Back Door Proliferation: The IAEA, AUKUS and Nuclear Submarine Technology
In Vienna, China’s permanent mission to the United Nations has been rather exercised of late. Members of the mission have been particularly irate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and its Director General, Rafael Grossi, who addressed the IAEA’s Board of Governors on September 12.
Grossi was building on a confidential report by the IAEA which had been circulated the previous week concerning the role of nuclear propulsion technology for submarines to be supplied to Australia under the AUKUS security pact.
When the AUKUS announcement was made in September last year, its significance shook security establishments in the Indo-Pacific. It was also no less remarkable, and troubling, for signalling the transfer of otherwise rationed nuclear technology to a third country. As was rightly observed at the time by Ian Stewart, executive director of the James Martin Center in Washington, such “cooperation may be used by non-nuclear states as more ammunition in support of a narrative that the weapons states lack good faith in their commitments to disarmament.”
Having made that sound point, Stewart, revealing his strategic bias, suggested that, as such cooperation would not involve nuclear weapons by Australia, and would be accompanied by safeguards, few had reason to worry. This was all merely “a relatively straightforward strategic step.”
James M. Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was far less sanguine. “[T]he nonproliferation implications of the AUKUS submarine deal are both negative and serious.” Australia’s operation of nuclear-powered submarines would make it the first non-nuclear weapon state to manipulate a loophole in the inspection system of the IAEA.
In setting this “damaging precedent”, aspirational “proliferators could use naval reactor programs as cover for the development of nuclear weapons – with the reasonable expectation that, because of the Australia precedent, they would not face intolerable costs for doing so.” It did not matter, in this sense, what the AUKUS members intended; a terrible example that would undermine IAEA safeguards was being set.
A few countries in the region have been quietly riled by the march of this technology sharing triumvirate in the Indo-Pacific. In a leaked draft of its submission to the United Nations tenth review conference of the Parties to the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT RevCon), Indonesia opined that the transfer of nuclear technology for military purposes was at odds with the spirit and objective of the NPT.
In the sharp words of the draft, “Indonesia views any cooperation involving the transfer of nuclear materials and technology for military purposes from nuclear-weapon states to any non-nuclear weapon states as increasing the associated risks [of] catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences.”
At the nuclear non-proliferation review conference, Indonesian diplomats pushed the line that nuclear material in submarines should be monitored with greater stringency. The foreign ministry argued that it had achieved some success in proposing for more transparency and tighter scrutiny on the distribution of such technology, claiming to have received support from AUKUS members and China. “After two weeks of discussion in New York, in the end all parties agreed to look at the proposal as the middle path,” announced Tri Tharyat, director-general for multilateral cooperation in Indonesia’s foreign ministry.
While serving to upend the apple cart of security in the region, AUKUS, in Jakarta’s view, also served to foster a potential, destabilising arms race, placing countries in a position to keep pace with an ever increasingly expensive pursuit of armaments. (Things were not pretty to start with even before AUKUS was announced, with China and the United States already eyeing each other’s military build-up in Asia.)
The concern over an increasingly voracious pursuit of arms is a view that Beijing has encouraged, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian having remarked that, “the US, the UK and Australia’s cooperation in nuclear submarines severely damages regional peace and stability [and] intensifies the arms race.”
Wang Qun, China’s Permanent Representative, told Grossi on September 13 that he should avoid drawing “chestnuts from the fire” in endorsing the nuclear proliferation exercise of Australia, the United States and the UK. Rossi, for his part, told the IAEA Board of Governors that four “technical meetings” had been held with the AUKUS parties, which had pleased the organisation. “I welcome the AUKUS parties’ engagement with the Agency to date and expect this to continue in order that they deliver their shared commitment to ensuring the highest non-proliferation and safeguard standards are met.”
The IAEA report also gave a nod to Canberra’s claim that proliferation risks posed by the AUKUS deal were minimal given that it would only receive “complete, welded” nuclear power units, making the removal of nuclear material “extremely difficult.” In any case, such material used in the units, were it to be used for nuclear weapons, needed to be chemically processed using facilities Australia did not have nor would seek.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning was less than impressed. “This report lopsidedly cited the account given by the US, the UK and Australia to explain away what they have done, but made no mention of the international community’s major concerns over the risk of nuclear proliferation that may arise from the AUKUS nuclear submarine cooperation.” It turned “a blind eye to many countries’ solemn position that the AUKUS cooperation violates the purpose and object of the NPT.”
