Monday 11th of December 2023

the implications of post-colonial diplomacy "superiority"......

Foreign Minister Penny Wong invoked the power of shared colonial histories in a speech during her recent visit to the United Kingdom.

The statement was clearly carefully prepared and framed but, judging from her recorded comments, it seems that she has not thought through the implications of the adoption of radical post-colonial diplomacy. Rather, she promises stale continuity that has little prospect of achieving her goal of “reshaping the region”.


By Jocelyn Chey


In her speech at Kings College London on 31 January, Wong described how Australia’s relationship with the UK had changed over the last century. She stressed the importance of our being a “modern, multicultural country…in the Indo-Pacific” and she described her family connection with Borneo and the British North Borneo Company, which employed Indians and Chinese in forestry and mining, that is, a shared history in British colonialisation. Later in a press conference, she elaborated this, describing the relationship between Australia and Britain as “historic, part of who we are, but more importantly, it’s part of our future.” She also said that, as multiculturalism now characterised both countries, our multi-faceted history “does give us a greater capacity to engage with the countries of our region.”

Wong’s remarks attracted considerable press attention in both countries. In Canberra, the UK High Commissioner Victoria Treadell followed up swiftly, elaborating her government’s position on ABC Radio National on 3 February. She emphasised that both countries would soon undertake joint exercises in the Pacific and would collaborate in programs to enhance maritime security, capacity building and the introduction of new technology. Addressing Wong’s references to a shared colonial past, she pointed out that she herself had been born in Malaysia, and that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had family links with India and Africa. Treadell said that it was necessary to address the past so as to build nations of today. “Britain has reconciled with history,” she stated. The British Commonwealth represented a “colonial past with a contemporary agenda” and was expanding its membership. Britain and Australia “share history, also interests, values, sense of purpose and a modern partnership.” The two countries thus appear to be firmly hitched to each other.

Unfortunately, dealing with the imperial past is not so simple and the way ahead is likely to be complicated by such a firm commitment to historic causes and concerns. Sure, in both countries, multiculturalism is to be applauded and the cross-cultural skills of diplomats and ministers should be properly utilised, but the resolution of historical issues is not simply a matter of joining hands and attending cultural sensitivity courses. No consideration appears to be given to how this extension of our colonial past will be received in the region.

The death of Queen Elizabeth, the ascension of King Charles, and the television appearances of Prince Harry, together with his international best-selling book, have provided many opportunities for reflection on the legacy of British colonialism. One might refer for instance to a succinct article by Anisha Kohli in Timemagazine, then move on to Tim Adam’s review for The Guardian of Caroline Elkins’s history of the British Empire titled Legacy of Violence. This meticulously-researched book gives chapter and verse of British atrocities in the Boer War, the Irish war of independence, uprisings in India, Iraq and Palestine and British rule in Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya, all of which were based on moralising British superiority that enforced on the colonies a David Livingstone-style paternal despotism of “Christianity, commerce and civilisation”. Underlying the commercial and political empire there was an enormous self-righteousness.

The modern nation of Australia came into existence through British imperialism. It was not only a convenient dumping ground for convicts. It was also established to be an outpost of empire in an age of British/French rivalry. For most of our history, we were a loyal part of the British Empire, fighting imperial wars and benefiting from imperial protection. Later that loyalty transferred relatively smoothly to the United States. In many respects we are now part of an American empire, benefiting from American investment, American technology and American culture. The economic and defence links that now prevail have too easily given rise to a pervasive American style of thinking, which believes that American civilisation, American-style democracy and American-style government are all superior to the unwashed heathens of outer lands.

The appalling condescension, and insistence on conformity with oh-so-British, or with awesome American, conventions, are the legacy of empire. This year in Australia, politicians, the press, and the public, are debating the need for a Voice for our Indigenous peoples, the proud owners and keepers of this land. A Voice would require others to accept that their culture has value alongside imported European culture. It will be a hard lesson for many non-Indigenous people. Equally, when we engage with our neighbours in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Pacific and beyond, we must abandon our assumption of unique access to truth and justice, and renounce the temptation to be missionaries.

Gamers will recognise a reference in the title to my piece to a rather bloody novel in the video game Warhammer series. Book reviewers comment that it is “rather graphic” and “not suited to the younger reader”. I hope this does not turn out to be a prediction of the future. In fact, I offer it in the spirit of peace and reconciliation.







our own baerbock.....


