A senior defense expert in Canberra has slammed Australia’s multi-billion-dollar AUKUS submarine project as a promise to pursue the United States into a war against China.
Hugh White of the Australian National University, an emeritus professor of strategic studies, launched an unusual criticism of Australia’s nuclear submarine plan in a podcast episode that aired on Sunday.
Australia has committed to continue acquiring nuclear-powered ships under the AUKUS trilateral security agreement involving the US and UK, with the “optimal path” announced last week by Anthony Albanese.
The endeavor, confirmed by the prime minister alongside British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden in San Diego on Tuesday, will cost Australian taxpayers between $268 billion and $368 billion over the next 30 years.
Professor White, the former deputy defense minister, said Australia would not only “hand over some serious dollars” to the US, but would also pay with a “promise” of getting into any future conflict with China.
“This is a very dangerous shift in the nature of our alliance with the United States,” Professor White said in a recorded interview for the ANU Democratic Politics podcast.
“The US doesn’t really care about our submarine capability – it cares deeply about tying Australia into its containment strategy against China.”
Australia plans to buy three to five US-built Virginia-class nuclear submarines as a temporary measure before eight AUKUS-class nuclear submarines based on a British design are built in Adelaide, with the first to be completed by 2042.
Professor White said he could not see why the US would sell its own submarines – which it has fewer than it needs – unless it was absolutely certain that Australia’s would be available to it in the event of a major conflict in Asia.
He said a war between America and China over Taiwan would be a “third world war” and would have a “very good chance” of being a nuclear conflict.
He warned, “Australia’s experience of war has been shaped by the fact that we tend to be on the winning side, but there is no reason to expect America to win a war with China over Taiwan.”
He noted that there is also a high chance that the AUKUS deal will fall under a future US administration and a deteriorating strategic environment.
AUKUS’s announcement last week raised questions about how an already-strained budget would deal with the associated cost and raised concerns about how Australia could ensure it retains sovereign capacity for the ships it gets under the agreement.
Professor White said there were cheaper, faster, less risky and less demanding ways for Australia to get the submarines it needed, and called the AUKUS plan a “senseless” waste of money.
“There will not be an actual net increase in the number of submarines available until well into the 2040s, even if it goes as planned – which it probably won’t,” he said.
This is not the first time Professor White has publicly criticized the AUKUS security agreement since it was signed by the Morrison government in 2021.
He wrote an article in the Saturday Paper last week titled “AUKUS Submarines Will Never Happen”.
The publication of this article coincided with Paul Keating’s incendiary appearance at the National Press Club in which he slammed the AUC charter as the “worst deal” in history.
Mr Keating – who was Labor prime minister from 1991 to 1996 – has personally attacked Mr Albanese, cabinet members such as Foreign Secretary Penny Wong and journalists who asked him questions on Wednesday.
Speaking on the Australian National University podcast, Professor White paused to endorse Mr Keating’s language but said he shared his concerns about AUC.
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