Monday 20th of March 2023

the drawbacks of aukus.......

Just in time, the fundamental faults of AUKUS are being exposed in Canberra and Washington.

This development is not only due to the mounting concern among Australian civil society groups. The Australian mainstream media are now discussing the hitherto unmentionable drawbacks of AUKUS. But it’s because two US Senators, Democrat Jack Reed and Republican James Inhofe (since retired) warned President Biden that the US can’t meet its own submarine needs, let alone Australia’s. They also cautioned about American statutes and regulations that would have to be changed.


BY Alison Broinowski


Their concern came just in time, for the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the US and the UK is promised for March. As any Australian who’s been asking the Morrison and Albanese governments for the details for the past year knows well, there are none. For the nuclear-powered submarines, we don’t know the cost of the weaponry, the dates of delivery, or the training, staffing and crewing requirements, and it’s a good guess that the government doesn’t either.

In a rare burst of candour, Peter Jennings, whose constant theme at ASPI was and remains to urge more Australian spending on American weapons directed at ‘deterring’ China, is now concerned that if Australia/China relations improve, that could compromise secret US nuclear technology to be shared with Australia. But he still wants the agreement. ‘What is AUKUS if not a means to deter China?’ he asks, adding that if AUKUS fails, so could ANZUS (Australian, 10 January 2023: 9). Jennings’ concerns may open the AUKUS can of worms, which as he implies, also contains a festering mass of unresolved problems for the ANZUS alliance.

ANZUS was negotiated in 1951 as the bare minimum commitment Australia, New Zealand and the US were prepared to make to defend each other. With no effectively binding clauses – apart from Article 1 where they undertake to refrain from the threat or use of force, consonant with international law and the UN Charter – its unwritten purpose was to contain Japan. Talked up for decades, it acquired mythical significance for Australia’s mateship with the US. But would the US defend Australia if that wasn’t in America’s interests?

That nagging doubt was raised with Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, by Kim Beazley who knew that whatever else the US would not defend, it would fight for a base. The ‘joint facilities’ at Pine Gap, Narrungar, and Northwest Cape weren’t enough: in 2011 Australia proposed US Marine deployments in the Northern Territory. Under the Coalition, the Force Posture Agreement of 2014 went further, giving ‘unimpeded access’, exclusive control and use of agreed facilities and areas to US personnel, aircraft, ships and vehicles. As Bevan Ramsden pointed out here on 10 January, the sovereignty horse has bolted. US-Australia ‘Force Posture Agreement’ undermines sovereignty, must be terminated

It is too late for Prime Minister Albanese to assure Australians that the nation’s ‘sovereign interest’ will be protected: it hasn’t been for more than a century during which alliances to Britain and the US circumscribed Australian sovereignty. It is meaningless for Malcolm Turnbull, having done nothing to arrest the process of ‘interoperability’ with the US as prime minister, now to lament that AUKUS diminishes Australian sovereignty. The nuclear-powered submarines will have to be bought from, operated by and maintained by the US, and Australia’s defence forces are already ‘interchangeable’ with America’s, as Defence Minister Richard Marles has said. Some face-saving concessions to the UK’s submarine industry will further complicate the agreement.

Australia ‘cannot do everything ourselves’, says Retired Rear Admiral Peter Clarke. What if any of this Australia can do ourselves he didn’t go into. Proof of Clinton Fernandes’ description of Australia as a ‘sub-imperial power’ is becoming stronger by the day, even as its ‘power’ element diminishes.

When political leaders adopt defence jargon, the rest of us should reach for our fact-checkers. ‘Optimal pathway’ is Prime Minister Albanese’s way of describing the obscure, tortuous AUKUS process. ‘When we talk about optimal pathway, we talk about not just the issue of what is built, but how it is built, as well as the optimal pathway in building a capacity of skills in the Australian workforce’, he said. Opposition leader Peter Dutton tried for a clearer answer, saying that Australia was really dependent on buying US submarines to ‘keep the region safe’.  That too remains debatable.

Our leaders don’t say which countries in our region want Australia to ‘keep it safe’. Most of our regional neighbours are safely managing their relations with others now, without our submarines. They will have to wait until 2040 for that to change. In the meantime, Australia might seek their advice about a shared vision for a safe region. How Australia confronting the PRC with armed force is going to deter China – from reclaiming Taiwan, perhaps – is never explained. Peter Jennings hopes Australia can match China’s growing submarine fleet and join the US to stop the ‘Chinese Communist Party dominating the Indo-Pacific’. But how and when will we do so, and at what cost?

What our leaders always leave out is why we should do all this. Before the AUKUS deal is signed and it’s too late, Australians need a clear answer. That needs to be more reliable than citing the ANZUS insurance policy. Australia’s interests in our region are not interchangeable or interoperable with those of the US, nor are they identical, and they should be sovereign.





ASPI is NOT an independent think-tank...







foghorn of death sticks......


