After AUKUS, Russia sees a potential threat — and an opportunity to market its own submarines


Alexei Druzhinin/AP

Alexey D Muraviev, Curtin UniversityThe global opinions on the new AUKUS security pact between Australia, the US and the UK have been decidedly mixed. China and France immediately blasted the deal, while others, such as Japan and the Philippines, were more welcoming.

Russia, one of the other few nations armed with nuclear-powered submarines, was more low-key and cautious in its initial reaction.

The Kremlin limited its official commentary to a carefully crafted statement that said,

Before forming a position, we must understand the goals, objectives, means. These questions need to be answered first. There is little information so far.

Some Russian diplomatic officials joined their Chinese counterparts in expressing their concerns that Australia’s development of nuclear-powered submarines (with American and British help) would undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and “speed up an arms race” in the region.

They suggested the construction of the nuclear submarine fleet would need to be overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency — a proposition unlikely to be acceptable to Canberra.




Read more:
Why nuclear submarines are a smart military move for Australia — and could deter China further


‘Prototype of an Asian NATO’

As more became known about the new security pact, the rhetoric of Kremlin officials began to shift.

For instance, former Australian ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, boldly declared AUKUS was intended to counter not only China’s power in the Indo-Pacific region, but Russia’s, too.

Soon after, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, was calling the pact a “prototype of an Asian NATO”. He added,

Washington will try to involve other countries in this organisation, chiefly in order to pursue anti-China and anti-Russia policies

This change of rhetoric should not come as a surprise to Canberra. Russia has long considered any change to regional security — the creation of new alliances, for instance, or the deployment of new weapons systems — a military risk that would require a response.

Marketing its own nuclear submarines

So, what possible options could Russia entertain as part of its response?

Since Moscow’s view of AUKUS is more of a political and military risk, but not yet a threat, its immediate responses are likely to be limited to political manoeuvring and opportunity grabbing.




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Russia not so much a (re)rising superpower as a skilled strategic spoiler


Perhaps most notably, Russia may see the AUKUS submarine deal as setting a precedent, allowing it to promote its own nuclear-submarine technology to interested parties in the region. This is not merely hypothetical — it has been suggested by defence experts with close links to Russia’s Ministry of Defence.

Historically, Russia has held back from sharing its nuclear submarine technology, which is considered among the best in the world, certainly superior to China’s nascent capabilities.

Thus far, Moscow has only entered into leasing arrangements with India, allowing its navy to operate Soviet- and Russian-made nuclear-powered attack submarines since 1987. But this has not entailed the transfer of technology to India.

Should Russia decide to market its nuclear-powered submarines to other nations, it would have no shortage of interested buyers. As one military expert suggested, Vietnam or Algeria are potential markets — but there could be others. As he put it,

Literally before our eyes, a new market for nuclear powered submarines is being created. […] Now we can safely offer a number of our strategic partners.

Expanding its submarine force in the Pacific

In the longer run, Russia will also not disregard the obvious: the new pact unites two nuclear-armed nations (the US and UK) and a soon-to-be-nuclear-capable Australia.

The expanded endurance and range of Australia’s future submarines could see them operating in the western and northwestern Pacific, areas of regular activity for Russia’s naval force.

A Russian Navy destroyer visiting the Philippines.
A Russian Navy destroyer visiting the Philippines in 2019.
Bullit Marquez/AP

Should the strike systems on board these submarines have the Russian far east or parts of Siberia within their range, it would be a game-changer for Moscow.

As a nuclear superpower, Russia will need to factor this into its strategic planning. And this means Australia must keep a close watch on Russia’s military activities in the Pacific in the coming years.

Over the next 12 months, for instance, the Russian Pacific Fleet is expected to receive at least three nuclear-powered submarines.

Two of these fourth-generation submarines (the Yasen-M class) are technologically superior to similar vessels currently being built by the Chinese and are believed to be almost comparable to the American nuclear submarines being considered an option for Australia.

The third is a 30,000-tonne, modified Oscar II class Belgorod submarine converted to carry several nuclear super-torpedos capable of destroying major naval bases.

By 2028, I estimate Russia’s navy will have a force of at least 14 nuclear-powered submarines and six conventional attack submarines in the Pacific.

Should Russia start considering AUKUS a military threat, we could expect more to arrive. Their area of operations could also be expanded to the South China Sea, and beyond.

Deepening naval ties with China

In the most dramatic scenario, Russia and China could form a loose maritime coalition to counter the combined military power of the AUKUS pact.

Given the deepening state of Russia-China defence relations, particularly in the naval sphere, this does not seem unrealistic.




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Australia’s strategic blind spot: China’s newfound intimacy with once-rival Russia


This possible coalition is unlikely to become an actual maritime alliance, let alone the basis for larger bloc involving other countries. Still, if Russia and China were to coordinate their naval activities, that would be bad news for the AUKUS.

Should tensions escalate, Moscow and Beijing could see Australia as the weakest link of the pact. In its typical bombastic language, China’s Global Times newspaper has already referred to Australia as a “potential target for a nuclear strike”.

This might be a far-fetched scenario, but by entering the nuclear submarine race in the Indo-Pacific, Australia would become part of an elite club, some of whom would be adversaries. And there is the potential for this to lead to a naval Cold War of sorts in the Indo-Pacific.

Sceptics may say Moscow is likely to be all talk but no action and the risks posed by Russia to Australia are minimal. Let’s hope this is correct.The Conversation

Alexey D Muraviev, Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Turnbull slams ‘deceitful’ Morrison for giving Australia a reputation as untrustworthy


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraMalcolm Turnbull has accused Scott Morrison of trashing Australia’s reputation for trustworthiness and putting national security at risk, in a swingeing attack on the Prime Minister’s handling of the cancellation of the French submarine contract.

Turnbull also revealed that since the blow-up with France he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron – describing him as a friend and “an enormously important figure in global politics”. Macron has refused to take Morrison’s call, after the government quashed its contract effectively without notice.

Turnbull declined to go into the details of Macron’s reaction in their call but indicated French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who accused Australia of stabbing France in the back, “was not speaking just for himself”.

“France believes it has been deceived and humiliated – and she was,” Turnbull told the National Press Club. “This betrayal of trust will dog our relations with Europe for years.

“The Australian government has treated the French Republic with contempt. It won’t be forgotten. Every time we seek to persuade another nation to trust us, somebody will be saying, ‘Remember what they did to Macron? If they can throw France under a bus, what would they do to us?’”

Turnbull said when Morrison did something domestically which was criticised as slippery or disingenuous it reflected on him and the government, but “when you conduct yourself in such a deceitful manner internationally, it has a real impact on Australia.”

“What seems to have been overlooked is that one of our national security assets is trustworthiness,” Turnbull said. Morrison’s admirers were praising him for his “clever sneakiness”, but this was “an appalling episode in Australia’s international affairs” and the consequences would “endure to our disadvantage for a very long time”.




