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.




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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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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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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.

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.




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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.




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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.




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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.




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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.

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.




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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.

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


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison, whose COVID face masks have the Australian flag emblazoned on them, likes to talk about “the Australian way” of doing things and Australian values.

But it is not “the Australian way” to secretly plan, over a very long time, to deceive a close friend of this country, and then to treat them in a most humiliating and disdainful manner. That does not align with “Australian values” of honesty and fair dealing.

If Australia is really surprised an angry French government has withdrawn its ambassador from Canberra (as well as its ambassador from Washington) it suggests it has no grasp of the proprieties of international diplomacy.

To add insult to injury, on Sunday Defence Minister Peter Dutton suggested the Australian government had been “upfront, open and honest” – the French could have read the signals of our discontent with their $90 billion submarines contract, including in Senate estimates hearings. This latter reference brought to mind then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggesting to Barack Obama that if he’d kept up with the Northern Territory News he’d have known about Australia’s lease of the Port of Darwin to the Chinese.




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C’est fini: can the Australia-France relationship be salvaged after scrapping the sub deal?


As recently as the end of August, Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne held the “Inaugural Australia-France 2+2 Ministerial Consultations” with their French counterparts. In the “bilateral cooperation” section of the communique came the sentence: “Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program”.

It’s telling that the unveiling of the new AUKUS agreement last week was surrounded by more showmanship than diplomacy. The leaders of Australia, the US and Britain were successfully linked for a synchronised performance. But Morrison apparently did not manage to speak personally to French President Macron when a massive contract was being torn up.

AUKUS carries Morrison’s individual branding. It may be the most significant legacy of his prime ministership; however long he is in office, it will certainly be one of them.

It has all the Morrison hallmarks: his own work, conceived and executed in secrecy, kept to the smallest possible round of colleagues, details to be worked out much later, and little concern for the incidental fallout.

If, 30 years on, historians rate it as a stroke of strategic foresight that greatly protected Australia in a time of Chinese potential aggression, Morrison will deserve all the credit. He says he’s been working for 18 months on this – the mustering of a new Anglosphere in our region – and he has managed to pull it off with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, who both had their own reasons for being receptive.

On the other hand, if after 30 years, AUKUS is judged in the rear vision mirror to have escalated tensions with China to a greater degree than it protected us from Chinese aggression, history’s judgement will be different.

Even as we’re consumed by the short term, it is always worth a look at the long view. Especially when Afghanistan is fresh in our minds – a commitment that was necessary initially, but ended in a fiasco that has restored the Taliban.

Morrison’s planned nuclear-powered subs come without any estimated cost (except they’ll be more expensive than the French ones); or precise timetable (except they won’t be available for a couple of decades); or decision about which boat will be chosen (except it will be American or British), or firm indication of how much building will be done in Australia (except that it won’t be all of it and possibly only a modest amount).

If any of these aspects returns to bite, blame will (or should) rest on Morrison’s head, whether he’s around or not.

Then there’s the French relationship to manage. How long their fury will last is anybody’s guess. But given their interests in the region, it is no small thing to deliver this rebuff in what can only be seen as a crass manner.

Marise Payne may not be of great use in repairing the tear in the relationship. Her diplomatic credibility is one of the immediate casualties of the affair, especially after the recent ministerial talks. One can only imagine how the feisty Julie Bishop would have reacted to being left so compromised.

With Australia’s ambition for a free trade agreement with the European Union in mind, Trade Minister Dan Tehan, flak jacket packed, is off to Paris next week.

Also important is the message that’s been sent to some key regional countries. Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed concerns. The risk is Australia could be seen as an unexpectedly capricious player in the way it operates.

AUKUS is a mark of the supremacy of the hawks in Canberra. Although Morrison said he started planning it with former defence minister Linda Reynolds, it is a precise fit for current minister Dutton.

In thinking about defence strategy, governments of both complexions have circled around questions of long range capability, of which nuclear-powered submarines are part.

But it was not until Morrison, in the lead up to the 2020 defence strategic update, started to push Reynolds and the defence establishment to contemplate the acquisition – and potential use – of such weaponry that the real momentum came. In Dutton, Morrison has a defence minister who not only shares his instinct on this, but has a full time focus on it.




Read more:
C’est fini: can the Australia-France relationship be salvaged after scrapping the sub deal?


Some months ago the secretary of the home affairs department, Mike Pezzullo, himself a hawk, wrote of hearing the “drums of war”. It was obvious well before that Australia was preparing to refurbish and expand its own drum set in the face of an assertive China already targeting Australia economically.