Beijing’s concerns are hard to dismiss as those of a paranoid, addled mind. Despite China’s own unhelpful military build-up, attempts by the AUKUS partners to dismiss the transfer of nuclear technology to Australia as technically benign and compliant with the NPT is dangerous nonsense. Despite strides towards some middle way advocated by Jakarta, the precedent for nuclear proliferation via the backdoor is being set.
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Funny how AUKUS is now being described as being ”one big con”. Funny how other commentators are recognising 20th century history of American involvement in world affairs – the CIA organised coups, the overthrow of numerous democratically elected governments, the paramountcy of American interests over all else.
Indeed, some authors have suggested that AUKUS is the ”sucker strategy” to make Australia the proxy opponent of PRC China for the further benefit of American corporate interests. Just as happened with the Iraq – AWC wheat ”scandal”, the COVID investigation that annoyed PRC China, cost Australian agriculture much of the PRC China beef market for the benefit of the American beef exporters.
With ”friends” like American who needs any other enemies?
I tend to think that autocratic regimes are on the rise.
Russia and China are seeking to expand their spheres of influence utilising the spectrum of means available, from diplomatic to brutal invasion.
In those circumstances, it is entirely reasonable for western democracies to co-operate to balance or even challenge their expansionist objectives
If only the world was as committed to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons as it was with controlling the spread of Covid.
I hold my native America to blame just as much as I do the autocratic regimes of Russia and China.
But the problem is, if one’s in it, let’s all be in it.
Splitting the atom turned out to be a really dumb thing to do.
i have a different take on this whole stupid affair. 1/ WTF does australia do with a few subs? If we had a fleet of 50 or more, yes i can see
a deterrence effect. We have a fleet of what 10-12 now and we cant get half of them into the water due to maintenance and manpower shortages. WTF would i want to be a submariner now? Have you seen how the Ukraines are taking out tanks now? Thats what it would be like in 30yrs for a sub, a sitting one shot target. 2/ Have you seen how accurate the latest short range HIMARS are in the ukraine? If missiles are that accurate, lets buy some. 3/ Have you seen the latest drone attacks by the ukraine army and how effective they are in delivering a missile to a target. lets get into drones. 4/ If we are to suffer an invasion, how do they get here? By boat. So lets make sure we have 100-1000 missiles per boat. 5/ we need to protect missile locations so we need to have a great defence strategy, detection of incoming missiles and neutralising them. 6/ WTF do we need subs again? 7/ for the same amount of money we can buy 26,000 long range missiles that can hit a moving target. If the price of subs doubles, thats an opportunity cost of another 26,000 missiles. 8/ Does Australia need a defence force, yes. Do we need to buy subs and park them in the south china seas? Lets stick to our advantages, lots of sea in between, lots of miles in between. Lets not get caught up in the folly of projection and pretend we can become asian policemen, thats already looking very sick. Our cupboard of goodwill has been depleted. I can go on up to point 30. But who am I kidding, we have geniuses who are very good at extracting more money on the pretext of irrational fear.
Yet again we crash ahead with a US inspired delusional project with total disregard for our geographic neighbours.
Never failing, bullet through foot.
s hardly surprising that they dont tick the box for an escalated arms race in the pacific, and get tempted to take sides with rising stars.
Talking tough and carrying a very tiny stick has to be a sure recipe for our pending deletion from consideration in serious talks with far more powerfull local Nations.
If China just ignores us then we is done done for…..or are we all completely stupid?
The more politicians, the military and the legacy media create more faux enemies for Australia the more it costs Australian taxpayers at the expense of of much needed expenditure in long neglected areas such as health care, aged care, child care, eduvation, energy, pensions and a plethora of infrastructure projects that would generate accelerated productivity gains. All these expenses cannot be realised because defence expenditures has become the go too driver of political ambition that defines political ability. The message from the government, military and legacy media is to forget that it is a humongous and ever increasing bottomless money pit that is sucking the money and resources out of areas that made Australia the empathetic egalitarian society it once was. What this massive expenditure on projects like AUKUS is doing is making Australia the prime and first response target in a war and not the US. Now that’s money well spent, NOT!
Let’s remember why we are here WRT submarines. After jerking around a couple contenders we signed off with the French to take a perfectly good conventional nuclear (non-weapons grade fueled) sub design and convert it to run on diesel. The stupidity of this approach is breath taking – so stupid that I’m struggling to remain civil. For those with time to ruminate, consider how the design would have to change to accommodate large diesel tanks, batteries, fuel cells, etc. as a replacement for the reactor and the weight balance considerations. It would have been better to start with a blank sheet.