Read more:
View from The Hill: For Morrison AUKUS is all about the deal, never mind the niceties


Turnbull said anyone who raised the unresolved questions about the AUKUS deal for nuclear-powered subs was essentially accused of being unpatriotic.

“I can say to you, I am not getting any lectures on patriotism from Scott Morrison. I defended the national security of this country and its national interest and I know the way that he has behaved is putting that at risk.”

Turnbull said Morrison defended his conduct by saying it was in Australia’s national interest. “So, is that Mr Morrison’s ethical standard with which Australia is now tagged: Australia will act honestly unless it is judged in our national interest to deceive?”

The government should have been honest and open with the French – who produce nuclear submarines – about exploring the acquisition of nuclear-powered boats. Macron would have been supportive, Turnbull said.

“Let us assume that after this discussion the conclusion was that only a US or UK submarine would do. If the contract was terminated at that point, nobody could say that Australia had been dishonest or sneaky. France would be disappointed, but not betrayed, disrespected or humiliated,” Turnbull said.

“Morrison’s response is to say that he could not be open and honest with Macron because the French might have run to Washington and urged Biden not to do the deal. That tells you a lot about how confident he is about the commitment of the Americans.”

Turnbull said despite its “awkward birth” he hoped AUKUS was “a great success. It should be. We are already the closest of friends and allies – none closer.”

Turnbull is off to Glasgow

Turnbull revealed he will attend the Glasgow climate conference

Asked what message it would send if Morrison did not go (the Prime Minister has indicated he might not), Turnbull said, “History is made by those who turn up. If Mr Morrison decides not to go to Glasgow […] his absence will send a pretty strong message about his priorities. This is a critical conference.”

Pressed on what Australia’s present 26-28% 2030 emissions reduction target should be raised to, Turnbull said there were plenty of scientists who said it should be 70%, but it should be at least 45% or 50%.

He was cagey on whether he would endorse climate-focused independents at the election if the government didn’t produce a satisfactory climate policy. Still a member of the Liberal party, he said “I haven’t made a decision about that”. “I will wait and see, I reserve my rights, as they would say.”

The NSW government this week boosted its 2030 emissions reduction target to 50%, from its previous target of 35% reduction.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: After the deal on security, Scott Morrison turns to the shift on climate


Morrison is negotiating with Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce to embrace a net zero by 2050 target for the Glasgow conference.

In awkward timing on Wednesday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is preparing the way for the 2050 net zero target, and Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie, who took a swipe at Frydenberg this week, appeared jointly. They were talking about the coming end of the COVID disaster payment, but were inevitably put on the spot about climate policy.

McKenzie wrote in her opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review: “It is easy for the Member for Kooyong [Frydenberg] or the Member for Wentworth [Dave Sharma] to publicly embrace net zero before the government has a position, because there would be next to zero real impact on the way of life of their affluent constituents”.

Questioned about this Frydenberg said: “Climate change has no postcode. Climate change is a global challenge that requires national solutions.”

He said the government was “having very positive and constructive internal discussions. Not everyone will agree on every point.

“But it shouldn’t be seen as a binary choice between the regions and jobs. It shouldn’t be seen as a binary choice between city electorates or suburban electorates and regional electorates.

“When you reduce emissions in accordance with a well-considered, funded plan, you actually create jobs.”

McKenzie said one message in her opinion price was to challenge the assumption that “rural and regional Australians are anti climate and the National Party anti–caring for the climate.”

Her second message had been “that we had a job to do in the National Party and that is to stand up for our constituents and the industries that not just prop up our own local economies, but indeed prop up our national economy”.

“And the third message was that in this very, very serious debate, there are MPs out there, Josh isn’t one of them, Sharma isn’t one of them, but there are MPs out there who want to be cool for the climate, want to be cool on climate change, want to be popular without actually understanding and assessing and evaluating the consequences of these decisions.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Taiwan remains calm in the face of unprecedented military pressure from China


Wen-Ti Sung, Australian National UniversityChina has been flying a record number of military aircrafts into Taiwan’s “air defence identification zone” in recent days, heightening regional concerns about the risk of military escalation or even an outright war.

Taiwanese people are largely alert, but not alarmed. So, why are the Taiwanese not losing their minds over what seems to be intensifying “drums of war”?

It comes down to familiarity with China’s pattern of military pressure tactics, as well as a general alarm fatigue from decades of exposure.

A Chinese PLA fighter jet
A Chinese PLA fighter jet flying into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on October 2.
Taiwan Ministry of National Defence handout/EPA

Why is China flying so many jets near Taiwan?

Many Taiwanese see the Chinese military display as more of a show than a preparation for an all-out invasion. There are several reasons being China’s “show of force” in recent days, pointing to short- and medium-term goals.

Domestically, the military pressure serves Chinese President Xi Jinping’s propaganda and political agenda. Xi’s defining political idea is promoting the “China Dream” to his people, which partly entails becoming “a strong nation with a strong army”.

China had just had its National Day celebration on October 1, and a public show of force is a visual embodiment of that narrative. China’s nationalist Global Times newspaper even went so far as to call the flight incursions a form of National Day “military parade”.

National Day celebration in Beijing.
Patriotism is always running high on National Day in China.
Andy Wong/AP

Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party is at a key period in terms of its leadership reshuffle. Next month, it will hold its Sixth Plenum, an important meeting where party heavyweights will discuss and build consensus on forming a de facto shortlist for the next generation of party leadership (to be installed in late 2022).

At this critical juncture, as Xi faces significant internal dissent, a muscular show of force seems to be a natural instrument to generate pro-incumbent, rally-around-the-flag sentiment.

Xi will likely remain supreme leader no matter what. But such a nationalist display increases the chances his preferred proteges will be on the shortlist for other key positions just below him.

Shaping the China policy of Taiwan’s opposition party

Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has also just elected a new leader after a party campaign focused primarily on Taiwan’s policy towards China.

The new chairman, Eric Chu, who ran on an American-friendly foreign policy platform, won a humble victory with 45% of the votes in a tight, four-way race. Chu has since promised to be a unifier who will listen to other voices in his party, and has pledged to renew stalled talks with China.

As such, Beijing has good reason to impose military pressure at this moment in the hope of nudging the KMT’s new policy in Beijing’s preferred direction.

Notably, while Beijing sent a total of 149 military jets into Taiwan’s vicinity from October 1–4, it reportedly sent only one on October 5 – the day the KMT’s new leader assumed office.

Military threat against Taiwan faces diminishing returns

Another reason why Taiwanese people are not very alarmed by the increasing number of Chinese warplanes is simply the law of diminishing impact over time.

People are used to this type of low-intensity Chinese military provocation. In fact, they have been living in the near-constant presence of Chinese military and diplomatic pressure for over a quarter century.

