Tuesday 21st of March 2023

another dud chance for being hit for six.....

The risks for Australia in joining another “failed” American war, this one contrived to crush China, are worse than even-money, and climbing. The consequences verge on existential.

Australia’s wartime Prime Minister John Curtin wrote to Britain’s Prime Minister Churchill in a 1942 letter marked “Most Secret” – “we make no apologies for our effort or even what you hint we are not doing. The various parts of the Empire, as you know, are differently situated, possess varying resources and have their own peculiar problems.“


By Mike Gilligan


Curtin’s actions thereafter in drawing troops home, away from imperial priorities, are famous for incisive statesmanship. No cleaner example exists of an Australian PM putting his nation above all else when it mattered most. At once it crystallises how lonely a Prime Minister can be, and the depth of intellect required to be a geostrategic one. Few have shown the latter quality while many have made its absence evident.

Curtin had not long won government, after a decade of conservative rule, in which obeisance to Britain was ingrained. Today’s PM Anthony Albanese had a similar preparation for leadership. And faces a similar dilemma, with the United States planning to draw Australia into a war with China under the overbearing assumption that our interests coincide, demanding that we yield on fundamental principles of State – our sovereignty, control of armed force and declaration of war.

How Albanese came to find himself in this situation also demonstrates the almost axiomatic geostrategic vacuity of our Prime Ministers.

Four dud Prime Ministers

PM Julia Gillard acquiesced to President Obama’s “tilt to Asia” in a celebratory whirl. Gillard has not ever demonstrated that she grasped the strategic enormity of her concessions, initiated by Obama’s speech to Parliament in 2011. All the while the US avoided any formal security guarantee should Australia be attacked. As the US always has.

PM Tony Abbott, without explanation, formalised our loss of sovereignty through a Force Posture Agreement in 2014. The ANZUS Treaty and decades of defence planning were junked. Instead of building on the impressive progress in defending Australia, a plan for joining a US attack on China was formalised in a new treaty which baldly abrogated Australia’s sovereign rights and freedoms.

PM Malcolm Turnbull intensified the servility to America. His delusion that the two nations could ever be “joined at the hip” starkly calibrates this leader’s naivety. More realistically Australia is a trinket tied to the American ankle, easily flicked adrift. The Turnbull government’s 2016 Defence White Paper astonishingly requires Australia to divert taxpayer money to America’s ambitions against China, in equal measures away from our direct defence. One wonders if any greater act of fealty could be imagined. But that would underestimate our next PM, Scott Morrison.

In April 2022 Morrison announced AUKUS abruptly, that Australia would construct nuclear submarines without nuclear weaponry. No mention of their role was included – puzzlingly, as no nation has ever invested so heavily in a system to deliver little more than a few ute loads of conventional explosive. The extraordinary cost of up to $170 billion was three times our entire annual Defence budget, easily.

The evidence is convincing now that the role of the AUKUS boats is to attack China’s nuclear submarines in its adjacent waters and to the depths of the Pacific. Working seamlessly within the American navy. The Chinese submarines are meant to deliver nuclear missiles into the US in response to American nuclear attack on China. They are the key to that nation’s nuclear deterrent. To the extent they are at risk, China’s nuclear deterrence fails. Thus the AUKUS boats are meant to help break the deterrent balance between China and the US. It is hard to think of what else Australia could do that would more strongly signal enmity to China. Of all the options for Australia to cooperate with America on, this Prime Minister chose to assist in America inflicting a successful nuclear attack on the Chinese homeland – at mind-boggling cost to Australian taxpayers.

So that is the record of our previous four prime ministers. Each geo-strategically barren and unable to identify with Australia’s interests. Collectively giving away the farm while paying handsomely for the act, then carefully selecting a grievously hostile affront to our largest trading partner’s security. Anathema to the qualities of John Curtin. This is what PM Albanese has walked into.

A worthy Prime Minister?

Is it beyond Australia again to produce a leader such as Curtin? Maybe, we need not feel it’s a lost cause, yet. Former PM Paul Keating displayed superior statesmanship in office. That quality continues into wise commentary on global strategic affairs. Of all the public speculation (professional and otherwise) on the possible role of the AUKUS submarine it is only Keating who has hit the nail on the head. And more broadly, even as far back as 1997 Keating foreshadowed the military disaster which we now witness in the Ukraine – in a perceptive masterpiece on Europe.

Australia’s strategic situation today compares eerily with Curtin’s. Both involve the global power of the day striving to retain its position militarily, inadequately resourced. Thus, each power naturally husbands “allied” resources to its own ends, indifferent to the risks imposed on friends. Today is different in that no formal declarations of war exist. Meaning that time perhaps is a more accessible factor today.

Fundamentally, America does not have the force it requires for its military objective against China. It has intimated that in many ways. Head of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Mike Green recently said:

The traditional US view was that ‘we are powerful and should defend our allies’. Now there’s a subtle shift; ‘we are not as powerful and we really need our allies’.

You can see it in the Biden administration, too. The Indo-Pacific strategy from the White House mentions allies more than 30 times. So it’s elite opinion as well as public opinion.

The alliance itself needs “retooling” after decades of stasis: “Rotating Marines is good but it’s not a grand strategy. There’s a real opening for the Albanese government to shape the alliance. Not through lecturing Washington about how Asia works but through ideas.”