BY Alison Broinowski 


Australia’s Foreign Minister, who advocates international law and better relations with Asian countries, has surrendered to the hawks in Canberra. 

Penny Wong told Parliament on 9 February that the way Australia goes to war will not change.

She was responding to a question from Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, whose bill for reform of the war powers is still before the Parliament.

That is the sixth attempt to change the system, from 1986 when the Democrats tried repeatedly, to 2020 with the Greens’ latest bill.

Despite electoral gains for the Greens in the May election, politicians have told AWPR (Australians for War Powers Reform) they wouldn’t want to be accused of siding with the Greens on anything.

Many have told Michael West Media, which surveyed them from 2021 on war powers reform, that they have no opinion, or defer to their ministers.

The major parties will go along with each other, as long as it means preserving the ‘Royal prerogative’ to go to war.

In other words, the expressed preference of the voters can be ignored. This is what’s happening with reform of the war powers.

Labor has evidently sided with the Coalition’s Andrew Wallace (LNP), who is deputy chair of the sub-committee currently inquiring into how Australia goes to war. He says the present system has ‘served us well’.

Under that system, Australian prime ministers are able, alone or in a small hand-picked group, to decide to dispatch the ADF to war. They inform the Australian people after the decision, and if there is a debate, it can change nothing.

Under that system, Australia has backed the US in successive wars, all of them disastrous: in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Under that system, we could do the same again with even worse consequences, against China.

Penny Wong has pre-empted the decision of the Parliamentary committee inquiring into changing this system. Defence Minister Richard Marles did the same, on the day he set up the inquiry.

Submissions from Australian citizens and organisations overwhelmingly supported the case for reform, including a debate and a vote in both Houses before we go to war. They have been ignored.

If this is the democratic process and the ‘rules-based order’ Australian ministers recommend to our neighbours, it is not working in Australia.

The sub-committee is due to report in March. Its recommendations have been made nugatory by the Foreign Minister’s statement, which she said reflected the government’s view.

The worst consequence of this decision is that it removes the last possible impediment to our next war. It will be decided whenever the US gives the word – as with all the others since Vietnam. This time, it could be against China.

Because the majority of Australians can see no positive outcome from such a war, their views will be ignored and those of their Parliamentary representatives will be pushed aside.

Let no-one say we have not been warned.






SEE ALSO: an apologoconial....






By Guest author Pamela Burton and Guest author Meredith Edwards


It is time Australia made a big, if bold, shift in its foreign policy and put up its hand to be a part of the Non-aligned movement.

It was refreshing to read ‘Now is the time for non-alignment and peace’ by Prashad and McKenzie in Pearls and Irritations. The Non-aligned Movement has attracted 120 nations since its establishment in 1961 including our neighbours Indonesia and India, yet it is not one that the US or Australia has shown inclination to join. It is time Australia made a big, if bold, shift in its foreign policy and put up its hand to be a part of it.

Our support for US military intentions to resist China’s takeover of Taiwan is to mislead the US on how seriously we take our One China policy. Australia’s recognition of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan has been carved in stone for 50 years. If we value honesty in our friendship with the US we must make it clear now that Australia will not support or engage in a war over Taiwan. If we do otherwise, it would be no surprise to see China pushed into a stronger alliance with Russia, just when Xi Jinping’s China is drifting away from Russia towards non-alignment.

Australia must become adult, shed its dependence on US’s old-style parenting, and make its own way in Asia. Of relevance is the little-known mistake it made in 1942 whereby Australia’s support of the western power bloc’s trade embargo encouraged an attack on our shores. In 1939, our father, John Burton, in conversation with Japanese attendees at a conference in Bergen, Norway, was warned that if the allies kept up its blockade, Japan would be driven to join the axis. High Commissioner to the UK, Stanley Bruce, conveyed John’s information to Prime Minister Menzies who sneered at the idea. It came to pass; the Japanese shelled Darwin.

In the 1950s when tensions were high, Foreign Ministers, Labor’s Evatt and Liberal’s Sneddon recognised a need to better engage with our Asian and Pacific neighbours. Prime Minister Keating and Gareth Evans as Foreign Minister took a similar approach. We then returned to the dark ages of politics with a dearth of policy, relying upon the Western Bloc to dictate our foreign relations.

