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From Balloons to AUKUS: The War Drive Against China

When will this hate-filled nonsense stop? Surveillance balloons treated like evocations of Satan and his card-carrying followers; other innumerable unidentified phenomena that, nonetheless, remain attributable in origin, despite their designation; and then the issue of spying cranes. In the meantime, there has been much finger pointing on the culprit of COVID-19 and the global pandemic. Behold the China Threat, the Sino Monster, the Yellow Terror.

In this atmosphere, the hawkish disposition of media outlets in a number of countries in shrieking for war is becoming palpable. The Fairfax press in Australia gave a less than admirable example of this in their absurd Red Alert series, crowned by crowing warmongers warning Australia to get ready for the imminent confrontation. The publications were timed to soften the public for the inevitable, scandalous and possibly even treasonous announcement that the Australian government would be spending A$368 billion in local currency on needless submarines against a garishly dressed-up threat backed by ill-motivated allies.

For days, the Australian press demonstrated a zombie-like adherence to the war line that had been fed by deskbound generals no doubt suffering from piles and deranged civilian strategists desperate to justify their supper. It is a line that always assumes the virtue of war; that going into battle, much like US President Theodore Roosevelt thought, will always outdo the tedium of peace in a haze of phosphorescent glory. It is only in the morgues and the crowded cemeteries that we find a worthy patriotism. Go out and kill, you noble sons and daughters. Do your nation proud, however stupidly.

The desperation of such a measure is also a reflection of how public opinion rejects the war drive. In a 2022 poll by the Lowy Institute think tank, 51% of Australians said they preferred their country to remain “neutral” in a conflict between the US and China over Taiwan. This was not a bad return, given the repetitious insistence by various Australian government ministers that joining a war with the United States over Taiwan was simply assumed.

In the US, the Wall Street Journal was also doing much the same thing, plumping for great power competitions that can only end badly, rather than great power cooperation which, when it goes well, spares us the body bags, the funerals and the flag fluttering.

The introductory note of one article in that Rupert Murdoch-owned organ was not encouraging. “Since 2018, the [US] military has shifted to focus on China and Russia after decades fighting insurgencies, but it still faces challenges to produce weapons and come up with new ways of waging war.”

The obsession with war scenarios rather than diplomatic ones is hardening. It elevates the game to level pegging with peace overtures. In fact, it goes further, suggesting that such measures are to be frowned upon, if not abandoned in their entirety. Rather than considering discussions with China, for instance, on whether some rules of accommodation and observance can be made, the attitude from Washington and its satellites is one of excoriation, taking issue with any restrictions on the growth of the US defence complex. Acid observations are reserved for the Budget Control Act of 2011, which supposedly “hampered initiatives to transform the military, including on artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous systems and advanced manufacturing.”

As defence analyst William Hartung writes, the Pentagon has never been short of cash in its pursuits, though it has been more than wasteful, obsessed with maintaining a global military presence spanning 750 bases and 170,000 overseas troops, not to mention the madness of shovelling $2 billion into developing a new generation of nuclear weapons. Far from encouraging deterrence, this is bound to “accelerate a dangerous and costly arms race.”

The same must be said of AUKUS, the triumvirate alliance that is already terrifying several powers in the Indo-Pacific into joining the regional arms race. Here we see, yet again, the Anglosphere enthralled by protecting their possessions and routes of access, directly or indirectly held.

In the red mist of war, lucid voices can be found. Singaporean diplomat and foreign policy intellectual Kishore Mahbubani is one to offer a bracing analysis in observing that China is hardly going to undermine the very order that has benefitted it. The Chinese, far from wishing to upend the rules-based system with thuggish glee, saw it as a gift of Western legal engineering. “So the paradox about the world today is that even though the global rules based order is a gift of the west, China embraces it.”

He also has this to say about the US-China relationship. “China has been around for 5,000 years. The United States has been around for 250 years. And it’s not surprising that a juvenile like the United States would have difficulty dealing with a wiser, older civilisation.”

Mahbubani, ever wily but also penetratingly sharp, also offers a valuable point: that the notion of a remarkable weapon (the nuclear-propelled submarine is not so much remarkable as cumbersomely draining and costly) must surely come a distant second to the attainment of economic prosperity. “Submarines are stealthy, but trade is stealthier,” he writes with a touch of serene sagacity. Both provide security, in a fashion: the former in terms of raw deterrence; the latter in terms of interdependence – but the kind of security created by trade, he is adamant, “lasts longer”. To date, that realisation seems to have bypassed the AUKUS troika.


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  1. Anthony Judge

    Good point:

    “Rather than considering discussions with China, for instance, on whether some rules of accommodation and observance can be made, the attitude from Washington and its satellites is one of excoriation, taking issue with any restrictions on the growth of the US defence complex.”