In the run-up to Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, China’s People’s Liberation Army conducted massive missile tests in the waters near Taiwan, which strongly hinted at a possible invasion.




Read more:
Taiwan: what election victory for Tsai Ing-wen means for the island’s future


Since then, China has frequently staged military exercises around Taiwan, including flying military jets into the island’s vicinity. These are intended to underscore the risks of potential war and caution Taiwan against crossing Beijing’s “red lines”.

Chinese state television, for example, once published a video of the Zhurihe training drills of 2015, which included footage of Chinese soldiers assaulting a building that bore a remarkable resemblance to Taiwan’s presidential office.

Is China really in a hurry to invade Taiwan?

This long-standing Chinese strategy of brinkmanship theatre has been a double-edged sword. It has encouraged pragmatism in Taiwan’s pursuit of a stronger identity on the global stage, but it has also alienated many Taiwanese from Beijing.

For example, polls consistently show less than 10% of Taiwanese favour unification with China, and a negligible 2.7% self-identify as primarily “Chinese” in their national identity.

A march in Taipei against totalitarianism.
A march in Taipei in September as part of global ‘anti-totalitarianism’ rallies.
Chiang Ying-ying/AP

Then why does Beijing still resort to these alienating tactics, if unification is the ultimate goal?

One explanation is Beijing places a higher priority on deterring Taiwan’s further movement towards independence than promoting unification, so it is willing to trade the latter for the former. In other words, Beijing may simply not be as zealous about pursuing unification in the near-term.

Instead, keeping an eye on the long game, Beijing is willing to risk short- to medium-term costs in losing hearts and minds in Taiwan. The hope is, in time, it can eventually regain the initiative. For this reason, being able to deter further movement towards independence may be sufficient to buy China much-needed time.




Read more:
Australia would be wise not to pound ‘war drums’ over Taiwan with so much at stake


So what is Beijing’s ultimate plan?

According to hawkish General Qiao Liang, the plan is “strategic patience”.

This means waiting until the cross-strait military balance tilts further in China’s favour, using the military option only when it can comprehensively overwhelm Taiwan and disincentivise or even deny American military intervention.

And politically, Beijing aims to use the gravity of its economy to attract Taiwanese youth opinion leaders and slowly build back Taiwanese support for eventual unification. In this approach, economic incentives replace soft power, which Beijing is lacking at the moment.




Read more:
China does not want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game


This is in line with Marxist logic, which is fundamental to Chinese communism. In this line of thinking, connections built on “infrastructure” (material and economic common interests) are longer-lasting than connections based on “superstructure” (ideational or emotional alignment).

The challenge for Taiwan and like-minded societies in the west is both to prove the resiliency of their shared liberal democratic values and build a concerted voice that prevents China from mistaking Taiwan for a soft target.

Only through closer cooperation with other like-minded democracies can Taiwan mitigate the risk of military escalation and ensure China’s development will remain peaceful into the future. This is ultimately in the interest not only of the region, but China itself.The Conversation

Wen-Ti Sung, Sessional Lecturer, Taiwan Studies Programme, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor retains clear Newspoll lead with voters approving of AUKUS; Perrottet set to be next NSW premier


AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted September 29 to October 3 from a sample of 1,545, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged from last fortnight’s Newspoll. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one), 2% One Nation (down one) and 13% for all Others (up one).

It is likely Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party makes up a sizeable fraction of the Others vote. UAP ads have been ubiquitous, and they won 3.4% at the 2019 election, more than the 3.1% for One Nation, although One Nation did not contest all seats.

49% were dissatisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (down one), and 48% were satisfied (up two), for a net approval of -1, up three points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval improved one point to -10. Morrison led as better PM by 47-34 (47-35 last fortnight).

For the large majority of this term, each Newspoll has been conducted three weeks apart. The two-week gap this time suggests they will do more polls in the lead-up to the election, due by May 2022. Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger.

By 59-31, voters approved of the AUKUS agreement, though the question did not mention the time to get the new submarines. 46% thought AUKUS would make Australia more secure, 29% that it would make no difference and 14% thought it would make us less secure. By 75-15, voters thought China posed a significant threat to our national security.

Labor has had a lead of 53-47 or more in all Newspolls conducted since July, but I am sceptical this solid position for Labor will mean a victory at the election. Once vaccination targets are met and lockdowns ease in Melbourne and Sydney, the economy is likely to rapidly recover, boosting the Coalition’s chances.

Furthermore, the Resolve polls in August and September have been far better for the Coalition than Newspoll. As I wrote after the late August Newspoll disagreed with Resolve, the different message in Resolve should not be ignored.




Read more:
Coalition slumps but Morrison gains in Newspoll; electoral changes to curb micro parties


The Guardian’s datablog has 45.2% of the population (not 16+) fully vaccinated, up from 37.2% two weeks ago. We rank 33 of 38 OECD countries in share of population fully vaccinated, unchanged since last fortnight. The Age shows 56.5% of 16+ are fully vaccinated and 79.4% have received at least one dose.

Essential and Morgan polls

In last week’s Essential poll, the federal government had a 45-30 good rating on its response to COVID (43-35 in mid-September, 39-36 in late August). The NSW government’s good rating has surged 13 points since late August to 53%, while Victoria fell back to 44% good after rising six points to 50% in mid-September.

50% of Victorian respondents said they didn’t have confidence in their state’s roadmap out of lockdown, compared with 40% of NSW respondents.

A late September Morgan poll from a sample of 2,752 gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a 1.5% gain for Labor since the mid-September poll. Primary votes were 36% Coalition (down 2.5%), 36% Labor (up 1%), 12.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 3.5% One Nation (up 0.5%) and 12% for all Others (up 1.5%).

Essential vs Resolve’s issue questions

In Essential, the Liberals had a 15-point lead over Labor on national security and a 10-point lead on economic management, while Labor led by 13 points on climate change, and 18 on fair wages and workplace conditions. Since October 2019, Labor has improved five points on the economy.

Essential’s issue questions give very different outcomes from Resolve’s, where Labor led the Liberals by just one point on the environment and climate change in September. Resolve gives a “someone else” option, and people who support the Greens on this issue select “someone else”, but a large majority of them prefer Labor to the Liberals.

It is likely there is also a pro-incumbent skew in Resolve’s questions, as they use “the Liberals and Morrison” versus “Labor and Albanese”. Morrison has had large leads over Albanese as better PM, so this formulation likely skews towards the current PM.

Newspoll quarterly aggregate data: July to September

Newspoll provides state and demographic breakdowns from all its polls conducted during a three-month period. As reported by The Poll Bludger on September 27, the September quarter Newspoll data gave Labor a 52-48 lead in NSW, a two-point gain for Labor since the June quarter, and a four-point gain since the 2019 election.

