Observations of an Expat: Underwater Problems

The Anglo-American decision to sell nuclear submarines to Australia has launched a new round of geopolitical musical chairs with long-lasting repercussions.

The Americans, Australians and British are very happy with their new seats and the new nuclear sub deal and the creation of a new alliance called AUKUS.

The French are furious with the three allies. They have been left standing on the outside. It completely scuppers their $50 billion deal to sell the Australians electric submarines. It also weakens the Franco-British defence agreement that had become one of the pillars of the Western Alliance. “It is a stab in the back,” exclaimed the furious French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian.

The Chinese are, of course, livid.

Beijing has denounced the move as “extremely irresponsible,” “narrow-minded”. They said it also threatens to “intensify the arms race.” British PM Boris Johnson claims that the submarine deal is not adversarial. This, of course, is another one of his outrageous lies which only increases the unbelievability of almost everything he says.

A slew of other countries will also be examining their strategic priorities. Russia, will of course, will be delighted by anything that diverts British and American resources and attention away from the European theatre.

India is already a member of the exclusive nuclear submarine club. But it only has one. Australia is likely to be supplied with half a dozen, almost putting it on a par with France’s eight. The Indians could easily use the new shift to justify increasing its nuclear fleet, especially as it is being courted by Britain, America and Japan as an Asian counterweight to China.

One of the reasons for arming Australia is growing concern about Chinese activity in the South China Sea and East China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia the Philippines and Japan have all lodged claims on the strategic waterways to which China has claimed exclusive use. It is backing up those claims with a series of military installations. All of the rival claims are backed by the West and should be encouraged by the arrival of half dozen regionally-based nuclear submarines. But at the same time they have to tread warily because their economies are now heavily dependent on the Chinese dragon.

Chinese economic power is also causing some Australian analysts to question the wisdom of the move.  China is Australia’s biggest trading partner—a quarter of all exports. The conservative government of Scott Morrison has ignored Australia’s dependence on the Chinese market with several anti-Chinese political statements.

The Chinese were particularly vexed about Canberra’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Covid virus. Beijing responded to the calls for an investigation with restrictions on Australian food and wine imports. So far untouched is Australia’s high-quality coal exports which power China’s coal-fired power stations. Their mutual dependence on the solid fossil fuel has given the two countries common cause as climate change outliers. That may change at the Glasgow climate change conference in November.

Taiwan is another big regional flashpoint. In recent years it has been feeling its way towards relinquishing its claim to the title of legitimate government of Mainland China for the position of separate independent nation. This is total anathema to Beijing who maintain that the island country is a province of Mainland China and has made its absorption into the mother country a key element of their foreign policy. Taiwan, of course, welcomes America’s defence commitment and now—by extension and association—Australia’s implied commitment. But at the same time, it is concerned about upsetting the carefully balanced geopolitical apple cart and prompting a pre-emptive Chinese attack.

Finally, there is North Korea which this week tested a new round of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Americans have 25,000 troops based in South Korea, but the presence of six regionally-based nuclear submarines will be welcome. South Korea, for its part joins the rest of Asia in having to tread a careful line between security needs and economic dependence on China.

Then there is the British. Boris Johnson has announced a Global Britain Policy with a renewed emphasis on Asia. A sort of East of Suez Policy for the 21st century. Of course, East of Suez was abandoned in 1968 because of the UK could no longer to afford to pay the costs of defending the trading links of a far-flung empire. Shortly afterwards, post-imperial trading contacts were replaced with membership of the European Common Market.

Having led his country out of the EU, Johnson’s Global Britain policy appears to be returning the UK to East of Suez backed up with a military and diplomatic establishment that is a shadow of its 1960’s self. The one thing he appears to be doing right is using Australia as a British proxy and at the same time making money out of the deal by selling them nuclear submarine technology. Not so good, is that another leg of their Global Britain Policy is beefed up trading relations with China.

Another reason for British support is the need to strengthen trading relations with the US in a post-Brexit world. Currying Washington’s favour by following America’s diplomatic and defence lead is part of that policy, as it has been for most of the post-war period. America is, of course, reinforcing the Asia Pivot that started in 2012 under Obama and has now been stiffened by two successive administrations. Concerned about the rise of China, the State Department and Pentagon are worried that their resources are being overstretched and want Europeans to take more responsibility in Europe, the Middle East and Africa so that they can focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice. His book America Made in Britain will be published on 15 October and can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” was published on 15 October.

