest for control over Chinese waters and economic zones. Discussions with Australia began as early as 2019, when Biden made clear his switch of enmity from the Middle East to China. The partly US-financed Australian Security Policy Institute was probably present at the conception. The institute’s reward is to get premises in Washington, befitting a branch office of the United States.
Well before the September 2021 announcement of AUKUS, the groundwork was laid. In 2018, Australia obliged the United States by agreeing to ban Huawei and reject China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), both anathema to Washington. Yet both offered opportunities if Canberra chose in Australia’s own interests what it needed from China: modern railways, fast internet, and an Australia-based pharmaceutical industry, for example. Instead, the Murdoch media endlessly cartooned Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, who had signed up for the BRI, as a red-star-wearing Communist stooge. The government copied the United States’ McCarthyist ‘agents of foreign influence’ law and demonised Australians who had anything to do with China, even billionaire Australian Chinese whose generous donations had until 2017 been welcomed.7
On a significant visit to Sydney in August 2019, Professor John Mearsheimer noted how readily ‘Australia agrees to everything’.8 The military officer turned academic warned that the United States has no tolerance for peer competition. Some in his audience laughed nervously, as if he were joking when he said Australia had no choice but to side with the United States, and would be punished if it made the mistake of opting for China.
As COVID-19 spread, Foreign Minister Marise Payne in April 2020 obliged her American hosts by producing a provocative call for an ‘independent international inquiry’ into the pandemic’s origin, to which China responded by progressively barring imports from Australia. American products quickly replaced Australia’s in the lucrative Chinese market. If the Biden administration wanted to demonise China while Australia took the heat and the United States made a windfall, it certainly worked.
The Anglo-autarky lined up to face the world. First, President Biden replaced Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ with his own slogan, ‘America is Back’. In fact, apart from being progressive on climate change, he has taken the United States backwards, reviving America’s post–Second World War ambition to contain the influence of ‘Communist China’. Biden’s United States will not admit defeat, give up its expeditionary wars or share world leadership with China. Second, Britain, having divorced the EU, and wanting to reclaim its share of past greatness, will exchange technology, intelligence and propaganda strategies across the Atlantic and send naval ships into East Asian waters for the first time since the withdrawal from East of Suez. And a distant third, Australia will oblige them both by going along with all this, making an enemy of its major trading partner, forgetting about multiculturalism and engagement with Asia, and gearing up for an illegal war against China. If that war happens, Australia will be China’s exemplary target, and whether the Atlantic allies intervene or not, the result will be defeat or annihilation.
AUKUS is the end-product of a much longer chain of events. Successive US administrations have repeatedly created new enemies, using false pretences (such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident and Iraq’s ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’) to manufacture consent to wars of their own choosing. If the American century, as Henry Luce announced, began with the Second World War, it continued the warlike tradition on which the United States was founded. US hegemony and elimination of resistance to it was promoted by the War and Peace Studies Project,9 the German Marshall Plan, and similar institutions.
Always needing an enemy, Americans became progressively more sophisticated at demonisation and disinformation, manufacturing consent and funding for continuous wars, hot or cold, and creating the communications technology that delivered their propaganda. Internally, wars were successively declared on segregation, drugs, poverty and abortion, but never on guns. Externally, after 1945 the new enemy for Americans to fight was Communism; then nuclear competition from the Soviet Union; after the collapse of the USSR came terrorism; then Iran. Next is China.
‘Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change’, Milton Friedman wrote in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom. Schooled in that precept, in September 2000 neo-conservative members of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) produced Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. In it they proposed the need for ‘revolutionary change’, which would require ‘a catastrophic catalysing event—like a new Pearl Harbor’. The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was just such an event, leading Congress to pass the Patriot Act and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, enabling wars that were still being fought two decades later, the longest in US history. The war on terror created blowback.10
Islamists sought worldwide revenge for attacks on their countries and those of fellow Muslims. Refugees from the Middle East fled across Europe, turning the port of Calais into a ‘jungle’. Britain opted for xenophobic insularity and divorce from Europe. Conservative leaders who hoped to make the United Kingdom great again attached themselves to the United States, including its neo-conservatives, and demonised Russia. Matching institutes were set up in the United Kingdom and United States to drive the process. They included the Gatestone Institute, headed by John Bolton, and the pro-Israel Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), which explicitly sought to influence US foreign policy in the Middle East. FPI was established in 2009, the same year as the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) began in Britain as an ‘educational charity’, followed by its offshoot, Integrity Initiative (II), in 2015. New Knowledge, founded like IfS in 2015, admitted it ran a ‘false flag’ operation in the 2018 Alabama Senate election.11 FPI was dissolved in 2017, and IfS and II went silent after their existence was leaked late in 2018.