In Victoria, Labor’s lead blew out five points from June to 58-42, a five point gain for Labor since the last election. In Queensland, the Coalition led by 55-45, a two-point gain for them since July, but a 3.4% swing to Labor since the election. In WA, Labor led by 54-46, which would be a swing of almost 10% to Labor since the election.

Perrottet set to become next NSW premier

Gladys Berejiklian announced she would resign as New South Wales premier on Friday, owing to ICAC investigations. Media reports, such as in The Guardian, indicate that the right-aligned treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, is set to be elected NSW Liberal leader and thus premier at a Liberal party room meeting on Tuesday under a factional deal.

Berejiklian is also resigning as Member for Willoughby (held by 21.0%), so there will be a byelection soon. There will be other byelections in Bega (Lib 6.9%), where the Liberal MP Andrew Constance has announced he will contest the federal seat of Gilmore, and in Monaro (Nat 11.6%), as Nationals leader John Barilaro is retiring. Other NSW MPs may quit in the near future, so there could be several byelections on the same date.

Nobody wins German election

At the September 26 German election, the centre-left SPD won 25.7% (up 5.2% from 2017), the conservative CDU/CSU 24.1% (down 8.8%), the Greens 14.8% (up 5.9%), the pro-business FDP 11.5% (up 0.8%), the far-right AfD 10.3% (down 2.3%) and the far-left Left 4.9% (down 4.3%).

The Left was below the 5% threshold, but won three of the 299 single-member seats to barely retain a proportional allocation of seats. Right-wing parties combined defeated the combined left by a 45.9-45.4 margin, and this is reflected in parliament where left-wing parties won 363 of the 735 seats, just short of the 368 needed for a majority.

No other party will cooperate with the AfD, but no government of the left can be formed. Protracted negotiations are likely to achieve a governing coalition. I live blogged this election for The Poll Bludger.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New drives to counter China come with a major risk: throwing fuel on the Indo-Pacific arms race


Evan Vucci/AP

Tony Walker, La Trobe UniversityAn accelerating arms race in the Indo-Pacific is all but guaranteed now that China finds itself a target of new security arrangements — AUKUS and the Quad — aimed at containing its power and influence.

This has the makings of a new great game in the region in which rival powers are no longer in the business of pretending things can continue as they are.

The AUKUS agreement, involving Australia, the US and UK to counter China’s rise means a military power balance in the Indo-Pacific will come more sharply into focus.

The region has been re-arming at rates faster than other parts of the world due largely to China’s push to modernise its defence capabilities.

In their latest surveys, the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report no let-up in military spending in the Indo-Pacific. This is despite the pandemic.

SIPRI notes a 47% increase in defence spending in the Indo-Pacific in the past decade, led by China and India.

China can be expected to respond to threats posed by the new security arrangements by further expediting its military program.

It will see the formation of AUKUS as yet another attempt to contain its ambitions — and therefore a challenge to its military capabilities.




Read more:
Is it time for a ‘new way of war?’ What China’s army reforms mean for the rest of the world


The Quad makes clear its ambitions

Unambiguously, AUKUS implies a containment policy.

Likewise, the further elevation of the Quad security grouping into a China containment front will play into an atmosphere of heightened security anxiety in the Indo-Pacific.

The four Quad participants – the US, Japan, India and Australia – have their own reasons and agendas for wanting to push back against China.

Quad leaders in Washington
The Quad leaders unveiled a host of initiatives after their face-to-face meeting last week.
Evan Vucci/AP

After their summit last week in Washington, the Quad leaders used words in their joint statement that might be regarded as unexceptional in isolation.

Together with other developments such as AUKUS, however, the language was pointed, to say the least:

Together, we re-commit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

The “beyond” part of the statement was not expanded on, but might be read as a commitment to extend the Quad collaboration globally.




Read more:
With vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, Quad leaders send a clear signal to China


All this has come together at the dawn of a new US administration whose members include several conspicuous China hawks, and at a moment when China has shown itself to be ever-willing to throw its weight around.

Beijing’s crude campaign against Australian exports in an effort to bend Australia’s policy to its will is a prime example. It is doubtful an AUKUS or an invigorated Quad would have emerged without this development.

The Obama administration talked about pivoting to the Asia-Pacific without putting much meat on the bones.

Under President Joe Biden, this shift will be driven by a hardening in American thinking that now recognises time is running out, and may already have expired, in the US ability to constrain China’s rise.

These are profound geopolitical moments whose trajectory is impossible to predict.

Australia commits fully to China containment

Canberra is now a fully paid-up member of a China containment front, whether it wants to admit it, or not. In the process, it has yielded sovereignty to the US by committing itself to an interlocking web of military procurement decisions that includes the acquisition of a nuclear-propelled submarine fleet.




Read more:
Why nuclear submarines are a smart military move for Australia — and could deter China further


Whether these submarines are supplied by the US or Britain is a bit immaterial since the technology involved originates in America.

The submarines will not be available for the better part of two decades under the most optimistic forecasts. However, in the meantime, Australia could base US or British submarines in its ports or lease American submarines.

Meanwhile, Australia is committing itself to a range of US-supplied hardware aimed at enhancing the inter-operability of its military with the US.

This is the reality of fateful decisions taken by the Morrison government in recent months. Such a commitment involves a certain level of confidence in America remaining a predictable and steadfast superpower, and not one riven by internal disputes.

Australian defence spending likely to rise

What is absolutely certain in all of this is that an Indo-Pacific security environment will now become more, not less, contentious.

SIPRI notes that in 2020, military spending in Asia totalled $US528 billion (A$725 billion), 62% of which was attributable to China and India.

IISS singled out Japan and Australia, in particular, as countries that were increasing defence spending to take account of China. Tokyo, for example, is budgeting for record spending of $US50 billion (A$68 billion) for 2022-23.




Read more:
Explainer: what exactly is the Quad and what’s on the agenda for their Washington summit?


Australia’s defence spending stands a tick over 2% of GDP in 2021-22 at A$44.6 billion, with plans for further increases in the forward estimates.

However, those projections will now have to be re-worked given the commitments that have been made under AUKUS.

Neglected in the flush of enthusiasm that accompanied the AUKUS announcement is the likely cost of Australia’s new defence spending under a “China containment policy”. It is hard to see these commitments being realised without significant increases in defence allocations to 3-4% of GDP.

This comes at a time when budgets will already be stretched due to relief spending as a consequence of the pandemic.

In addition to existing weapons acquisitions, Canberra has indicated it will ramp up its purchases of longer-range weapons. This includes Tomahawk cruise missiles for its warships and anti-ship missiles for its fighter aircraft.

At the same time, it will work with the US under the AUKUS arrangement to develop hypersonic missiles that would test even the most sophisticated defence systems.

