Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles has been at great pains to convince us that a commitment to AUKUS and total support for the U.S. in its war drive against China "strengthens" our sovereignty.
Whether China presents a threat to the region is not the issue. It is not an ideal global citizen. It seeks to promote its perceived "interests" and these might be at variance with its neighbours. It is hardly an innocent victim, but this, too, is not the issue. The wave of anti-China vitriol far exceeds any real or imagined threat. There is a threat to world peace and it comes from Washington.
AUKUS, the Quad and Britain’s most recent calls for establishing a (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) NATO-like formation in the region serve to create a false legitimacy for America’s desires to both demonise China and to lay the foundations for a potential war with China.
To be so unambiguously pro-U.S. and to play so prominent a role in building the anti-China case is reckless, threatens the region and promotes an arms race, but does not "strengthen" Australia’s sovereignty.
Marles, in arguing for sovereignty is responding to criticism from two former prime ministers, Paul Keating and Malcolm Turnbull.
Keating’s period in office coincided with a period after the end of the USSR, when the world was declared to be unipolar and when history had been declared to have ended. Even so, Keating managed to remain a loyal admirer of Bill Clinton.
The Australia-U.S. alliance was never threatened. Turnbull never shirked his responsibility of promoting and preserving the U.S. cause in the region. However, all that is in the past. The passing of time allows former leaders to be critical — especially in relation to current political leaders.
Anthony Albanese has made it clear that he would have happily signed off on AUKUS. It is unlikely that these former prime ministers would have rejected the U.S. on the grounds of defending sovereignty. This is particularly so given that the talk of war with China has become more alarming and the language ever more shrill.
In arguing for greater alignment with the U.S., Marles said that Australia needs British and American expertise "to help us along our optimal pathway" in order that we might be "better able to shape, deter and respond within our strategic landscape".
Marles claimed that AUKUS will:
"... help us hold potential adversaries’ forces at a greater distance and increase the cost of aggression against Australia and its interests."
The Defence Minister is oddly coy about "potential adversaries". He need not be. The Australian public have been told often enough that China is a threat. It is almost as though he is embarrassed to repeat the lie, although this is clearly not the case. He has loyally led the anti-China crusade.
His speech was not simply about AUKUS. He pointed to the importance of joint facilities, or rather U.S. bases on Australian territory.
According to Marles, these apparently:
"... provide critical functions that directly support our national security, which we would not be able to realise by ourselves."
With a deft twist of logic, the Defence Minister and Deputy PM offered further "proof" of how our sovereignty is strengthened:
"What remains constant… is the alignment of these activities with our national interests and the maintenance of our sovereignty, which I reaffirm here today."
In January, China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, repeated the view that AUKUS was hardly likely to improve relationships between China and Australia.
He also made the pointed remark that AUKUS might well serve the interests of "other" countries but not those of Australia. It was aimed at the developing recognition that sovereignty, at the hands of U.S. diktat, is a tenuous thing.
Opponents of the AUKUS project have repeatedly made the point that AUKUS and the nuclear submarine project breaches Australia's international nuclear non-proliferation obligations. If this is the case, then sovereignty has been conveniently jettisoned in the name of supporting powerful allies in a war that is not in anyone’s interest.
The Australian public might deserve better than such obfuscation, but that is how the game will go on being played.
Marles’ speech to Parliament made much of the deepening military ties that Australia is promoting with Japan and Singapore and that these are all vitally connected with preserving the 'rules-based order'.
It is never necessary to say anything else. The "good guys" observe the rules-based order and the "bad guys" don’t. That same "order" has been in place since the end of WWII when the USA emerged as the Leader of the Free World and wrote the rule book.
It is a bit of a stretch, however, to imagine that Australia as a middle power in the region has been all that instrumental in forging these new ties. Is it just possible that the U.S. might have had a hand in the planning? But surely not. That might be seen as an attack on sovereignty and Richard Marles assures us that this is not the case.
Marles' speech has been delivered just before the Government’s planned statement on its "optimal pathway" for acquiring its nuclear submarines and before receival of the Defence Strategic Review report (which was handed to the Government two days ago).
Conservative pro-war lobby Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is excited at the prospects. In a recent report, ASPI urges an upgrade in technological cooperation including cyber, hypersonics, undersea capabilities, electronic warfare, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.
Warming to its theme, ASPI claims that:
‘... the immediate priority should be long-range strike and deploying critical and emerging technologies to counter Beijing’s own rapidly developing capabilities. Achieving that may require making some difficult choices and trade-offs in the DSR [Defence Strategic Review] in March.’
ASPI is enjoying its time in the sun. No claim is too ludicrous, no hope unrealisable. It has the ear of a Government that is totally in thrall to the imperial wishes of the United States.
There is a river of cash for the military and there is an "enemy" that makes the spending "necessary". All this and a strengthened sovereignty. How could it be any better?
Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. He has been, variously, a teacher, journalist and political activist.
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