Labor is well-positioned to guide a change. However, Minister for Defence Richard Marles thwarted the opportunity when he said that Australia under the Albanese government would ‘do its share’ to bolster its military capabilities in the region to avoid ‘catastrophic failure of deterrence’ Marles warns Australia US must step up to avoid catastrophic failure in indo pacific. Did he understand the implications of the power politics frame of this language when he parroted these words which appear to be from a defence brief, probably prepared for his predecessor Peter Dutton? Now Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has echoed him with her statement: ‘Australia sees our investment in our future defence capabilities as essential for deterring conflict and maintaining a strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific’.

Penny Wong says UK must own its colonial past to move forward in Indo-Pacific

Australia ready to hold the military balance of power in our region – really? In any event, history tells us that deterrence does not deter. A build-up of arms attracts, rather than deters, conflict. Playing the power politics game sets up obstacles to genuine conflict resolution and peace. In former PM, Paul Keating’s words, ‘… China is simply too big and too central to be ostracised.’

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, the Bourbons of the Pacific.

Improving our understanding of the historical and cultural framework and origins of other nations’ political, economic and social systems would help us identify sources and causes of regional skirmishes – a necessary first step in resolving a dispute before it escalates into hostilities. Take, for example, disputes with China over maritime boundaries. Have we considered that our western view of international law might be very different from China’s understanding of the law of the sea developed over many centuries? Anthea Roberts’ work, ‘Is International Law International’ is an edifying read.

We can no longer afford to do the US’s bidding in support of its competitive agendas. A policy of non-alignment would permit Australia to equalise its relationship with the US and demonstrate the benefits of partnership and cooperation with neighbouring nations. That is, instead of being persuaded by the West’s loud shouting, it is time we turned east and practised listening.

Australia has shown little willingness in the past to listen, understand and respect alternative points of view and communicate effectively with our Indo- Pacific neighbours. Wong’s decision to appoint an Ambassador for First Nations People can assist with that. That person, she says, ‘… will lead work to embed Indigenous perspectives, experiences and interests into our foreign policy.’ It would be enlightening to hear their voice and whether it endorsed the view that the greatest threat to Country is China. Indigenous culture places high importance on listening to and respecting what is being said and taking time to reflect before responding; only deep listening can ensure that rhetoric does not impede conversation. This First Nations appointment could help Australian to gain better understanding of our neighbours’ perspectives on regional issues.


Pamela Burton with Meredith Edwards are authors of Persons of Interest: an intimate account of Cecily and John Burton (ANU Press, 2022,















submarine follies....


By Brian Toohey


In contrast to Labor politicians such as Paul Keating, Bill Hayden, Gareth Evans and Gough Whitlam, the four part series recently published by Keating and Stanford on Australian national security sees no place for arms control measures and peace initiatives.


Michael Keating and John Stanford recently wrote a four-part series in P&I arguing the case for Australia to get nuclear submarines to deal with the threat from China. The series contained assertions which should not go unchallenged.

Although the last Coalition Defence White Paper did not include China in our area of operational interest, Keating and Stanford say, “It’s logical to assume a major area of operations for Australian nuclear submarines would be in the waters surrounding China’s naval bases”. Understandably, China could regard this as an aggressive action from Australia.

Keating and Stanford ignore the point that there is no need for Australian submarines to spend much time in China’s waters: Japan, South Korea and Singapore all have high-quality submarines closer to China. If new Australian conventional submarines occasionally need to go up to China, they can do so from bases in northern Australia.

Keating and Stanford said one “overriding problem” with conventional submarines is they have to approach the surface and run their diesel generators to recharge their batteries. This makes them much more prone to detection and compromises survivability. But they don’t acknowledge that this is a rapidly diminishing problem, except for outdated submarines like our Collins Class which have to surface every few days.

Thanks to the long range of their advanced batteries. The latest Japanese submarines, the Taigei-class, can complete a normal mission without surfacing. Most other conventionally powered submarines – except Australia’s – use what is called air independent propulsion (AIP) which often entails using a hydrogen fuel cell to propel the submarine. This allows them to remain silent for four to six weeks before going near the surface.