In October 2016 II’s founder, former intelligence officer Christopher Donnelly, met retired general Sir Richard Barrons and agreed that the United Kingdom should spend £7 billion more per year on the military ‘to deal with Russia and China’.12 They proposed the need for a ‘catastrophic event’ that would generate public agreement, echoing Robert Kagan’s call to PNAC in September 2000 for an engineered disaster to trigger revolutionary change. By targeting Russia and Russian-speaking communities with its pro-US messages, the American- and British-funded IfS would ‘cement the UK’s influence in North America and in Europe post-Brexit’. So wrote James Ball, a Guardian journalist associated with II.13 Donnelly called for a
new kind of warfare, a new kind of conflict, a new kind of competition, in which everything becomes a weapon: information, energy supplies, cyber-attack which everyone is aware of, corruption itself, financial investment—all of these things are now weapons in modern conflict between states, and between states and sub-state actors like Daesh [IS]. And disinformation is the issue which unites all the other weapons of this conflict and which gives them a third dimension.14
II was replicated in 2019 by Bellingcat’s Open Information Partnership, which claimed to do ‘evidence-based’ reports, while backing US and UK psy-ops against Russia, Iran and others.15 Founded by British amateur investigator Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat provides a public channel for British security agencies that want to air their versions of recent events, in Ukraine, Syria and Salisbury, for example.
Operating in the ‘grey zone’, these and other dubious organisations share a conviction: war must be continuous. Public consent to what Donald Rumsfeld called ‘endless war for endless peace’ depends on creating fear. What was more to be feared than terrorism? So the global ‘war on terror’ was an invention of genius by those favouring militarism. It could never be said to have been won or lost. Any terrorist event proved it had still to be fought, and the more militarists attacked terrorists and the terrorists demanded revenge, the more recruits and resources flowed to both sides. It was a perfect ‘forever war’, which is why it spread from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Libya to Syria, North Africa and Southeast Asia. It continued in Afghanistan longer than any other US war—long after its initial purposes, to find Osama bin Laden and punish al-Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks on the United States, were forgotten.
The war on terror opened up the ‘terror trap’, into which the United States and its allies obligingly fell. While Islamist terrorists were few and under-resourced, though they had killed and wounded several thousands, their well-armed Western enemies spent trillions, ended and damaged millions of lives, created more hatred and more terrorism, and achieved nothing. They include Australia, and they are still doing it.
Retreat from Afghanistan, but not from terror
Major military deployments don’t begin or end overnight, even though they are often reported that way. President Trump met the Taliban leadership in February 2020 and offered a US ‘withdrawal’ in May 2021, enabling the Taliban to write the terms of their victory. Soon after his inauguration, President Biden promised to have all US forces, as well as the embassy, gone by the end of August. He gave the Taliban plenty of time to prepare.
The chaotic retreat from Afghanistan recalled the experiences of the USSR in 1989 and of Britain in 1842 and 1919. Afghans could always outlast their invaders. As well, it was a facsimile of the US experience in Vietnam in 1975, except that the South Vietnamese resisted for longer than their US-backed counterparts did in Kabul. In South Vietnam, the United States assassinated under-performing leaders; in Afghanistan, America’s clients fled with bags of cash.
The suicide bombing at Kabul airport’s Abbott Gate and subsequent attacks by ISIS-K extended the war on terror. Biden even echoed Bush’s vigilante language, warning the terrorists, ‘We will hunt you down, we will make you pay’. So did General Frank McKenzie, head of Central Command, who ordered the Pentagon to plan strikes on ISIS-K assets ‘in a time and place of our choosing’. While the world waited, Leon Panetta, who had been Secretary of Defense under Obama in the years when ISIS-K began, declared that the United States ‘can leave a battlefield but we can’t leave the war on terrorism, which still is a threat to our country’. And the Pentagon press spokesman, John Kirby, pointed to ‘credible terrorist threats’ in Kabul, saying the United States was prepared for more attacks.16 He didn’t say what they would do about them.