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11 Comments

  • The French are furious with the three allies. They have been left standing on the outside. It completely scuppers their $50 billion deal to sell the Australians [diesel-]electric submarines.

    Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

  • John Marriott 18th Sep '21 - 9:38am

    Regarding submarines, whether ‘powered’ by a Diesel engine or a nuclear reactor, it looks as if we might be into the 2030s before was see these Ossie versions patrolling the waters of the pacific. Much can happen in the meantime. Who knows? Perhaps this latest contract could go the same way as the previous contract with the French.

    I thought that the launch of this latest pact, AUKUS, had a certain comedic effect with Sleepy Joe’s reference to the Ossie PM as “that fella down under”. At least he remembered Johnson’s name. You can clearly see the pecking order here. I gather that New Zealand isn’t happy about the new arrangement, as she still wants good relations with the PRC.

    Mind you, I’m all for being tough with China. The problem is that we still appear to be happy with their manufacturing so much of what we buy. If you are going to push back, it’s trade that I would start with before I beefed up the military. Where that places NATO, or OTAN to give it its alternative French title, is anyone’s guess, especially as Macron and co are less than pleased with the US and Australia at the moment. And what happens if China suddenly decides to attack Taiwan??

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Sep '21 - 9:49am

    @John Marriott
    “If you are going to push back, it’s trade that I would start with before I beefed up the military.”
    Agree – but that presupposes we have something which others want.

    Didn’t UK sell its manufacturing family silver long ago?

  • John Marriott 18th Sep '21 - 10:04am

    @Jeff
    What a puerile, essentially francophobe remark. I LOVE it (but I shouldn’t). One of the reasons why many people, who should have known better, voted for Brexit was because many people just do NOT like the French, who, although they lost their place in the sun before we did (1815 might be a good start for them and 1956 for us), still, rather like us, reckon that they can mix it with the big boys on the world stage.
    @Nonconformisradical
    Of course you are right about manufacturing. While the great British public insists on paying the lowest price for everything, we are stuck.

  • John Marriott 18th Sep ’21 – 9:38am………..Regarding submarines, whether ‘powered’ by a Diesel engine or a nuclear reactor, it looks as if we might be into the 2030s before was see these Ossie versions patrolling the waters of the pacific…

    More like the 2040’s (at the ealiest). The first of the French ‘off the shelf Shortfins’ wasn’t due for delivery until 2033 so any ‘start from scratch Australian built subs’ will take longer to arrive..
    This deal may push China into an earlier ‘re-unionification’ (as they call taking back Taiwan) and ‘Global Britain’ and Australia will be bound follow whatever action the the US decides to take.. It’s worth remembering that the last US/Australia such promise was Vietnam; that turned out well..

    As for Jeff’s “Oh dear, how sad, never mind.”…The French have a major presence in the region and the fact that they have been deliberately sidelined on this deal has resulted in the almost unprecedented reacalling of ambassadors from the US and Australia. It doesn’t bode well for future co-operation..

    However, Biden is very unpopular and, if Trump decides to run again, the whole project could be cancelled ‘on a whim’ (like the US withdrawal from the TPP..

    The ‘supposedly’ Chinese curse about ‘living in interesting times’ is with us again..

  • Steve Trevethan 18th Sep '21 - 2:07pm

    My sympathies are with the Australian people.
    Their government has put them in the front line of any conflict with China.
    Conflict for commercial purposes is a pattern throughout the history of the U.S.A as demonstrated in the book “Propaganda Lies and False Flags: How the U.S. Justifies Its Wars” by Robert Fantina.
    Is it wise for Australia to team up with the U.S.A. and the U.K. after the disaster of their intervention in Afghanistan?
    Which other examples of an alliance have managed to plan, organise, equip, train and pay an armed force and then be defeated by them?
    The attachment on Operation Cyclone explains this.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cyclone

  • Paul Fisher 18th Sep '21 - 6:33pm

    When measuring the population against its land area, Australia has one of the lowest densities in the world. Compared with the population density of other countries such as that of the United States, which is 35.71 persons per square kilometre, Australia has only 3 persons/km2. This is the strategic consideration which bedevills the quarry called Australia! I pity the Australians who are led by a Prime Minister equalled in his incompetence only by BOJO. Incidentally, this is the epithet allocated to the UK Prime Minister by France 24 and is a measure of the regard in which the UK is presently held in the functioning democracy in France. Good comment Steve Trevethan.