The Taigei Class, which cost about $700M US each, can go as fast as a nuclear submarine. They don’t need AIP because they’re equipped with particularly efficient lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide batteries, rather than the lead-acid batteries the Australian Navy prefer. The latest batteries usually have a 1.5-times range advantage over lead-acid at lower speeds and four-times range at high speeds. Other navies are increasingly confident that new types of batteries will prove safe and match the Japanese efficiency. The South Koreans are close to operating a newly designed submarine with a new type of battery. The Germans, which are the largest exporters of high quality conventional submarines, are also committed to introducing advanced batteries.

These developments are making conventional submarines even more formidable than nuclear ones, which are easier to detect because their reactors produce hot water for a noisy steam engine and the loud meshing gears in the propulsion system. The hot water is expelled from the hull, creating an infrared signature detectable from space. Conventional submarines, which are smaller, are also much better suited to operating in the shallow waters in the maritime approaches to Australia.

Based on the latest proposals for the UK, the US and Australia to design and develop unique nuclear submarines for Australia, the first could not be operationally available before 2050, if ever. The eight nuclear subs previously preferred were estimated to cost $200 billion and come with history of severe maintenance problems. The latest proposal will be even more expensive.

In contrast to Labor politicians such as Paul Keating, Bill Hayden, Gareth Evans and Gough Whitlam, the four part series sees no place for arms control measures and peace initiatives. US military spending is higher than for the next nine countries combined, including China. US spending is due to increase further, leaving room for serious cuts, as well as for China to curb its spending.

Keating and Stanford also wrote, “AUKUS is a very recent treaty”. It is not a treaty. Treaties are required to be tabled for 15 or 20 joint sitting days in both houses of parliament. The Joint Standing Committee On Treaties recommends whether binding treaty action should be taken. This will take around four to six months. There is no sign this process is getting underway, nor of any publicly available text of what’s in AUKUS.

To their credit, Keating and Stanford say Australia must refuse to be involved any conflict initiated by an ally if it is not in Australia’s national interest. However, they quote Kurt Campbell, President Biden’s Co-ordinator for the Indo-Pacific and the father of the AUKUS agreement, as saying that with AUKUS America has succeeded in “getting Australia off the fence. We have them locked in now for the next 40 years.” Keating and Stanford say, “This would not be acceptable”, but don’t explain how Australia could say “No”. It will be crucial to see whether the text of AUKUS, if ever released, includes a clear prohibition on the aggressive use of force in international relations.

For more on this topic, P&I recommends: Michael Keating and John Stanford four-part series




By Joseph Camilleri


Labor came to office last May, replacing a government that had steered Australia’s relationship with the United States to new heights of servility. Our ties with China were in tatters. Many had hoped that the change of government would usher in a shift to a more imaginative and less subservient foreign policy. Nine months later such hopes are little more than idle fantasy.

On assuming office, Prime Minister Albanese embarked on a frenetic travelling schedule, with one purpose, it seems: to laud the virtues of the alliance with the United States and endlessly highlight the dangers posed by China’s and Russia’s ‘confrontational policies’.

Within hours of being sworn in, Albanese travelled to Tokyo for a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). A few weeks later, he attended the NATO leaders’ summit in Madrid, then the meetings of the Pacific Islands Forum, the ASEAN Leaders Summit and the G20 summit.

Much the same can be said of Penny Wong’s incessant travelling. Though her efforts were closely focussed on Asia and the Pacific Islands, any deviation from the tone set by the prime minster and even the more hawkish Defence minister, Richard Marles, was barely visible.

In the space of nine months, prime minister, foreign minister and defence minister have attended dozens of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Different settings, different agendas, different players, but always the same mantra.

The message is deceptively innocent. Russia and China pose major challenges to the rules based international order, and to the security, interests and values of the democratic West. What is left unsaid is that these are rules set largely by the United States, which others must dutifully obey.

The constancy of this message is perhaps best encapsulated in the joint statement agreed to at the Australia–US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) held in Washington last December. The US-Australia Alliance and partnership, we read, “have never been stronger”.

The statement singles out China’s egregious misdeeds: destabilising actions in the South China Sea, excessive maritime claims, dangerous encounters at sea and in the air, severe violations of human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and systematic curtailment of democratic institutions in Hong Kong.

In sharp contrast, Taiwan is described as “a leading democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, an important regional economy, and a key contributor to critical supply chains.” Not exactly the ideal way to stimulate a constructive dialogue with China.