American governments have adopted the neo-con realism of Strauss/ Wolfawitz to filter world dynamics, trusting in force to retain power, for at least the last four decades. More constructive means have been spurned for this tragically puerile mindset.

Thus, America now requires that Japan rearm. Which most of Japan’s citizens find sickening. The incongruity of Australia embracing a remilitarised Japan is bitter food for thought.

The US will keep throwing allies under buses as it becomes evermore burdened. The pervasive frailties appear constantly refreshed. As my colleague Dennis Argall points out:

The US is at war, and the dollar is at risk of imminent collapse. Australia’s lobbying of the United States as a good ally should focus on these issues above all else.

So what about Australia’s interest? In truth, America doesn’t need Australia to battle China.

The risks for Australia in joining another “failed” American war, this one contrived to crush China, are worse than even-money, and climbing. The consequences verge on existential.

For PM Albanese the next policy event is the Defence Strategic Review, due soon – led by the former Defence Minister for Gillard, Stephen Smith, an intimate party to the agreement with Obama in 2011 to open Australia for America’s global manipulation.

Over to our latest Prime Minister.

This year will require scarce qualities of perception and judgement. And values which put Australia foremost. Above all, the vision to see beyond the sea of heads now congregating comfortably at Australia’s peril. It happened once before.










Currently Australia has 6 Collins Class submarines in service all of which are approaching end of service life.

If they are to remain safe and operational a major and expensive refit will be required. Australia no longer has Collins Class replacement submarines planned, after the demise of the program to build 12 French designed Barracuda Class submarines, possibly due to program cost increases from $50B to $90B. More likely this occurred for political reasons. Our previous Government tried to wedge ALP at the May 2022 election. Whatever the reasons, we have ended up with an ageing submarine fleet with no planned replacement.

The replacement program proposed by the LNP and strangely still supported by ALP is for 12 US Virginia Class nuclear attack submarines. This will cost more than $150B and will not deliver till well beyond 2040. This delivery would require Australia getting spots in the US Virginia Class production system.

Australia does not have a nuclear industry and no economic drivers to build one. So if obliged to use US nuclear facilities we would have no control over maintenance of these advanced nuclear reactors. It should be noted that fuel in these reactors lasts the 30 year life of the reactor/submarine because it is nuclear weapon grade fuel. This aspect of the reactors provides a real nuclear proliferation issue. If fuel is removed after 30 years or before, Australia does not have a capability to reprocess, store or securely handle the fuel or dispose and store the very toxic waste products of reprocessing.

There are alternatives to this very expensive and problematic nuclear submarine program. Collins 2.0: building a new version of the Collins class, though expensive and slow, will still be considerably faster and cheaper than a nuclear submarine program. Restart the French Barracuda program: again expensive and slow, but still faster and cheaper than a nuclear submarine program.

The cheapest and quickest option would be to buy “off the shelf” 4-6 Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) Submarines. Currently Singapore has just taken delivery of two very capable “off the shelf” German built 218G submarines, including training and logistics for $1.5B. They are technologically advanced very stealthy and require a crew of only 27. They give Singapore a modern world class submarine capability. Buying 4 x 218G would cost about $3B and quickly provide an interim submarine capability while the Collins class was phased out of service. This cost would most likely be considerably lower than cost to refurbish Collins submarines. It would enable the Australian Navy to gain experience operating state of the art AIP submarines and fill the short term capability gap. Other “off the shelf” options do exist such as the very capable Swedish AIP Gotland Class or newer under development, but longer time and more risky Belkinge Class. Both are made by the same company that developed Collins Class.

In 2016 the Germans tendered a larger version of the type 218 called the 216 which is comparable in size to the Collins Class, but it was rejected along with the Japanese proposal in favour of the French Barracuda Class. The French program suffered from Australian requirement of a conventional submarine, not nuclear as Barracuda Class is a nuclear submarine design. The French programs escalating costs were most likely due to making a nuclear designed submarine not nuclear powered. The French Nuclear design is different to the US as every 10 years the reactor needs refuelling, most likely in France, but it does use non weapon grade nuclear fuel.

One possible longer term solution to Australia’s submarine needs may be a mixed fleet of small “off the shelf” or built here AIP submarines. If larger submarines needed to be built here AIP submarines of an updated 216 design or similar could be suitable. The best long term solution could be continuous build program of 218/216 type AIP submarines in Adelaide. Japanese do continuous building of submarines at about 1 per year. Continual improving technology keeps jobs and industry improving local expertise. Australia could do similar continuous build programs for both submarines and frigates. The current Australian Navy shipbuilding system is stop start with loss of capability and skills each time a contract is completed. Australia’s loss of skills developed with building Collins Class submarines was very inefficient and wasteful.

Nuclear submarines without nuclear weapons are not really very rational. All nuclear submarine operating countries are also nuclear armed and the prime purpose of these submarines is to enable 2nd strike if land based nuclear weapons are destroyed in a preemptive attack. Australia does not have nuclear weapons and does not plan to acquire them so nuclear submarines are an expensive waste of scarce Defence resources and a potential risk for nuclear proliferation. Australian Operational and Strategic submarine needs would be better met by locally built continuous improving designed modern AIP submarines that utilise the latest rapidly improving battery technologies and charging systems.