  • John Marriott 18th Sep ’21 – 9:38am:
    I gather that New Zealand isn’t happy about the new arrangement, as she still wants good relations with the PRC.

    Not the impression I got. New Zealand confirmed that nuclear-powered subs would be banned from their waters in accordance with their long-standing nuclear-free policy, but have welcomed “the increased engagement of the UK and US in the region”…

    ‘AUKUS: New Zealand labelled ‘a joke’ after nuclear-free stance blocks Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines’ [September 2021]:
    https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2021/09/aukus-new-zealand-labelled-a-joke-after-nuclear-free-stance-blocks-australia-s-nuclear-powered-submarines.html

    Ardern has said while New Zealand wasn’t approached to be part of AUKUS, the pact “in no way changes our security and intelligence ties with these three countries”.

    “New Zealand is first and foremost a nation of the Pacific and we view foreign policy developments through the lens of what is in the best interest of the region,” Ardern said.

    “We welcome the increased engagement of the UK and US in the region and reiterate our collective objective needs to be the delivery of peace and stability and the preservation of the international rules-based system.”

  • expats 18th Sep ’21 – 11:07am:
    The first of the French ‘off the shelf Shortfins’ wasn’t due for delivery until 2033 so any ‘start from scratch Australian built subs’ will take longer to arrive..

    Not “off the shelf” as they were to be a new ‘downgraded’ variant of the nuclear-powered Barracuda / Suffren-class submarine, but with diesel-electric propulsion. The proposed AUKUS nuclear-powered subs are likely to be an Australian built version of either the UK Astute-class or US Virginia-class, both already in service. Diesel-electric doesn’t provide the endurance required for long submerged patrols.

    ‘Australia’s new fleet of submarines could be ‘obsolete’ when they come into service in 2030s’ [July 2019]:
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-13/australian-submarines-could-be-obsolete-in-2030s/11306226

    Australia has been warned its first French-designed Attack-class submarine is likely to be inferior to those operated by neighbouring countries, and may even prove “obsolete” before it’s due into service in the 2030s.

    ‘Why Australia wanted out of its French submarine deal’:
    https://www.politico.eu/article/why-australia-wanted-out-of-its-french-sub-deal/

    Here’s why Australia wanted out of the contract…

    Cybersecurity
    …the company DCNS admitted it had been hacked after 22,000 documents relating to the combat capacity of its Scorpene submarines being built in India were leaked, raising concerns about the security of its Australian project. […]

    Budget blowout
    The project was meant to cost 50 billion Australian dollars (€31 billion). But that figure has since almost doubled. […]

    …the first Barracuda couldn’t be delivered until 2035 or later, with construction extending into the 2050s.

    To avoid a gap, the Australian government announced earlier this year that it would completely rebuild all six of its Collins-class submarines, at a cost of billions.

    Timeline
    Delays also plagued the submarine project, with the Australian defense department and Naval Group having to extend multiple major contract milestones. […]

    Jobs
    …the promise of thousands of Australian jobs and a boon for local industry soon faded, too.

    By 2020, Naval Group had revised the 90 percent local input figure down to 60 percent. By 2021, the French firm was pushing back against even that,…

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Sep '21 - 8:21am

    @Paul Fisher
    “When measuring the population against its land area, Australia has one of the lowest densities in the world.”

    Not really surprising given how much of it receives little rainfall.

    https://www.anbg.gov.au/aust-veg/seasonal-rainfall.html

    Not many people live in deserts in other parts of Planet Earth either

  • Peter Martin 21st Sep '21 - 2:35pm

    @ Tom Arms,

    “British PM Boris Johnson claims that the submarine deal is not adversarial. This, of course, is another one of his outrageous lies…..”

    I’m sure Joe Biden and Scott Morrison would say just the same thing.

    What do you want any of them to say? That it is adversarial and they are planning for the next world war?

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