The two parties go on to express opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, but in the same breath announce their intention to enhance Taiwan’s international standing and engagement. While paying lip service to the ‘One China’ principle, Washington and Canberra are busily fostering two Chinas.

They argue that strategic competition (some would say ‘strategic confrontation’) should not escalate into armed conflict, but say little about how to avoid the slippery slope to ruin.

They are much more forthright when it comes to how strategic competition will be pursued. In the Pacific region, the US Coast Guard is to enhance maritime surveillance. The PNG, Fiji and Tonga armed forces are to be included in joint military exercises, including Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023. Regional exercises are valued because they enable the integration of the South Pacific into US regional planning.

The joint statement goes on to list the elements that underpin the US-Australia defence and security relationship. The Enhanced Force Posture Cooperation agreement (2021) will now involve more than the 2,500 US Marines who visit the Northern Territory each year from March to October.

The new arrangements will allow US bomber task force rotations to be followed by US Navy and Army rotations. They will have access to Australian land, sea and air space, and extensive infrastructure including “runway improvements, parking aprons, fuel infrastructure, explosive ordnance storage infrastructure and facilities to support the workforce.” Des Ball’s famous description of Australia as a suitable piece of real estate has never been more apt.

Nor does military cooperation end there. US Army and US Marine Corps forces are to be given expanded locations to enable exercises and enhanced regional engagement; trilateral US-Australia-Japan defence cooperation is to be increased; and Japan will be invited to participate in military activities in Australia.

And then a new milestone. The three AUKUS partners (Australia, UK, US) will soon announce the arrangements that will provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine capability. The likelihood is that any public announcement will be short on detail, delivery decades away, the financial cost well in in excess of $100 billion, and the diplomatic cost prohibitive.

To top it all off, the military alliance is being stretched to include unrelenting hostility to Russia and euphoric support for Ukraine. To date, Australia has provided Ukraine with about $655 million in support, 70 per cent of which is military aid.

What do these and related alliance entanglements add up to? In brief, a perilous future.

Australia’s foreign and security policies are now almost entirely governed by US strategic priorities and planning. Never before have we been as closely tied to the great and powerful friend’s apron strings. Australian sovereignty has been effectively ceded to the United States.

Ironically, this has been done without the slightest consultation with our First Nations. Yet, they have never ceded the right to the land, the sea and the air to the invading European settlers, much less to any third parties that wish to integrate the continent into their war plans.

It is now difficult to imagine any major conflict or flashpoint on which Australia’s position would significantly deviate from US directives or even implicit preferences.

In practice, if not in theory, Australia will be at war the moment the United States is at war. Should the United States engage in hostilities with its two principal adversaries, China and Russia, directly or via proxies, Australian resources and lives will almost certainly be placed at America’s disposal.

Some will say this is not new. Australia has often fought at America’s side – from World War II to Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Each war involved horrendous loss of life. The difference is that today we are in the midst of a much greater crisis.

A new iron curtain is descending across Europe, Asia and beyond. Over the past 12 months the war in Ukraine has unmasked the catastrophic implications of great power confrontation in the nuclear age. The ongoing tensions around the Taiwan Strait point in the same direction.

Labor’s response to these trends has been deafening silence. No questioning of US nuclear doctrines and deployments. No ideas for a comprehensive dialogue with China, especially in relation to Taiwan and the South China Sea. No constructive proposals for the cessation of hostilities in Ukraine. No concrete plans to sign up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. No collaboration with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island neighbours to promote universal membership of the treaty, let alone reform of the UN system.

And no suggestion that the government wishes to make common cause with other principled governments and civil society voices trying to shift the international discourse from strategic competition to cooperative coexistence. 

No sign thus far that this Labor government has the wisdom, mettle and know-how needed to steer the ship into safer waters. But then again, as the poet reminds us, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”


For more on this topic, P&I recommends the ‘Ukraine: Rethinking Global Security‘ webinar featuring Joseph Camilleri, Richard Falk, Kishore Mahbubani, Kate Hudson, Wei Yu, Chandra Muzaffar and Paulina Chan on the 23 February, 2023.  Register here.











lousy policy......


By Mike Scrafton


Scheduled for the 2040s, while the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines might never eventuate, the theatre surrounding the announcement provides a publicly-digestible narrative for the surrender of Northern Australia to the American military in the present day.

Time to talk about time and submarines.

Time is the most salient consideration in the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines debate. The time until Australia could deploy a sustainable capability is decisive.