BY John Queripel


What is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), what are its sources of funding, and why does it so consistently advocate for positions favourable to the United States and the weapons industry? Follow the money trail.

Throwing something at the T.V. could become an expensive habit. Yet how often I feel like it, especially so with the increasing referral in just about any story to do with defence, Australian policy, and China to the ‘experts from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).’ The turning to them on these stories has become, it seems automatic, especially from our public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.

But what is ASPI, and what are its sources of funding?

ASPI, established by the Australian Government in 2001, employs 64 people (June 2020) and has its headquarters in Canberra and a second office in Washington.

ASPI describes itself as, ‘an independent, non-partisan think tank that produces expert and timely advice for Australia’s strategic and defence leaders.’ But just how independent?

An old maxim is when you want to know what interests are being served, follow the money trail.

ASPI’s website shows their 2020-21 funding as follows:

  • Department of Defence $4,000,000 (described as core funding)
  • Federal Government Agencies $2,620,978.73
  • Overseas Government Agencies $1,955,782.25
  • Private Sector Funding $737,362.30
  • State and Territory Governments $445,000
  • Defence Industries $316,636
  • Civil Society and Universities $89,600.76
  • Other $514,474

ASPI’s listed sponsors also include some of the world’s largest armament manufacturers, Lockheed Martin, SAAB and Thales.

More detail can be found through the Australian Government Transparency Portal (AGTP).

That portal shows Boeing (Australia, NZ and South Pacific) Boeing Australia Holdings, and Naval Group Australia also being sponsors, and details funding received by ASPI as follows:

  • U.S. State Department $762,559.52
  • U.S. Department of Defence $201,136.68
  • U.S. Embassy Canberra $400,576.76 (China Defence Universities Tracker)
  • UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office $437,026.04
  • Lockheed Martin $25,000
  • Naval Group Australia $100,000
  • Northrop Grumman $67,500
  • Rafael $20,000
  • Raytheon $19,090.91
  • SAAB Australia $25,000
  • Thales Australia $113,334

Two foreign governments, those of the U.S. in particular, but also the U.K., have significant financial inputs into ASPI. ASPI also has extensive links with arms manufacturers, of which just a few are listed on its own site.

Given the advocacy of ASPI and the figures for arms manufacturers contributions, I would judge, they are clearly getting excellent value for money.

Integral to ASPI’s work is its International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC), designed to ‘inform and influence policy debates in the Indo-Pacific.’ The centre has nine listed projects, five of them centred on China.

The first project listed, ‘Understanding Global Disinformation and Information Operations’ unsurprisingly finds the vast majority of misinformation is found to emanate from China and Russia. Of Western nations only Spain is mentioned, responsible for a trickle of disinformation. Nothing is mentioned of any U.S. disinformation campaigns, though such are well documented by Stanford University and others.

The next two projects. ‘The Xinjiang Data Project’ and ‘a 3D satellite Deep Dive into the India-China Border,’are very much centred on satellite technology, which supposedly was able to show 380 ‘internment camps,’ containing ‘hundreds of thousands’ of ‘forced labourers’. Many of these ‘camps’ have since been shown to be schools, with clearly identifiable sports ovals, apartment blocks, and even a 5 star hotel.

Another project centred on China is the ‘China Defence Universities Tracker’ Research carried out by ASPI led to the Australian Research Council naming 32 academics suspected of Chinese defence ties. The Council later was forced to admit that 30 of 32 academics were cleared of any national security issues. Former Foreign Minister, Bob Carr has dammed ASPI for using funds from the US State Department, to track Australian universities with Chinese research collaborations, and ‘vilifying and denigrating Australian researchers and their work.’

Again it is good to follow the money trail. The AGTP shows ICPC funding from:

  • Google Australia Pty Ltd. $75,000
  • Microsoft Pty Ltd $158,272.74
  • Twitter Inc $147,319.23
  • Amazon Web Services Australia Pty Ltd $125,000
  • Facebook Australia Pty Ltd $100,000

Of course each of these corporations, headquartered in the U.S., would gain handsomely if their Chinese competitors were blocked from entering the Australian market.

It is little surprise then that given its funding sources ASPI concludes:

“a more assertive China with rapidly growing military strength means a direct threat to Australian interests could develop with little notice. … The key problem is that most of Canberra wants to avoid a difficult conversation about China … The endlessly repeated talking point is that Beijing must cleave to the ‘international rule of law’, but … this hope is a dead parrot if ever there was one. Does anyone see a flaw in this strategy?”

Of course the question is rhetorical. ASPI is advocating for Australia to become part of a U.S. policy to constrain China. There is no attempt to understand China as a rising world power, with increased interests to protect, and surrounded by a curtain of U.S. military bases.

ASPI has developed a ‘Northern Australia Strategic Policy Centre’ through which it calls for, “developing a modernised way of thinking about the north and security by updating strategic frameworks that remain anchored in the 1980s ‘defence of Australia’ context.’” ASPI’s intent is for Australia to shape its ‘defence’ needs in line with U.S. aggression towards China.