Dutton and others have increasingly dropped the government’s earlier attempt to avoid naming China as the potential enemy, even if we haven’t quite got back to the red arrows from the north of those 1960s depictions.

One problem with the subs deal is that, given the pace at which things move, a China-US military blow-up over Taiwan (if it comes to that) could be done and dusted, with god knows what consequences, by the time the boats are in the water. No wonder the talk now is of leasing a sub or two to fill in the gap, given the inadequacy of the Collins-class submarines we now operate.

It should be noted, incidentally, that some commentators expert in these things say the French nuclear-powered subs (as opposed to the conventionally-powered ones we’re ditching) would be more suitable to our needs than the US or UK boats.

The government says the problem is they’d need their nuclear power refuelled every seven to ten years offshore (because Australia wouldn’t have the nuclear facility), while US and UK subs are powered for their lifetimes. That would not seem a great difficulty, but obviously reworking the French deal would not have delivered the big technological and other advantages of going the full monty with the AUKUS partners.

AUKUS will bring Australia a whole lot of other US weaponry and more boots on Australian ground.

This takes us to the future of the Port of Darwin. Just as the Coalition has botched for years its attempts to get new submarines, so the Northern Territory awarding a Chinese company the lease of the Port of Darwin was a massive snafu.

It’s no good the federal Coalition saying it was all the NT government’s fault. The defence department knew about it and wasn’t worried.

Now the Morrison government has a review of the lease in train. In light of AUKUS, with enhanced military assets in the north and our assessment of the Chinese, it would seem a logical absurdity to let the lease stand. And yet quashing it would be another demonstration of Australia’s unreliability on done deals. It’s a mess.




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ANZUS without NZ? Why the new security pact between Australia, the UK and US might not be all it seems


AUKUS will no doubt have a good many more consequences. One (not formally or totally linked of course) is expected to be a more ambitious climate policy from Australia, which Joe Biden has been urging on the Morrison government for the Glasgow climate conference.

Morrison in coming weeks will want to deliver to Biden (and Johnson), although we don’t know the extent of that delivery, or whether Barnaby Joyce will find himself struggling with any collateral fallout among his own people.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 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.




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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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Jokowi’s visit shows the Australia-Indonesia relationship is strong, but faultlines remain


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.

ANZUS without NZ? Why the new security pact between Australia, the UK and US might not be all it seems


Alexander Gillespie, University of WaikatoWe live, to borrow a phrase, in interesting times. The pandemic aside, relations between the superpowers are tense. The sudden arrival of the new AUKUS security agreement between Australia, the US and UK simply adds to the general sense of unease internationally.

The relationship between America and China had already deteriorated under the presidency of Donald Trump and has not improved under Joe Biden. New satellite evidence suggests China might be building between 100 and 200 silos for a new generation of nuclear intercontinental missiles.

At the same time, the US relationship with North Korea continues to smoulder, with both North and South Korea conducting missile tests designed to intimidate.

And, of course, Biden has just presided over the foreign policy disaster of withdrawal from Afghanistan. His administration needs something new with a positive spin.

Enter AUKUS, more or less out of the blue. So far, it is just a statement launched by the member countries’ leaders. It has not yet been released as a formal treaty.

The Indo-Pacific pivot

The new agreement speaks of “maritime democracies” and “ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order” with the objective to “deepen diplomatic, security and defence co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region”.

“Indo-Pacific region” is code for defence against China, with the partnership promising greater sharing and integration of defence technologies, cyber capabilities and “additional undersea capabilities”. Under the agreement, Australia also stands to gain nuclear-powered submarines.




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


To demonstrate the depth of the relationship, the agreement highlights how “for more than 70 years, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have worked together, along with other important allies and partners”.

At which point New Zealand could have expected a drum roll, too, having only just marked the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS agreement. That didn’t happen, and New Zealand was conspicuously absent from the choreographed announcement hosted by the White House.

Having remained committed to the Five Eyes security agreement and having put boots on the ground in Afghanistan for the duration, “NZ” appears to have been taken out of ANZUS and replaced with “UK”.

Don’t mention the nukes

The obvious first question is whether New Zealand was asked to join the new arrangement. While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has welcomed the new partnership, she has confirmed: “We weren’t approached, nor would I expect us to be.”

That is perhaps surprising. Despite problematic comments by New Zealand’s trade minister about Australia’s dealings with China, and the foreign minister’s statement that she “felt uncomfortable” with the expanding remit of the Five Eyes, reassurances by Ardern about New Zealand’s commitment should have calmed concerns.