…and then we decided to shaft the French and go nuclear anyway – duh – but to make us stand out as potential breakers of “nuclear non-proliferation” we now want subs with weapons grade (WG) fuel. Sure the reactor is much more compact and goes for longer between refuels, but at what cost and peril.
I’m not aware of any contract being signed so maybe the WG/conventional decision is not final. The world is right to worry about WG materials. If we had a few AUKUS subs, there is nothing to stop us from effectively “one afternoon pulling the fuel out of one of the reactors and making a couple of bombs”. OK it isn’t that simple, but arguably easier than building the sub in the first place. If we want to go nuclear it should be conventional. (Don’t think the French would come back for a second bite!)
Michael Taylor; “Splitting the atom turned out to be a really dumb thing to do.”
It is a natural process. Physicists discovered it was happening. It’s been happening for billion years since the Universe first created unstable fissile elements.
Is it a dumb thing for the Universe to do?
Is it a dumb thing for physicists to understand that it happens? Or why it happens?
The really dumb thing is deliberately creating a critical mass of fissile material like uranium or plutonium so that an uncontrolled chain reaction of splitting atoms occurs.
Fred, spot on !
Scotty from marketing would argue “I gave you an acronym, what more do you want ?”
andy56, exactly. The points you cite are probably what the CCP is pushing for in their dealings with our South Pacific neighbors. What is the point of slow submarine targets moving at the speed of a dolphin in an era of hyper-sonic missiles? Our govt-military is asking for last centuries technology in 2022? Just how dumb are they?
This whole submarine debate that embroils the Australian government, to a lesser extent the now irrelevant Opposition, and to an even lesser extent that section of the community, interested onlookers, with either vested opinions or simply points of view that are felt needed to be expressed, is a perfect example of the capacity of humans to send cats up trees in search of rats whilst underneath their feet exists a plague of mice.
The eye-watering amounts of capital required to transition from speculation to reality – a slithery scaled amount ranging between $70 – $170 billion! (nobody knows, let’s pluck some really big numbers out of the air) – along with the indeterminate time frame puts this project firmly alongside the best of Lewis Carroll’s fantasies around Alice and her Wonderland…
…and meanwhile, the Thwaites Glacier at the edge of the West Antarctic ice sheet continues its inexorable pathway towards collapse, along with the rest of the planet’s glaciers, rising seawaters are already causing existential distress, ecosystems are collapsing in front of our eyes, rainfall events are without precedent, as are heat waves, wild fires, floods; human communities across the planet are being exposed exposed to ever greater degrees of stress and uncertainty as oligarchic interests ramp up their footholds, food security is threatened, as are also livelihoods for billions of citizens; right-wing politics is taking advantage of the levels of uncertainty, energy supplies, potable water and other necessities are no longer accepted givens in many parts of the planet…
… and we are having a debate about submarines. Seriously? Here’s another acronym, though I doubt whether the disgraced former PM would have used it. WTAF?
A better debate might be had around how to spend $170 billion for the betterment of the future of all Australians; like fire & flood-proofing, housing appropriate for conditions of 50C summers, food & water & energy security at affordable prices and so on.
The commentator, usually universally and rigidly wrong, has asserted rubbish, in that autocratic nations are on the rise. Of course, the USA objects to being named, accurately, as autocratic, but its fumbling and lying camouflage over AUKUS is in fact a thrust at selfish nuclear proliferation, It is against a broad and fair approach to international rules based order. Russia and China are not interested in some unnatural expansion of spheres of influence, but must face an irritable, unreasonable effort at cheating by USA policy, which will abuse and expend anyone in Ukraine, Taiwan, Australia or anywhere, as it has murderously done in many nations over time, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. Gutless thieving, intrusion, weapons testing, intimidation and intrusion are USA policy normally. It is entirely unreasonable for western puppet and supine governments to support illegal efforts by the USA in seeking ascendency in AUKUS, which is naked aggression threatening us all, and if the commentator is atomized and vapourised five seconds before us, that will not be much comfort in a short USA provoked WW3. Plenty of professional material is available regularly on sites, especially Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations and also on the Conversation site, done by all tertiary experts. Seek this today and see that Australia’s current position is brainless, coerced, supine. USA driven nuclear profileration will threaten us all, secretive and aggressive.
If AC is just a trifle paranoid then its a result of media hype from the weapons industry who will continually present an enemy who we can all despise, and goad into action.