Republicans were equally quick to revive the old language. In Congress they urged President Biden to go on fighting the ‘war on terror’, apparently forgetting that Obama had refused to use the expression, and Trump hated it as a loser’s war. House minority leader Mitch McConnell, locked in the terror trap, called for the United States to redouble its efforts against terrorism. He asserted that just because the United States had stopped fighting terrorists, they ‘will not stop fighting the US’.17
In Australia, the retreat from Kabul revived familiar warnings about terrorism. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd predicted that Afghanistan could again become a safe haven for terrorists.18 According to the Lowy Institute’s Rodger Shanahan, the West’s ‘main residual interest’ in Afghanistan is terrorism, just as it was twenty years ago.19 Yesterday’s prime minister John Howard warned Australians, as he had done in 2001, to be alert but not alarmed about ‘the insidious threat of terrorism’, including in our own region. No one said what Australia should do about it. None mentioned that if terrorism is still such a threat after two decades, we might need a different approach to the one we have been taking since 2001.
Biden’s predecessors wanted but failed to end America’s ‘forever war’. While Biden claimed the credit for doing so, he was already planning for what would follow America’s retreat. His new Enemy Number One would be ‘Communist China’. Biden sent senior naval commanders to the South China Sea, cranked up the Quad to contain China in the Indo-Pacific, and tasked a US panel to inquire into the Chinese origins of the coronavirus, including the possibility that Americans were infected in Wuhan in October 2019. Provocatively, that report came out in September, dovetailing with the twentieth anniversary of the ‘terrorist’ attacks on 9/11. But it changed nothing that was already known about COVID-19, and admitted no US role in it, even though Sharri Markson’s research shows there was one. 20
No one mentioned that China had had nothing to do with 9/11, or that China is absorbed with its own problems, including foreign-fomented ‘terrorism’ among Uighurs and Hong Kong protestors. Beijing is attracting governments to join its cooperative arrangements across the former Middle East, now called ‘West Asia’. China has befriended the Taliban’s Afghanistan and the Ayatollahs’ Iran, and Afghanistan provides transit for oil and gas from Tajikistan through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Therefore, even apart from Taiwan and the South China Sea, China is America’s enemy: a rival for US hegemony and a sponsor of the unending war on terror. Enough said.
Americans have fought the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and the Philippines, with Australian support in at least four of these countries. Related US military actions have taken place in Georgia, Cuba, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Turkey, Niger, Cameroon, Jordan, Lebanon, Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria and Tunisia, as well as on several oceans.21 Terrorism may be a pretext for further wars.
The next war
With very few exceptions, every US president has been responsible for a war. War is how the United States has always dealt with disputes and pursued its economic interests. Every US state has military-industrial-security complex installations on which local people depend for employment. The United States has not won a significant war since 1945, but that does not deter the war industry from finding further opportunities. There are some 750 US bases in eighty other countries, where Americans invigilate and pressure host governments. Leaders who resist US demands are likely to be destabilised, deposed or assassinated. Imagine the outrage if China or Russia did this!
Well before AUKUS, Australian experts deplored our inter-operability with the United States, and our unquestioning willingness—eagerness, even—to fight in America’s expeditionary wars that had nothing to do with the defence of Australia. Richard Tanter, Hugh White, Max Suich and others see Australia as having no independence left in foreign or defence policy.22 That means if the next war is against China, over Taiwan, the South or East China Sea, or some contrived event, Australia will become involved, will be a principal target, and will lose the war. China is not the Taliban.
But the United States always wants a coalition, like AUKUS. Australia’s only recourse, if Morrison for once puts the nation’s survival ahead of his electoral ambitions, is to tell the United States in advance that Australia will not join its allies in such a conflict.
1 Katharine Murphy, ‘Essential Poll: Majority of Australians Back Aukus Submarine Pact, But Fear It Will Inflame Tensions with China’, The Guardian, 28 September 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/sep/28/essential-poll-majority-of-australians-back-aukus-submarine-pact-but-fear-it-will-inflame-tensions-with-china
3 Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson, quoted in Anthony Galloway, ‘Australia Urged to Deepen South-east Asia Engagement’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 October 2021, p 15.
4 See Clinton Fernandes, ‘The International Rules-Based Order’, Arena no. 7, 2021.
5 Joint Statement Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) 2021, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,
https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/united-states-of-america/ausmin/joint-statement-australia-us-ministerial-consultations-ausmin-2021, US Department of State, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-on-australia-u-s-ministerial-consultations-ausmin-2021/; Malcolm Fraser, ‘Australia–US Relations in the “Asian Century”’, Arena Magazine no. 120, 2012.
6 Richard Tanter, submission to the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network People’s Inquiry intothe Costs of War, 2021.