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


One has to assume, therefore, that even if New Zealand had been asked to join, it might have chosen to opt out anyway. There are three possible explanations for this.

The first involves the probable provision to Australia of nuclear-powered military submarines. Any mention of nuclear matters makes New Zealand nervous. But Australia has been at pains to reiterate its commitment to “leadership on global non-proliferation”.

Similar commitments or work-arounds could probably have been made for New Zealand within the AUKUS agreement, too, but that is now moot.

The dragon in the room

The second reason New Zealand may have declined is because the new agreement is perceived as little more than an expensive purchasing agreement for the Australian navy, wrapped up as something else.

This may be partly true. But the rewards of the relationship as stated in the initial announcement go beyond submarines and look enticing. In particular, anything that offers cutting-edge technologies and enhances the interoperability of New Zealand’s defence force with its allies would not be lightly declined.




Read more:
ANZUS at 70: Together for decades, US, Australia, New Zealand now face different challenges from China


The third explanation could lie in an assumption that this is not a new security arrangement. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that New Zealand is not the only ally missing from the new arrangement.

Canada, the other Five Eyes member, is also not at the party. Nor are France, Germany, India and Japan. If this really was a quantum shift in strategic alliances, the group would have been wider — and more formal than a new partnership announced at a press conference.

Nonetheless, the fact that New Zealand’s supposedly extra-special relationship with Britain, Australia and America hasn’t made it part of the in-crowd will raise eyebrows. Especially while no one likes to mention the elephant – or should that be dragon? – in the room: New Zealand’s relationship with China.The Conversation

Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

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

The AUKUS pact, born in secrecy, will have huge implications for Australia and the region


Patricia A. O’Brien, Georgetown UniversityIt has been announced the US, Australia and the UK are forming a new security partnership to be known as AUKUS.

This alliance, announced by the leaders of the three countries, throws an entirely different light on the recent 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty and indeed key defence relationships of the past seven decades.

Dubbed by some as ANZUS 2.0, AUKUS is a trilateral agreement, but one that notably excludes New Zealand. With the UK’s inclusion instead, this agreement shifts the ANZUS Treaty’s Pacific Ocean focus to one that encompasses the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic Oceans too. It is an arrangement with global reach and profound, long-term implications.

There is much to unpack from this far-reaching announcement. It was only known publicly that a major announcement was coming less than 24 hours beforehand. In the slick promotional video that preceded remarks by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and finally US President Joe Biden, the fact that the three nations are democracies was touted as a defining and unifying feature.

Yet the publics of the three nations were kept in the dark about what was afoot, and were instead presented a fait d’accompli. “AUKUS is born”, Morrison declared. Few knew it was even in gestation.

The secrecy surrounding AUKUS is troubling given its significance, especially for Australia. These stakes were clearly demarcated in today’s White House press briefing ahead of the formal leaders’ announcement. AUKUS in its scope and aims:

binds decisively Australia to the United States and Great Britain for generations.

To further underscore the significance for Australia, the US spokesperson described AUKUS as:

the biggest strategic step Australia has taken in generations.

The most significant component of AUKUS announced so far is that Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines. The US and the UK have shared this nuclear technology in an arrangement dating back to 1958.




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


Over the next 18 months, the US and UK will “support Australia’s desire to acquire nuclear-powered submarines”. Adelaide will soon see technical and strategic teams from all three countries working on building the subs.

These submarines will allow Australia to “deploy for longer periods”, are “quieter”, “much more capable” and will allow “us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific”, the White House said. All three leaders were at pains to stress Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons, though these capabilities will necessarily develop along with the limited AUKUS aims of propulsion.

Now Australia’s pre-existing sub-building deal with France is destined for the scrap heap, but not without a hefty bill for Australian taxpayers, it has been reported.

The other elements of AUKUS include enhancing joint capabilities, deeper military interoperability, “new architectures” of meetings and engagements between defence and foreign policy officials, and to “spur co-operation across many new and emerging arenas” – cyber, applied AI, quantum technologies and “some undersea capabilities”.

The need for this immense shift in Australia’s defence capabilities and the genesis of the AUKUS partnership were not specified in today’s announcement. Biden came closest to articulating AUKUS’s intent when he said it will help “better meet the threats of today and tomorrow”. There is no doubt what has sparked this strategic recalibration: the rise of China.

In addition to exponentially increasing Australia’s military capabilities, the overarching rationale of AUKUS is to link existing allies and partners together. This will in turn create a global web of security arrangements to combat China’s massive and rapid global expansion. This is why the focus of AUKUS is on the Indo-Pacific, which stretches from the eastern Pacific to the east coast of Africa.