What other Indo-Pacific nations are doing

Many other Indo-Pacific states can now be expected to review their military acquisition programs with the likelihood of a more combative security environment.

Taiwan, for example, is proposing to spend $US8.69 billion (A$11.9 billion) over the next five years on long-range missiles, and increase its inventory of cruise missiles. It is also adding to its arsenal of heavy artillery.

South Korea is actively adding to its missile capabilities. This includes the testing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Seoul has also hinted it might be considering building its own nuclear-propelled submarines (this was among President Moon Jae-in’s election pledges in 2017). Signs that North Korea may have developed a submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles will be concentrating minds in Seoul.

All this indicates how quickly the strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific is shifting.

Australia — perhaps more so than others — is the prime example of a regional player that has put aside a conventional view of a region in flux. It now sees an environment so threatening that a policy of strategic ambiguity between its custodial partner (the US) and most important trade relationship (China) has been abandoned.

The price tag for this in terms of equipment and likely continuing economic fallout for Australian exporters will not come cheap.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, Quad leaders send a clear signal to China


Evan Vucci/AP

Lavina Lee, Macquarie UniversityThe Quad has come a long way since it was resurrected in 2017 as a loose coalition comprising the US, Australia, India and Japan. The face-to-face, leaders summit at the end of last week marked a new high point for the grouping.

Three of the members continue to suffer Chinese coercion in various forms: economic coercion in Australia’s case, and the use of military and grey-zone tactics to advance territorial claims when it comes to India and Japan.

It is an open secret the Quad’s primary and overwhelming raison d’etre is countering China. As a response, Beijing vacillates between outright scepticism and scornful indignation about the return of a “Cold War mentality” to the region.




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Explainer: what exactly is the Quad and what’s on the agenda for their Washington summit?


China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian for example, described the latest meeting in Washington as a “closed, exclusive clique targeting other countries”. He added the Quad

runs counter to the trend of the times and the aspirations of regional countries. It will find no support and is doomed to fail.

Beijing is wary of the Quad with good reason. While the Quad countries avoid mentioning China directly, Beijing knows the group is seeking to counter its ability to set the regional agenda, promote its own authoritarian norms and values, and dominate the most important technologies of the future.

China’s aims present a comprehensive challenge to the US-led liberal order in everything from diplomacy and trade to technology and military power. It is this Chinese ambition which has given momentum to the Quad.

A commitment to combat global problems

Friday’s summit made substantive progress on the initiatives flagged during the first Quad leaders’ virtual meeting in March. It also expanded the Quad agenda to include broader aspects to meet the China challenge.

These initiatives can be grouped into three broad categories:

First, the Quad wants to show that liberal democracies can deliver solutions to the greatest challenges of our time, and that their vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” is more attractive than the China-centric model Beijing promotes.

As part of this, the Quad countries have upped their COVID-19 vaccine pledge, now promising to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses globally by the end of 2022.

While India has pledged to resume vaccine production for export in October, Japan set aside US$3.3 billion (A$4.5 billion) in loans and Australia US$212 million (A$291 million) in grant aid for Indo-Pacific countries to purchase vaccines.

Given the existential threat COVID-19 still presents to much of the region, this represents an attractive counter to Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy, which has been used to exert political influence.




Read more:
Why pushing for an economic ‘alliance’ with the US to counter Chinese coercion would be a mistake


And on climate change, the Quad announced three notable initiatives:

  • a taskforce dedicated to establishing “two to three low-emission or zero-emission shipping corridors by 2030” through the development of green-port infrastructure and clean bunkering fuels at scale
  • a clean-hydrogen partnership to “strengthen and reduce costs across all elements of the clean-hydrogen value chain”
  • a new cooperative space initiative to exchange satellite data to monitor climate change risks and manage the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources.

Secure technologies and supply chains

The second category of initiatives involves measures to foster an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem — a response to growing security concerns about the use of equipment from Chinese telecommunications companies to build 5G networks around the world.

The group pledged to work towards advancing more “secure, open, and transparent 5G and beyond-5G networks” — an indirect reference to developing an alternative to Chinese vendors.

And to prevent China from dominating the critical and essential technologies of the future, the Quad also launched an initiative to map vulnerabilities and bolster security in these supply chains, particularly semiconductors.

A counterpoint to Belt and Road

Finally, the third category of initiatives is targeted toward the creation and promotion of liberal rules, norms and economic standards throughout the region.

This includes the development of standards on quality infrastructure development, technology standards for the collection of big data, the use of artificial intelligence, and shared cyber standards for the development of “trustworthy digital infrastructure”.

All these programs are designed to counter Chinese economic practices (via its Belt and Road Initiative) and high-technology exports that undermine liberal democratic practices and enable government corruption and authoritarian-style control and surveillance of populations.




Read more:
Why is there so much furore over China’s Belt and Road Initiative?


However, an economic component capable of competing directly with China’s Belt and Road Initiative is still missing. The absence of a more comprehensive, Quad-based economic strategy remains the greatest weakness in its pitch to advance a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Without it, the Quad cannot counter Beijing’s narrative in the region that the path to economic prosperity is primarily dependent on China.

Still not a ‘security apparatus’

Also notably absent from the summit was discussion of greater military-strategic cooperation.

Prior to the meeting, a US administration official emphasised “the group is not a security meeting or security apparatus”.

The Quad is certainly not an alliance and it is unlikely to become an “Asian NATO”, despite Chinese claims this is what it is aiming to do.

Nevertheless, the four countries have advanced their abilities to conduct joint military operations, such as the Malabar naval exercise. They have also strengthened their cooperation in other areas — such as the sharing of military logistics and maritime surveillance and intelligence information — although this is in bilateral and trilateral formats so far.

And the momentous announcement of the AUKUS alliance between the US, UK and Australia will certainly complement the deterrent capabilities of the Quad.

In all of these initiatives, the Quad leaders have succeeded in dispelling Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s prediction the group would “dissipate like sea foam”.

Instead, it has become a genuine democratic bulwark against Chinese expansionism and is increasingly forcing Beijing to recalculate the costs of its actions.The Conversation

Lavina Lee, Senior lecturer, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, Australia is buying a fleet of nuclear submarines. But nuclear-powered electricity must not come next


Shutterstock

Ian Lowe, Griffith UniversityThe federal government on Thursday announced a landmark defence pact with the United States and United Kingdom that involves this nation acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. The question of nuclear submarines in Australia has been bubbling along for some time – and with it, whether we should also develop a nuclear energy sector.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted the defence deal did not mean Australia would look to develop a civil nuclear capability.

But there is strong support within Coalition ranks for a homegrown nuclear power industry. And the Minerals Council of Australia on Thursday quickly pointed out the “opportunity” the submarine announcement created for expanding nuclear technology in Australia.

