In one week the government’s justification for needing outrageously expensive nuclear submarines has shifted from defending the continent to the old 1960s forward defence policy in Asia which lured us into Vietnam – with all its heartbreak.
In Thursday’s The Australian Financial Review Defence Minister Richard Marles sharply shifted the justification for the government’s wild purchase of nuclear submarines from the likelihood of a Chinese military invasion of Australia to simply the protection of sea lanes – sea lanes, Marles argues, on which Australia depends.
In just one week following my address to the National Press Club, wherein I claimed China had not threatened Australia, was not intending to threaten Australia and would be unable to threaten Australia, in the event that any threat materialised as an amphibious invasion, the government has dropped maintenance of that central argument for its nuclear submarine purchase to now one devolving to a need and a rationale of protecting Australia’s sea lanes.
So, in one week the government has gone from needing outrageously expensive nuclear submarines to weigh off a potential invasive threat from China to now – hold it – needing them, principally, to protect our sea lanes, an altogether different issue as to scale, purpose and urgency.
Marles in parliament yesterday said: “Our national interest and our national security extended beyond our shoreline – as we are highly dependent on global trade.”
In other words, Marles is implicitly arguing that Australia’s defence policy should no longer be the defence of the continent but a forward defence posture – a forward defence which would allow nuclear submarines, with their indefinite seakeeping, to attack remote targets such as threats to Singapore’s oil refineries or, of course, the Chinese coast itself.
In other words, the old 1960s forward defence policy. The policy which lured us into Vietnam – with all its heartbreak.
There is no rational basis for the Albanese government facilitating the withering expense of nuclear submarines other than to suit and comply with the strategic ambitions of the United States.
Marles went out of his way to put down my argument that 40 to 50 diesel-powered Collins class type submarines would be superior for Australia than eight nuclear submarines by saying that my view was “out of touch”. He went on further to say that my view about a defence of the continent policy “was an antiquated view”.
This is part of the government line first articulated by Penny Wong, who said: “Keating has his view, but in substance and in tone they belong to another time.”
Readers will get it. Possessing no real argument against the points I raised at the Press Club, the defence minister and the foreign minister, despite my long policy experience, deprecate my view as “antiquated”, “out of touch” and, in substance, belonging “to another time”.
The point is, of course, had Wong had the foresight and the courage to argue five years ago that China was not threatening us, did not intend to threaten us and could not threaten us – i.e., the position I argued at the Press Club; an argument she would have won – Labor would have avoided the shocking bind into which Scott Morrison jammed it on AUKUS.
Instead, for five years, Wong chose a unity ticket on China with Julie Bishop and, unbelievably, with Marise Payne – leaving Labor absolutely no place to go on foreign and defence policy with the People’s Republic of China.
Now, Marles has been pushed out to argue not against any supposed invasion by China, but rather, secondarily, the protection of sea lanes – the very same sea lanes that service and fuel China’s massive material demands. The maritime demands of the world’s largest manufacturing and trading economy.
In other words, Marles now believes China may disrupt its own vital sea lanes simply to damage our interests on the way through!
On the Insiders program last weekend, Marles was arguing that, among others, it is up to us to protect the “rules-based order” at sea.
And this is despite the fact that the major state of the world, the United States, has for 40 years now refused to ratify the UN International Law of the Sea Convention – the very law of the sea itself.
The US invokes the “rules-based order” but won’t sign up to “the rules” itself. That’s for mugs like us to do.
In the permanent “Law of the Sea” debate within the United Nations, the failure of the US to join the UN Law of the Sea Convention is called “hypocri-sea”. This is how staff and diplomats refer to it.
It is that “hypocri-sea” that Australia’s Defence Minister, Richard Marles, is now adopting and trafficking in as an apologia for the budget-busting purpose of buying nuclear submarines.
One thing we can now be certain of: there is no rational basis for the Albanese government facilitating the withering expense of nuclear submarines other than to suit and comply with the strategic ambitions of the United States – ambitions which slice through Australia’s future in the community of Asia, the basis of our rightful and honourable residency.