As Bob Carr asserts, ASPI provides a ‘one-sided, pro-American view of the world.’ Such calls for Australia to be part of an aggressive U.S. led policy set to contain China places Australia at odds with its Asian neighbours. It orients Australian defence policy away from its prime goal, defence of Australia, and risks further damaging our economic relations with by far our largest partner. It hearkens back to an Anglo-centric world, long extinct.

ASPI, driven by the interests of its core funders, is anything but an independent source for advice.

Will ABC and SBS journalists begin to question their source?











the toy box.....


BY Binoy Kampmark


The announcement this month by the Albanese government that Australia would be acquiring HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) batteries from the United States can be put down to a few factors. One is that sense of being left out of the club. If European states can have such launchers with seemingly devastating effect, why not us?

The other aspect is more serious. To acquire such weapons is yet another affirmation of Australia’s status as a US outpost, military annex and uniformed adjutant, willing to go into battle with lethal American merchandise in the next major conflict.

The timing of the announcement this month seemed curious enough. Could it have been coincidental that it came soon after the Ukrainian strike using the HIMARS system that destroyed a makeshift Russian garrison with lethal consequences? In truth, as with so many things produced by the US military-industrial complex, Australian defence officials were already hankering for HIMARS system in the first half of 2022.

The HIMARS system is certainly getting its sales, proving to be a bountiful treasure for Lockheed Martin. Its lethal strength lies in accuracy over considerable distances and its ease of deployment. It is also indicative of a broader missile fetish that has gripped Canberra. To make the point, the Australian government also announced the signing of a contract with Norway-based Kongsberg to purchase Naval Strike Missiles for its naval destroyers and frigates, designed to replace the Harpoon anti-ship missiles from next year. Perceived obsolescence remains the militarist’s nightmare and the weapons manufacturer’s hope.

The nervousness towards Russian ambitions in Ukraine has done its bit to boost the purchases for countries historically clutched by the old empire and its interests. Last month, the Baltic states secured deals to attain the rocket system. Such purchases serve two purposes: to reassure the anxious and to fill the pockets of the ambitious. Defence ministers will always cue their performance. “It is a big step for our armed forces, this new system, and it will significantly enhance our national and regional capabilities,” stated Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas.

The Australian example, however, is even less comprehensible, unless read through the demands and needs of a foreign power keen on keeping the gunpowder dry for war. Otherwise, there are no threats to speak of, except in the feverish mind of stupefied analysts subsided by foreign powers. Why, then, go for 20 of such systems at the cost of $385 million ($A558 million), which is more likely to be more expensive, given the refusal by government sources to reveal the actual amount?

James Heading, Director of Programs, Strategic Capabilities Office at Lockheed Martin Australia’s Missiles and Fire Control did little to explain the broader necessity for such a system for Australia, turning it into a logistics fun fair for adult children prone to violent urges. What mattered was how good the killing system was, a toy the entire military family could have. “HIMARS employs a ‘shoot to scoot’ capability which enhances crew and platform survivability in high threat environments.”

With gushing admiration, Heading spoke of “a generational leap in capability for Australia, taking Defence from cannon artillery to Long-Range Precision Fires that provide a 24/7 persistent, all-weather capability.” Such historical comparisons are flawed to the point of caricature, but they tend to be predictable in weapons sales and the need to find ever more imaginative ways of killing. For all the posturing, Heading did lift the cover on the broader strategic value of supplying Australian forces with such weapons: the US imperium, namely, demands it. “HIMARS offers the Australian Defence Force the ability to use and share common munitions and to integrate into a coalition effort.”

This poorly-cooked tripe was swallowed by Australian Defence Minister and chief weapon’s fetishist Richard Marles, “The Albanese Government is taking a proactive approach to keeping Australia safe – and the Naval Strike Missile and HIMARS launchers will give our Defence Force the ability to deter conflict and protect our interests.” (No account has ever shown any defence minister authorising purchases against the country’s interests.)

The Australian Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy was also seduced by the whole issue of capability in the face of fictional demons, till one realises that the only demon being fantasised upon is located to Australia’s distant north and known historically as the Middle Kingdom. To the ABC, he explained with a toddler’s enthusiasm that Australia would now have “an Army ground-launched missile that can reach targets up to 300 kilometres away.”

For all his confidence, Conroy’s Washington masters were also speaking in his ear. “We are part of a developmental program with the United States called the Precision Strike Missile that will allow [the] the army to hit targets in excess of 499 kilometres. So, this will give the Australian army a strike capability they have never had before.”

The US Defence Department was affirmingly clear in its rationale for endorsing the system’s export to Canberra. “The proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States,” wrote the Pentagon. “Australia is one of our most important allies in the Western Pacific. The strategic location of this political and economic power contributes significantly to ensuring peace and economic stability in the region.”

The clods in defence are bound to be revelling in all of this. There are no bounds of accountability, no reason to argue against insensible procurements. It’s all about the toys and using them in the next war.