The submarine announcement is sure to trigger a new round of debate on whether nuclear energy is right for Australia. But let’s be clear: the technology makes no sense for Australia, economically or politically, and would not be a timely response to climate change.

man at lecturn with tv screens either side
The major defence agreement involves Australia acquiring nuclear submarines.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

A twin discussion

The topics of nuclear submarines and nuclear energy are often discussed in tandem.

The technology is similar: the energy source for a nuclear submarine is basically a miniature version of that for a power station. And a similar supply chain is needed for mining and processing uranium, fuelling the reactor and managing waste. That also means both technologies require similar skills and regulatory frameworks.

The Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable on Thursday responded to the submarine announcement, pointing out the apparent synergies with nuclear power:

This is an incredible opportunity for Australia’s economy – not only will we develop the skills and infrastructure to support this naval technology, but it connects us to the growing global nuclear power industry and its supply chains.

Now that Australia is acquiring nuclear submarines which use small reactors, there is no reason why Australia should not be considering [small modular reactors] for civilian use.

A former commander of Australia’s submarine force, Denis Mole, in April also questioned why Australia doesn’t have a larger and more diverse nuclear industry.

Mole argued that of the top 20 world economies, all have nuclear power except Australia, Italy and Saudi Arabia. And as nations commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 “it’s noteworthy that no major economy intends doing so without nuclear power in the mix”, he said.

And in February this year, Lindsay Hughes, a senior analyst in the Indo-Pacific program of research organisation Future Directions International, also suggested Australia should develop a nuclear power sector to support a nuclear submarine fleet.

Hughes argued a nuclear power sector would provide skills that could be transferred into the military domain, including nuclear-powered submarines, saying:

A nuclear power sector would demand university graduates with skills in engineering, physics and mathematics, the same skills and skill levels that the US Navy requires to operate its nuclear submarines. Australian graduates with similar skills could be employed on Australian nuclear-powered submarines.

Hughes concluded a nuclear power sector “could potentially provide much of the foundational skills required to maintain and operate a nuclear-power submarine fleet”. That really is the military tail wagging the electricity industry dog.

partially submerged submarine
Nations with nuclear submarines, such as this Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Tucson, also have nuclear power capability.
YONHAP NEWS AGENCY/AAP

Nuclear power is not the logical next step

Even if there’s agreement Australia needs nuclear submarines patrolling the South China Sea, there is no logical jump for a nuclear power sector to support that activity.

In an opinion piece in March this year, former defence minister Christopher Pyne wrote that without nuclear energy, Australia could not support nuclear submarines – but establishing the former would be difficult. He went on:

Australia does not have a nuclear industry. One cannot be created overnight. Even if there was the political will to create one, which there isn’t, what political party is going to waste its political capital on creating a legislative framework for a nuclear industry that can sustain nuclear submarines, that has zero chance of passing any Upper House in any jurisdiction in Australia.

A nuclear industry in Australia would need a solution for the safe storage and disposal of high-level radioactive waste – this appears unlikely, given the public opposition to establishing a site to dispose of even low-level nuclear waste in Australia.

And research suggests there would be little community support for nuclear power – especially following the Fukushima disaster – let alone a community willing to host a reactor.

people wearing masks hold signs
The Fukushima nuclear disaster damaged public perceptions of the technology in Japan and globally.
JEON HEON-KYUN/EPA

The decision to build nuclear submarines raises a new set of issues about uranium processing, fuel fabrication and waste management. The Morrison government needs to tell the community how these will be managed.

What’s more, while nuclear power may have once been cheaper than wind or solar, the economics have since changed dramatically.

Nuclear power plants are very expensive to build and the economics of nuclear power are getting steadily worse. By contrast, renewables continue to come down in price.

As I wrote in my new book Long Half-life: The Nuclear Industry in Australia, global average prices for new power last year were 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour for large solar, 4.1 cents for wind, 11 cents for coal and 16 cents for nuclear.

It would also take at least ten years to build one nuclear plant in Australia. So it’s clearly not an adequate response to the urgent challenge of climate change.

And the water use of a nuclear power industry, needed for cooling, would be a fundamental issue on the driest of all inhabited continents.

Over the past 20 years, new nuclear reactors have struggled to establish a business case in any OECD country, with the potential exception of South Korea. The world has obviously made its decision on nuclear: last year 192 gigawtts of renewables came on line, compared with a net 3 gigawatts of nuclear power.




Read more:
Why don’t Australians see nuclear as a climate change solution?


wind farm at dusk
Renewable energy is far cheaper than nuclear power.
Shutterstock

The future is renewables

Australia’s 2009 Defence White Paper noted the federal government had ruled out nuclear propulsion for submarines. Now the federal government will outlay huge amounts of money establishing the framework for the technology.

However, the massive public subsidy of this project must not be used to justify the much greater risks of nuclear power.

Australia is blessed with a bounty of sun and wind, and is well on the way to achieving 50% renewable energy by 2030, even without government help. No matter which way you look at it, nuclear power in Australia makes no sense at all.The Conversation

Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why nuclear submarines are a smart military move for Australia — and could deter China further


John Blaxland, Australian National UniversityThe Morrison government has decided it’s best for Australia to accelerate the production of a more capable, integrated, nuclear-powered submarine platform with the US and the UK.

This will more tightly enmesh Australia into the US orbit. Technologically and militarily, it means if the US goes into a conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, it would be much more difficult for Australia not to be directly and almost automatically involved.

The other side of argument is this is a good thing because it will at least incrementally add to the deterrence against China.

Chinese strategists and leaders will have to weigh up the risk and presumably be less likely to decide that crossing the threshold of war is something they are prepared to do. The hope is that added deterrence will make the stakes higher for the Chinese and the prospects of success lower.

How do nuclear submarines differ from conventional ones?

In recent years, the Australian government and Department of Defence have been placing greater emphasis on longer-range military capabilities, particularly with the Defence Strategic Update in 2020.

This includes the acquisition of missiles, as well as space and cyber capabilities. Nuclear-powered submarines now leapfrog our existing naval capabilities.




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Defence update: in an increasingly dangerous neighbourhood, Australia needs a stronger security system


The benefit of nuclear submarines is you don’t have to snorkel: they allow you to stay submerged and be stealthier for longer. The conventionally powered (diesel/electric) submarine does not have the same range without exposing itself to detection by surfacing.

This potentially will transform the ability of the Australian Defence Force to operate at range around Australia and beyond, and operate more closely in an integrated way with the US and UK.

Our previous A$90 billion deal with the French company DCNS to build up to 12 submarines was always less connected with the US and UK.

The French ironically had nuclear propulsion in their Barracuda submarine, and had we gone with that option when we signed the deal in 2016, they could have said, “OK, let’s replicate what we do and give that to you”. Had we done that, we would be well on the way to our first one.

