It looks like next year’s federal election will be even more about keeping Australia safe.
The Morrison Government will seek to be rewarded for protecting us from the pandemic, albeit with a couple of hiccups around vaccine supply and quarantine arrangements, but the other big external enemy that is looming ever larger is set to play a big part in the campaign.
China has clearly got the government well and truly spooked, so last week’s torpedoing of the $90 billion French submarine project in favour of the US and UK nuclear option should not come as a surprise.
The writing has been on the wall for some time that the French deal had soured, and the access to US and UK nuclear technology as part of the new Anglosphere security arrangement changed the equation for Defence.
At the moment, all we have is an announcement and a lot of detail to be filled in, such as the mind-boggling cost, including the compensation to the French, the timeline, how a country without a civil nuclear industry manages and services a fleet of nuclear-powered vessels, and finding the extra crews for these bigger subs.
Significantly, the subs will still be built in Adelaide, ensuring jobs and votes. But if Australia wanted real value, it could buy US boats of the shelf and get them into service much sooner.
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Forget all the nonsense about Australia projecting power and serving notice to the Chinese that we are a force to be reckoned with, though.
It’s going to be 30 years before we even see a sub, so the big benefit is an even cosier defence relationship with the US, beyond ANZUS, and which moves towards further integration of our forces with the Americans.
The message to China is that Australia has got powerful mates, so don’t pick on us.
Already Defence Minister Peter Dutton is laying out the welcome mat for US troops on Australian soil so we can play our part in the American strategy to reinforce its presence in the Indo-Pacific and confront and contain Chinese belligerence.
Welcome to the new Cold War.
The price of protection will be an erosion of sovereignty and independence, a loss of diplomatic clout by nailing our colours so decisively to the US mast, and the potential development of a nuclear industry in Australia that brings with it all the associated risks.
And we will be on the nose with the French.
In an increasingly dangerous world, that may seem a fair price for an Australia that once again keenly senses its isolation.
Considering Australia’s unswerving loyalty to US military adventures, this move can seem a natural next step, especially at a time of increasing tension with China, despite our immensely beneficial trade relationship.
In fact, China’s new assertiveness, rapid arms build-up and claims to the South China Sea and other strategic waters has neighbours such as South Korea and Japan on edge and looking to the US for support.
In this context, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will have a tough time arguing against the deal, and of course, the Coalition will relish the thought of the internal party divisions the deal may wreak on Labor, not to mention isolating the Greens.
For a government with few genuine policies, that would be a bonus in a national security election.
For some, the deal just puts a target on Australia.
For others, China needs to know that countries that share democratic values are not about to let it ride roughshod over the region and accept its suzerainty.
For a world that has survived two World Wars, the first Cold War, the War on Terror and the whirlwind that reaped, and is facing the existential threat of global warming, the sabre rattling and age-old clash of empires is depressing.
If ever there was a time for global cooperation, not confrontation, this is it.
But China under Xi Jinping can hardly cry foul as it retreats into nationalistic totalitarianism and attempts to resume its imperial posture in the region.
Unfortunately the new AUKUS alliance will only reinforce the insecurity of a nation that remembers its humiliation at the hands of the British during the Opium Wars of the 19th century, and the 1937 Japanese invasion like it was yesterday.
Australia is but a bit player, but, as ever, it will do its bit.