Continuous provocation of nuclear armed nations will guarantee a full order book, and fool taxpayers will foot the bill
Generally speaking, I’m as dumb as the next drongo, except in a few areas of insignificance to the greater bulk of humanity. On the so-called ‘vexed question’ of China’s so-called ‘territorial ambitions’ though, I might just have a leg up on my fellow drongos, inasmuch as I count myself fortunate to have a fair dinkum home-grown Chinese partner – female, as if that needs clarification – who for the last near fifteen years has gifted me with the fruits of her experience, attitudes and perspectives per her upbringing, education and career; twin degrees to Masters level, the youngest fully-tenured professor at the university where she worked more than twenty years, along with her exposure to the madness of the Cultural Revolution – her father murdered for being an ‘intellectual’, her sit-in in Tiananmen Square, her shoulder-rubbing with academics and business people at the more ‘elite’ levels of society as well as her deep familiarity with the proletariat, along with her deep knowledge of Chinese history.
One thing she’s impressed on me, time & again, is that China will never instigate conflict with external territories, not does it have colonial ambitions. It will defend itself, absolutely and ferociously, should it be the subject of external aggression, but it will not be the instigator.
Others may say, but what about Taiwan? I say, as do 1.4 billion Chinese, Taiwan is Chinese territory, immutably. That’s a position that mainland China will never back away from. It suits America to claim otherwise, but then, as Phil Pryor points out, accurately, America, at the governmental level, is a criminal society… so, who are you gonna believe – crooks & criminals and warmongers or others?
All this natter about the threat of invasion from China; whether here or elsewhere, is nothing but an echo from within empty vessels, ignorance piled upon ignorance. Of course, the seat-warmers within the Australian Defence bureaucracies, acting in self-interest, endeavouring to appear intelligent, oxymoronically, argue otherwise. Why wouldn’t they? The pity is that they’re listened to and taken seriously. How many of them have a deep cultural, social, political familiarity of China. How many of them, for that matter, speak Mandarin, or have Chinese acquaintances?
My apologies. I should have been more elaborate.
But it sounds as though you knew where I was coming from. 👍
There’s one thing about the USA that I find very hypocritical: They want sanctions on countries that produce nuclear weapons, yet they themselves continue to produce them.
Personally, I don’t want any country producing or owning them, enemy or not.
I’m happy to wait the 1.1 billion years when our sun starts to die, rather than destroy our planet at the tick of the clock.
PS: The sun will be dead in 5 billion years, but the dying process is rather slow. It will start off by expanding, and in 1.1 billion years it will engulf our planet.
Canguro. Once again I notice that almost every Drongo I come across is supported by a good women.
We proudly proclaim our monoculture, and havent a clue what is going on inside the head of our neighbours.
And we seem to have no intention to change this.
Canguro: We could do something along Danish lines – a target of 70% reduction by 2030 and serious investment in renewables, not so much the building of islands. https://earth.org/denmark-energy-island/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NL8wEcQuE4
Australia used 22GW of fossil fuel generated electricity in 2020-21 along with 8GW of renewables. Wind farms cost approximately $2M per MW, so 22GW would cost a mere $44B. If the sub spend of $170B was redirected we would have almost 3 times the required capacity which would allow for the wind not blowing and the excess used to produce green hydrogen – a much better outcome for Australia and we wouldn’t need AUKUS.
Michael @ 2:52 pm.
It’s the old and hoary “Do as we say, not as we do.”
Phil Prior’s comments can be relied on to be a diatribe rather than a coherent discussion.
Fact free assertions that resemble a swallowed theausus that is then regurgitated at random.
Douglas Prichard, there is nothing paranoid about the rise of autocracy.
20 years ago there was optimism that Russia was becoming a stable and growing trading partner.
There was hope that the CCP was cautiously opening to greater human rights.
Autocracies have been emboldened by the apathy of the west. It’s best to shake off the apathy. And it is reasonable that nations with similar systems of government would act collectively to protect them.
AC, are you suggesting war? They do have consequences.
But it is a dilemma. Such as these scenarios:
Russia invades Ukraine, and let’s say they win. Emboldened, they invade Estonia, then so on and so on. It may come to an end, or it may not.
Russia invades Ukraine and NATO (and us) race troops into Ukraine to fight against the invaders. All out war ensues.
It is, as I said above, a dilemma.
And on a lighter note, this is just for you… 😁
Dinosaurs are very handy recruits when at war.
They make excellent foot soldiers on the front lines.
Very funny MT! And dinosaurs are a useful analogy when having an exchange with several here!
I’m not proposing war, and I’m not in favour of providing troops to Ukraine.
I think the significant objective is to cause the Putin regime to realise that invading neighbours is problematic, more trouble than it is worth.