But we said we wanted the propulsion to be conventional. That delayed the French program, so they now have cause to be irritated over this new deal.

The question is how quickly these new submarines will become available, because the French-designed ones were decades away from being operational.

This new deal potentially would see Australia able to lease British and/or American submarines on an interim basis to develop Australian expertise with nuclear propulsion, or at least operate with them and have Australian crew on board to learn the ropes.

But we do not have the capability in Australia at the moment to operate and maintain nuclear submarines. There’s a whole infrastructure that’s missing.

This means we either have to spend an enormous amount of money to develop it, or subcontract it to the UK or US, which makes us beholden to them and subject to their domestic, political dynamics.

Where did things go wrong?

We’ve fumbled the ball in our handling of our future submarine capability over the last decade and a half. We should have made a decision on a new submarine design a long time ago — one that was feasible — and locked it in.

We bypassed a couple of other options, including an upgrade of our current Collins-class submarine — a newer, snazzier, more capable version of what we already know.

Instead, we went for a radical new design that even the French had never built before. Anything with cutting-edge technology is going to incur delays and cost overruns. And that’s exactly what we faced.

A Barracuda submarine under construction in France.
A Barracuda submarine under construction in France. DCNS, a French company, had been chosen to design 12 diesel-electric, Shortfin Barracuda submarines for Australia in 2016.
Thibault Camus/AP

In the meantime, the clouds have gotten darker in our region and the need to acquire new, capable submarines has become all the more pressing and important.

The combination of those factors has driven a hard-nosed re-evaluation of our previous half-baked decisions on our future submarine requirements.

Interestingly, in defence industry circles there is emerging a strong sense of approval that Australia is now going with a known quantity — a reliable, technological platform that is more integrated with the US and hopefully can become operational much sooner.

How will this build up Australia’s defence industry?

The details remain sketchy but it appears the initial plan will be to subcontract the development of the submarines to the US or UK.

But if Australia is to be self-reliant, which I believe the government recognises the need for, then much of this technology will have to be transferred to Australia — at least to allow for maintenance.

No doubt, aspects of the fit-out are not directly linked to insider knowledge on nuclear propulsion secrets, so there will be a considerable portion of the work that could be done in Australia. But that will incur delays and additional costs.

Australia’s circumstances are more turbulent and the prospect of the American alliance coming to the rescue is more precarious than ever. The irony is that to be more self-reliant, there’s a need to double down on US technology and US capabilities. They are the world leaders and they have the industrial capacity to quickly provide the technology.

One of the things Defence Minister Peter Dutton went to Washington to do was to persuade the US to share technology. This AUKUS arrangement talks about developing a technology industrial basis and supply lines — this means the US and UK are appear prepared to invest in Australia’s ability to sustain it.




Read more:
China does not want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game


How will China likely react?

That’s the million dollar question: does this make us safer? There’s no question we will get strong and sharp-edged criticism from Beijing, where the Chinese government will see it in conspiratorial terms.

But Chinese rhetoric doesn’t need be taken at face value. This is largely for domestic purposes and about influencing and shaping opinion in a way that’s consistent with China’s perceived interests.

In the past few years, China has become more assertive in its rhetoric, matching its military buildup, which most security pundits now say is about seeking to intimidate potential adversaries so they’ll just back down.

One of China's new nuclear-powered submarines.
One of China’s new nuclear-powered submarines, the Long March 10.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

So, does a more capable AUKUS coalition, with Australia in the middle, deter or aggravate China?

It’s fair to say there is growing consensus we need to do more to deter Chinese actions in the region. Deterrence requires credible capabilities. This new alliance is consistent with that line of reasoning.

We have put our eggs in the US security basket for the past 70 years — and this new coalition puts more eggs in that basket. The hope is collaborating with the UK and US will improve our ability to defend ourselves. But submarines are only really useful if you find yourself contemplating having to use them.

Short of such circumstances, some deft diplomacy and regional engagement is key. Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper of 2017 spoke of investing in regional security ties. For this policy change to enhance security, it needs to be coupled with much greater efforts aimed at bolstering security and stability alongside our neighbours in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.The Conversation

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How do nuclear-powered submarines work? A nuclear scientist explains


US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

AJ Mitchell, Australian National UniversityThe Australian government has just declared an historic defence agreement with the United States and United Kingdom that will see a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines patrol our shores and surrounding waters.

Research into nuclear-based propulsion of marine vessels began in the 1940s with the dawn of the “nuclear age”. Since then, only six nations have owned and operated nuclear submarines: China, France, India, Russia, the UK and the US.

Considering Australia has just torn up a A$90 billion contract to construct a new arsenal of conventional submarines, yesterday’s announcement will probably come as a surprise to many.




Read more:
Australia to build nuclear submarines in a new partnership with the US and UK


So what is “nuclear” about a nuclear submarine? The first thing to say is that a nuclear-powered submarine is not a nuclear weapon.

On the surface, they look like any other submarine. The key difference lies in the way they are powered.

In the early days of atomic research, scientists rapidly realised the huge amounts of energy released by “splitting the atom” can be harnessed to generate electricity. Nuclear reactors inside power stations have been powering homes and industry across the world for 70 years. Similarly, each nuclear submarine draws power from its own miniature onboard nuclear reactor.

At the heart of every atom is an atomic nucleus, made of protons and neutrons. The number of protons defines what chemical element that atom belongs to; nuclei with the same number of protons but varying numbers of neutrons are called isotopes of that element.

Some very heavy nuclei are highly susceptible to a process known as nuclear fission, whereby they split into two lighter nuclei with a total mass less than the original nucleus. The remainder is converted to energy.

The amount of energy released is immense, as we can see from Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc², which tells us the energy is equal to the change in mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light!

Reactors in a nuclear-powered submarine are typically fuelled with uranium. Natural uranium mined from the ground consists mainly of an isotope called uranium-238, mixed with small amounts (0.7%) of the key isotope uranium-235.

For the reactor to work, the uranium fuel has to be “enriched” to contain the desired proportion of uranium-235. For submarines, this is typically about 50%. The degree of fuel enrichment is a crucial factor in maintaining a chain reaction that gives a consistent, safe level of energy output.

Inside the reactor, uranium-235 is bombarded with neutrons, causing some of the nuclei to undergo nuclear fission. In turn, more neutrons are released and the process continues in a so-called “nuclear chain reaction”. The energy is given off as heat, which can be used to drive turbines that generate electricity for the submarine.

Diagram of nuclear fission chain reaction
Conceptual diagram of a nuclear fission chain reaction.
ANU, Author provided

What are the pros and cons of going nuclear?

One huge advantage of nuclear-powered submarines is they do not require refuelling. When one of them enters into service, it will be commissioned with enough uranium fuel to last more than 30 years.