7 See the ‘War Dance: Reversal’ series of articles by Max Suich in the Australian Financial Review: ‘How Australia Got Badly Out in Front on China’, , 17 May 2021; ‘China Confrontation: What Were We Thinking?’, 18 May 2021; ‘US-Australia Alliance on China Shows It’s Best to Go Early, Go Hard’, 19 May 2021.
8 Alison Broinowski, ‘Australia Agrees to Everything’, Pearls and Irritations, 14 August 2019, https://johnmenadue.com/alison-broinowski-australia-agrees-to-everything/
10 Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, New York: Owl Books, 2001.
11 https://www.newknowledge.com/about-us/; David McIlwain, ‘The Two Eyes Phase Two’, AmericanHerald Tribune, 11 January 2019,
12 Robert Stevens, ‘UK Integrity Initiative Heavily Involved in Skripal Affair’, World Socialist Web Site, 7 January 2019,
13 James Ball, ‘When Free Societies Copy Russian Media Tactics, There’s Only One Winner’, The Guardian, 10 January 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/09/free-societies-russia-misinformation-integrity-initiative#comment-124442900
14 YouTube, ‘Chris Donnelly Speaks on Disinformation, for the Institute for Statecraft’, Tony Kevin transcript, 4 January 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEHDKlvUqkE
15 Kit Klarenberg, ‘Integrity Initiative in Hiding? Whitehall Launches Secret European “Disinformation Factory”’, Sputnik International, 4 July 2019, https://sputniknews.com/20190704/open-information-partnership-integrity-initiative-1076147867.html; Max Blumenthal, ‘Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat Participated in Covert UK Foreign Office-funded Programs to “Weaken Russia,” Leaked Docs Reveal’, The Grayzone, 20 February 2021, https://thegrayzone.com/2021/02/20/reuters-bbc-uk-foreign-office-russian-media/.
See Eliot Higgins, We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021.
16 Joan E. Greve, ‘“Another Terror Attack in Kabul Is Likely,” White House Says—As It Happened’, The Guardian, 28 August 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2021/aug/27/us-politics-live-joe-biden-afghanistan-democrats-republicans-latest-news?page=with:block-6128fad88f08b30431f83e80
17 Greve, ‘“Another Terror Attack”’.
18 Kevin Rudd, in David Crowe, ‘Nation “Better Prepared” for Attacks’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4–5 September 2021, pp 1, 6.
19 Rodger Shanahan, ‘Impacts on Western Security Far from Settled’, The Australian, 3 September 2021, p 9.
20 Sharri Markson, What Really Happened in Wuhan?, Melbourne: HarperCollins, 2021.
21 David Swanson, ‘What the War of Terror Has Cost Us So Far’, Let’s Try Democracy, 30 August 2021, https://davidswanson.org/what-the-war-of-terror-has-cost-us-so-far/
22 Richard Tanter, submission to the Defence Sub-Committee, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, inquiry into the benefits and risks of a Bipartisan Australian Defence Agreement, as a basis of planning for, and funding of, Australian Defence capability, 2 November 2017; Richard Tanter, ‘Bad, Bad, BADA (aka Bipartisan Australian Defence Agreement)’, Pearls & Irritations, 1 March 2018, https://johnmenadue.com/richard-tanter-bad-bad-bada-aka-bipartisan-australian-defence-agreement/.
Alison Broinowski has given us an extremely well-written and considered piece here, and her perspective is as broad as the subject demands. It also illustrates the existential fact that has been around since the very dawn of civilisation, and which covers not only all human communities at whatever level and of whatever size, but also extends right back into the Animal Kingdom that we arose from: If you can’t defend it, you don’t own it.
My own Scots-Irish ancestors learned that fact the hard way, as did the successive waves of people of Aboriginal ethnicity who invaded/settled this continent before the Europeans did.
Since WW2, the ‘conservative’ establishment in Australia has had a policy of keeping the shield of the Americans in Asia; which could see in the near future a war between them and the Chinese for supremacy in this region, and in which Australia’s interests would always come second to those of the US. Central to this is the maintenance of a high-tech professional defence force of around 60,000, suitably equipped with the best gear lots of money can buy.
An alternative to this long-term strategy was set out by the late author David Martin in his classic Armed Neutrality for Australia, (Drummond, Melb. 1984) which favours a policy of preparing to counter hostile intentions of any major power to our north by having as large a popular militia force as possible on standby, with the aim of making the country unoccupiable and making the cost of invasion and short or long-term occupation not worth it.
Of course, both strategies are always possible.