The project’s schedule would be affected by inclusion of a design phase for a new submarine and by where the submarine might be built. Replication of the American or British nuclear submarine construction industrial base would stretch out delivery time. Whether Astute or Virginia class is selected, the new submarine faces a very long gestation period. Even with no disruptions or delays, and no intrusions by external forces, a deployable capability would only be achievable by the early-2040s at best, but early-2050s is more probable.

Therefore, the contemporary strategic environment is not germane to the debate. Military technology will progress, and conflict will have been transformed radically by mid-century. The AUKUS submarines would be expected to have an operational life-of-type until at least the late-21st century. They would be born into unknown territory.

Supporters of the submarine project often fail to factor in time. Michael Keating and Jon Stanford have repeatedly claimed “that a major area of operations (AO) for [Australia’s] submarines would be the waters surrounding China’s naval bases”. A belief that implies the geopolitical situation will remain static in its current broad outlines, and that beyond 2050 the US and China will remain locked in the same competition. This is speculative.

Such assumptions about trajectories of both the US and China are problematic. These don’t allow for tectonic geostrategic shifts similar to those experienced regularly since the mid-20th century, including the wars of decolonisation, the end of the Soviet Union, the war on terror, and the rise of China and India. Something can be expected to emerge to shake up the strategic environment.

The passage of time will render the prevailing balance of forces in the Asia Pacific completely irrelevant in any account of how the submarines will be used. In the second-half of the century no nation in the region will have forces that are recognisable to today’s strategists, either in size or technology. Warfare is not going to resemble the current model as the world moves beyond 2050 when these submarines would only be beginning their operational lives.

It may once have been possible to make predictions about the advance of technology for an appreciable time into the future. Today, attempts to predict the precise course of future modes of conflict is perilous ground. The evolutions and innovations we can currently imagine in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, new materials, quantum computing, and other technologies will not come anywhere near the actual state-of-affairs in the second half of this century.

At a minimum sub-surface warfare will almost certainly be transformed by technologies that make oceans transparent and enable vastly improved sensors, signal-processing, and targeting, and see effective counter-submarine tactics become pervasive. Autonomous surface and sub-surface vessels are already seriously threatening the viability and utility of submarines.

By the time the AUKUS submarines get wet it is likely they will already be redundant, and probably vulnerable to inexpensive almost off-the-shelf capabilities held by most nations.

Defence Minister Marles’ recent defence of the government’s policy exhibited a curious absence of a sense of time. This is despite the fact that time is a central and fundamental consideration in strategic analysis. For understandable political reasons, in Parliament, Marles was primarily intent on addressing the criticism from former prime ministers that acquiring nuclear-powered submarines would diminish Australia’s sovereignty. Nevertheless, his obsession with sovereignty left his speech to Parliament strategically illiterate.

Marles has previously declared that “Australia was within a 10-year threat window”, based on the 2020 Strategic Update. That is, within a decade Australia’s defence forces will need to deal with a regional power with the capability to launch a major operation against Australia. So that’s more like a seven years window now. Yet Marles has failed to explain how a thirty-year project to obtain nuclear-powered submarines addresses Australia’s current pressing strategic needs.

This is not to deny that the strategic threat in the region has grown because of arms build ups and confrontation. Defence of Australia does require urgent attention. It is simply recognition that rationally these submarines have absolutely nothing to do with materially strengthening Australia’s current defence challenges. The project amounts to a large, costly, speculative, and risk-laden gamble.

Perhaps the government is convinced that a war between China and America is highly probable, and may be unavoidable. It might believe that Australia would inevitably be swept up in the conflict, and that if China prevailed Australia’s subsequent predicament would be intolerable. Therefore, Australia needs to provide unlimited support to America.

The government might have concluded that while the nuclear-powered submarines might never eventuate, the theatre surrounding the announcement provides a publicly-digestible narrative for the surrender of Northern Australia to the American military. Because Australia looks like getting something in return, AUKUS thus appears more like a deal between equals and not a colonial occupation.

Australia’s defence is in the hands of ministers, advisers, and bureaucrats insensible to the reality of the passage of time. It is likely that in the coming decades new strategic or technological developments will result in the AUKUS submarine project’s abandonment. If not, and the AUKUS submarines ever materialise, it will be a colossal failure of strategic policy.