The high efficiency of nuclear power also enables these submarines to operate at high speed for longer periods than conventional diesel-electric submarines. What’s more, unlike conventional fuel combustion, nuclear reactions do not require air. That means nuclear submarines can stay submerged at deep depths for months at a time, giving them better stealth capabilities and allowing for longer, more remote deployments.

The downside is the eye-watering cost. Each nuclear submarine typically costs several billion dollars to build, and requires a highly skilled workforce with expertise in nuclear science. With its dedicated training programs offered by world-class universities and government agencies, Australia is well situated to meet the increasing demands in this space, and will also benefit from existing UK and US expertise through the new trilateral security pact.

At this stage, details on where the fuel would be sourced are unclear. While Australia has an ample supply of uranium in the ground, it lacks the capacity to enrich or fabricate the reactor fuel, which could be sourced from overseas.

What will happen to the spent fuel? The 2015 Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission found commercial viability for long-term radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities in South Australia. Whether this eventuates will doubtless be subject to deliberations at local and federal government levels for years to come.




Read more:
Why nuclear submarines are a smart military move for Australia — and could deter China further


Popular misconceptions

I’ll say it again. This is not a call by Australia to deploy nuclear weapons in our waters. For uranium to be designated “weapons grade”, it needs to be enriched to upwards of 90% uranium-235 – the fuel for a nuclear-powered submarine doesn’t come close.

In any case, Australia has never produced a nuclear weapon, and it is a party to nuclear nonproliferation treaties and international export control regimes, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative.

The tactical advantage of submarines comes from their stealth and ability to pinpoint targets secretly without detection.

Maintaining safety, for both crew and the natural environment, is crucial onboard any sea vessel. Hollywood movies such as K19: The Widowmaker, in which a nuclear submarine malfunctions on its maiden voyage, play on our emotions and our instinctive fear of nuclear radiation.

But advances in modern safety controls and procedures mean reactor accidents in submarines are hopefully now consigned to the past.

The strategic and geopolitical outcomes of this policy decision are yet to be seen. But one thing is already clear: Australia’s latest foreign policy venture is also a firm embrace of nuclear science.The Conversation

AJ Mitchell, Research fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why is southeast Asia so concerned about AUKUS and Australia’s plans for nuclear submarines?


James Chin, University of TasmaniaThe announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the US and UK (AUKUS) has caught many by surprise. Besides France, which reacted with fury over Australia’s scrapping of a major submarine deal with a French company, few countries were as surprised as Australia’s neighbours to the north, the ASEAN members.

In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia have come out strongly against Australia’s plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and UK. Even Singapore, Australia’s most reliable ally in the region, has expressed concern.

The Afghanistan debacle has left a bad taste among many Indo-Pacific countries, and some are wondering if the timing of the AUKUS announcement was intended as a show of US power in the region to reassure jittery partners.

Fear of a nuclear arms race

To understand the deep anxiety in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other ASEAN capitals requires some context on where they are coming from.

First, many of them think there is no such thing as acquiring nuclear-powered submarines without the prospect of acquiring nuclear weapons in the future.

Australia has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires parties to agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The Morrison government says the treaty would be inconsistent with its alliance with the US, a nuclear weapon power.




Read more:
The nuclear weapons ban treaty is groundbreaking, even if the nuclear powers haven’t signed


However, Australia did ratify the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week Australia has “no plans” to pursue nuclear weapons.

Yet, some ASEAN countries are worried the AUKUS agreement is a clear signal the West will take a more aggressive stand towards China by admitting Australia to the nuclear club.

Both Indonesia (the unofficial leader of ASEAN) and Malaysia fear AUKUS will also lead to a major arms race in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

The potential for conflict in South China Sea

The new agreement also signals that the US, Australia and UK view the South China Sea as a key venue for this contest against China.

The ASEAN nations have always preached maintaining southeast Asia as a “zone of peace, freedom and neutrality”, free from interference by any outside powers. In 1995, the member states also signed the Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, which committed to keep nuclear weapons out of the region. Not a single nuclear power has signed on to it.

Although everyone knows China, the US, Britain and France have ignored these protocols by manoeuvring armed warships through the South China Sea — not to mention China’s building of military bases on disputed islands there — ASEAN does not want to see this number grow.

A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile.
A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the South China Sea.
Zha Chunming/Xinhua/AP

Australian nuclear-powered submarines have the potential to change the dynamics in the South China Sea and make the Chinese much more nervous. There have already been plenty of “close encounter” incidents between the Chinese and US navies in the disputed waters, as well as the Chinese navy and ships belonging to ASEAN members. The region doesn’t need yet another potential “close encounter” to worry about.

The ASEAN states are already very worried about the China-US rivalry playing out in its backyard. And the new AUKUS agreement reinforces the idea that the opinions of the ASEAN members matter little when it comes to the superpowers and how they operate in the region.




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The region has always insisted on the idea of “ASEAN centrality” in their relations with the world — that ASEAN members must decide what is best for Southeast Asia — but as AUKUS shows, nuclear nations play a different game.

Indonesia is especially unhappy with Australia given the new agreement will affect it directly, given their common maritime border.

Morrison had already been forced to cancel his upcoming trip to Jakarta after President Joko Widodo said he would be unavailable to meet — a decision that was made before the AUKUS announcement. This will add another layer to the strained relationship.

Is there anyone happy about the deal?

While in public, most southeast Asian governments have expressed uneasiness with AUKUS, there is a school of thought that says the more hawkish voices in the region will probably accept the agreement in the long term, as it will help keep China’s aggression in check.

For those in the “hawk” camp, the number one long-term threat to regional security is China. Many think the strategic balance of power has been tilting too much in Beijing’s favour in the past decade, especially after China started rushing to build military bases in the South China Sea and using its navy to protect Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters.

So, they believe any moves to remind China it does not have a carte blanche to do what it wants in Southeast Asia is a good thing.

Japan and South Korea are clearly in this camp and their muted reaction to AUKUS suggests they are in favour of a “re-balancing” in the region. Taiwan and Vietnam are probably on this side, as well.

The only downside is that Australia may use its nuclear-powered submarines to bully ASEAN countries. If Canberra uses its nuclear submarines as a bargaining chip, it will simply turn public opinion in the region against Australia.

Implications for Australia-ASEAN relations

If anything, the AUKUS move reinforced the widely held perception that Australia’s mantra of being “part of the region” is, in fact, “empty talk”. Australia has firmly signalled its intentions to put its Anglo allies in the US and UK first.

AUKUS also reinforces the view that Australia cannot be accepted as a regional partner or player. This, of course, is nothing new. For years, the ASEAN bloc has seen Australia as “deputy sheriff” to the US, though this view would not necessarily be shared in public.

So, while AUKUS came as a surprise to many in the region, an alliance of this sort was probably bound to happen. It’s just that nobody expected it to happen so soon.The Conversation

James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.