I also think we should learn from the experience of others-
* There is no former Warsaw Pact country that now supports Russia. They have experienced Russian domination and don’t want more.
* Countries that were previously models of foreign policy independence and neutrality have decided that this approach is fraught. NATO is expanding as a result.
I taught many a dullard but will not bother with A C, the slowest and dimmest. Avoiding facts is a norm for the fixated. A C struggles to formulate a wise sentence whereas I could write a thesaurus (slowly). Pushed by the egotistical supremacist, aggressive vanity of USA policy, NATO is a world threat. Nobody here will support Putin, Xi, the departed Trump, many a horrible autocratic anti-democratic leader, but, USA imperious stupidity is the core danger. Cleary nobody relishes the uncertain near future, but do not forget that Russia was betrayed by the USA and its false promises, as it manipulates NATO. Which nation outspends the next ten in total on military might? Which nation has aggressive bases in huge numbers, everywere?
Indeed, Phil. It’s like arguing with a trilobite.
I have no doubt dullards were the outcome, if your contributions here are any indication of coherence and competence.
Are you so arrogant that you think you know more than EVERY former Warsaw Pact country, who, according to you, were all manipulated by the US?
And by the way, I think Russia spends a higher percentage of their GDP on the military than the US
@andy56: Australian military planners are experts at preparing for the last war, ignoring Australian innovations in military weapons and considering the Anglophonic world superior to the coloured heathens. Funny how that did not work in Vietnam.
@ Canguro: Funny that opinion from your Chinese partner, it is the same as from my daughter who spent six (6) years living in PRC China. My daughter also warns against under-estimating China and Chinese people in any target they set their minds to accomplish.
@AC: Before you chastise PP, one of my favourite reads, about autocracies, remember that the USA (United States of Apartheid) is currently progressing down the road to dictatorship thanks to the rarely publicised deliberate destruction of the American democratic process in favour of the super-rich few, including Australian borne media moguls.
@MT: Dullards and wars?? Reminds me of my Army experience where the private schoolboy officers demonstrated their unfitness to lead water down hill with a sharp stick, let alone troops in a battle scenario.
Ho Ho, no arrogance here, just some clarity and honesty, but, (i don’t remember you) my students did well. Let us be positive. The Russians have been lied to by Allbright and her replacements ever onwards, to the untrustworthy defective Blinken. Putin is something of a caged and cornered anmal and worse could come. Diplomacy, (you’ve all heard of that) is not apparent, yet is the only solution. Russia withdrew completely from former Warsaw pact lands, but has been pursued, cunningly by NATO as a shield for USA imperium, an easy path for USA policy and injurious to peace. We should not trust any powers led by defective policy and leadership, including U K, USA, Russia, China, Australia, etc, for the world’s “checks and balances” are in serious imbalance anyway. Which nation outspends the next TEN in military hardware? Which nation has an astronomical number of foreign intrusive aggressive bases? Which nation has the largest prison population ever? Which nation has had over a million covid deaths by its incompetence and indifference? Which nation claims a ridiculous and dangerous and egocentric “exceptionalism”? Which nation coerces, seduces, bribes and crushes to get its way, its foreign expendible bases? (Yes, it IS the USA) We should (so many believe) be as neutral, friendly, diplomatic and reciprocal as possible from now on, with fewer entanglements. And, best wishes to all colleagues in commenting…
I’m definitely entertained by the lack of self awareness among some that criticise my comments
I recall about 6 months ago some here said –
* The reporting of the likely Russian invasion of Ukraine was “warmongering”
* Some even said it was a beat up by the Murdoch media to help Morrison with a “khaki election”
* Some suggested that the ousting of Yanukovych in 2014 was a “coup”
So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t find verbose diatribes credible, when they’re about it all being the fault of US/NATO
Regardless of possible provocation by the US and/or NATO, Russia ‘s invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable and inexcusable.
So instead of endlessly pointing fingers, would it be possible to concentrate on potential methods for resolving the conflict?
The lack of sub contract explanation from the rabbott, the copperman and their defence ministers was abysmal. My conspiracy theory was based on the dismissing of two sub contracts. Both @40% of the frogs, that would have started building diesel subs in SA in 2015. Selecting subs from france that the french paper revealed would employ thousands of FRENCH workers in the “affaire du siècle”. The time frame was a dual win for the liberal cause in that it would not only kill the unions in SA but it may persuade us to buy the nuclear barracuda.. ps Agree michael but it shortened the war which was killing 100s of thousands in the septic’s dumb island hop. But little boy and fat man showed how ignorantly arrogant and ruthless the USA people really had become.