Many questions remain about AUKUS. One is why did the UK return to the Indo-Pacific arena in this way, having essentially left it, in strategic terms, in the 1950s?

According to Johnson’s brief remarks today, it joined to impart knowledge about nuclear submarine technology, “acquired over generations”, to Australia. This will have a two-fold benefit, he said. It will “preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific” while “creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the United Kingdom”. The UK’s involvement in AUKUS is its most significant enaction of its new Indo-Pacific strategic “tilt” set out in its 2021 defence and foreign policy review.

One of the many questions arising from the AUKUS announcement is why the UK is re-engaging in the Indo-Pacific.
Alberto Pezzali/AP/AAP

And where does AUKUS leave New Zealand? Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reassured New Zealanders today that she “welcomed” greater UK and US involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, a security outlook she has clearly adhered her nation to.

But beneath statements insisting that AUKUS does not interfere with New Zealand’s existing security arrangements, its exclusion from this security partnership has set it on a singular course.

AUKUS’s initial purpose of building Australia a fleet of nuclear-powered subs assures this. As Ardern emphasised,

New Zealand’s position in relation to the prohibition of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters remains unchanged.

There is no doubt China will react strongly to this news and, given its recent conduct towards Australia, punitively in terms of trade. The implications are likely to be manifold.

How Australians respond to the nation’s course set today without their knowledge or consultation will be interesting to gauge. If 70 years of living with the ANZUS treaty is any indication, reactions will be strong and sharply divided.The Conversation

Patricia A. O’Brien, Visiting Fellow, Department of Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, and Adjunct Professor, Asian Studies Program, Georgetown University

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

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


original.
AAP/EPA/Oliver Contreras

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAustralia will build a fleet of nuclear submarines as part of a new security partnership with the United States and United Kingdom, dubbed AUKUS.

The dramatic move is a response to the growing threat of China and will be seen as provocative by that country.

In an early morning address at Parliament House, part of a three-way virtual appearance with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia, the US and the UK had “always seen the world through a similar lens”.

“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific.

“This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures. To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”

The submarines will be built in Adelaide, in co-operation with the UK and US.

Morrison stressed “Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability”.

There will be an 18-month long effort by the three countries to develop the best plan to deliver the new capability. In doing this, expertise from the US and the UK will be used.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese indicated Labor’s general support for the submarines and sought a bipartisan mechanism for oversight of the process.

In a statement Morrison, Biden and Johnson said: “Through AUKUS, our governments will strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defence interests, building on our longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties.

“We will promote deeper information and technology sharing. We will foster deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen co-operation on a range of security and defence capabilities.”

The leaders said: “The endeavour we launch today will help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

American nuclear-powered submarines visit Australia.

Currently, Australia has a $90 billion contract with the French for conventionally-powered submarines. This has been controversial because of the long lead time and escalating costs. Cancellation costs will run into billions of dollars.

The French government has reacted angrily. It declared the Australian decision to halt the current “Future Submarine Program” was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the co-operation that prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as well as on the development of a very high-level defence industrial and technological base in Australia”.

In a statement Jean-Yves Le Drian, minister for Europe and foreign affairs, and Florence Parly, minister of the armed forces, said: “The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret.”

A former French ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, tweeted: “The world is a jungle. France has just been reminded of this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia”.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating criticised the announcement as representing a further loss of Australian sovereignty.

The agreement for Australia “to move to a fleet of US supplied nuclear submarines will amount to a lock-in of Australian military equipment and thereby forces, with those of the United States with only one underlying objective: the ability to act collectively in any military engagement by the United States against China” Keating said.

“This arrangement would witness a further dramatic loss of Australian sovereignty, as material dependency on the United States robbed Australia of any freedom or choice in any engagement Australia may deem appropriate,” he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said under that under that country’s legislation, the nuclear submarines would not be able to visit there.

Senate crossbencher Rex Patrick, a former submariner, said the decision on nuclear submarines should come under rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

“I’ve been a strong critic of the French submarine deal. The delays and cost overruns are huge and unacceptable. But we have to be careful we don’t move from one massive procurement disaster into something else that hasn’t been thought through properly.”

Patrick said that “acquiring, operating and maintaining a nuclear submarine fleet without a domestic nuclear power industry is a challenge that must not be underestimated”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt attacked the decision, saying it was “a dangerous move that makes our country less safe by putting floating Chernobyls in the heart of our major cities, increasing the risk of conflict in our region and putting Australia in the firing line”.

He said the government was trying to distract from its failures by preparing for a khaki election.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.