    Sarah Ferguson interviewing Russian ambassador on ABC Insight (20 March 2023) brilliantly exemplified “excoriation” — so well, and so rudely, that she effectively made the points the ambassador vainly attempted to make. The difficulty is that “discussions” now take the Stone Age form of “You Wrong; Me Right”. Investment in dialogue improvement is an infinitely small proportion of improvement in weaponry.

    As stated by Binoy,:

    “going into battle, much like US President Theodore Roosevelt thought, will always outdo the tedium of peace in a haze of phosphorescent glory”

    Dialogue as currently practiced is simply tedious “jaw jaw”? By contrast, football enthusiasm justifies intense review of “passing patterns” and their improvement — a concern totally absent from dipliomatic dialogue or ABC-style interviews.

    Funny about the Ferguson interview was the forceful exclusion of all consideration of historical context predating February 2022 — at a time when Canberra is obliged to consider, with great sensitivity, the historical context of First Nations seeking a Voice in Parliament after being subject to “special military operations” in the past. However these are not to be labelled “war” and do not call for any posthumous trial by the ICC.

  2. Douglas Pritchard

    I am having difficulty with arguments which support the mortgage of this nation to USA, financially, and culurally, and every which way.
    I listened to the minister resposible explaining that these undersea liabilities will be, first and foremost, there to protect the sea trade routes.
    Now I know for a fact that most of our trade is with China, (and the rest to USA with the shipment of tanks and F16s, and missiles, and helicopters and now submarines).
    Why do we think that our favoured trading partner is going to block the passage, and prevent both parties benefiting?
    But our main adversary, capable of blowing up pipelines and crippling trade from Europe, may consider that crippling our economy will be another nail in the coffin of its trading opposition.
    They know, full well, that the first strike will be on Pine Gap and this will have our Pollies blinded to reality

  3. Andrew Smith

    Think much is about creating that existential threat to ageing voters along the lines of the ‘yellow peril’, refugees, immigration, population growth and the ‘great replacement’; the latter’s ‘use by date’ is due i.e. our monocultural ‘elites’ in private and public power will be eventually be replaced by more representative generations of Australians.

    AJO’Grady: Wheels within wheels, the Ps & Is article with video presentation by Sachs, he is part of the ‘elite’ problem. Another US academic ‘faux anti-imperialist’ grifter, without regional expertise, demanding ‘peace’ by Ukraine yielding (Russia?), linked to the Rockefeller Foundation (former majority owners of Exxon) and also like Mearsheimer who is linked to Charles Koch Foundation; like Russia strong whiff of fossil fuels and authoritarianism.

    Both Sachs and Mearsheimer visited Budapest recently and kissed the ring of PM ‘mini Putin’ Orban; also popular with now UK Tory appointed Trade Advisor Abbott et al. who visit via Koch linked think tank (what else?) The Danubius Institute led by former Thatcher aide and Quadrant contributor O’Sullivan (‘visitors’, inc. & esp. Rod Dreher who is also slightly eccentric), were called out by conservative Anne Applebaum (3 April ’22, Twitter).

  4. Fred

    Dr Kampmark: Nice article.

    After weeks of endless “justification” for buying submarines at an obscene cost with the war hawks questionably filling in the “need” because of the “rise” of China and “near” threat posed, despite delivery of the subs being later than the supposed threat eventuation, I’m scratching my head trying to work out who is driving this stupidity.

    Both Australia and China’s economies rely heavily on trade. We dig up the country and ship it out, whereas China sells us and others goods made from our raw materials. Strikes me there is a symbiotic relationship there. Are the Chinese stupid enough to unnecessarily destroy the relationship? I doubt it. That said, they are quite happy to damage various of our industries by stopping or changing trading terms (coal, wine, barley, lobsters, etc.) for whatever political reason (like questions/pointed finger about the origin of Covid 19, saber rattling etc.). It doesn’t make sense for China to go to war.

    If there is a war involving China and USA and assuming they don’t resort to nukes, what will happen to the world economy? Chances are, given the impact of Putin’s illegal war on fuel prices, it will be followed by a deep global recession. We would suffer greatly because of the range of goods, medicines and chemicals that we buy from China.

    So who is driving the agenda? The MSM/Rupert, war-toy manufacturers, …?

  5. New England Cocky

    The Scummo USUKA debacle of spending my yet to be borne great-grand-children’s future needs much closer examination of the links between Scummo, known US war industry proponents and subsequent payment regimes to determine whether this was a simple act of naïve stupidity or a more serious matter deserving further action.
    It is known that Peter Costello, now CEO of Nine Media that controls the SMH & Age media-ocrity, personally benefited from years of ”influencing” on behalf of foreign owned multinational weapons manufacturers.
    This may explain the recent three edition ”war story” spewed up in time to frighten the rabbits in their Wentworth electorate mansions.

  6. Jack sprat

    The only peaceful and stable country in central America is Costa Rica, that’s because it’s constitution bans it from having a army.

  7. Harry Lime

    Jack, there’s another country, hidden somewhere within the (dis) United States,that specialises in instability, and handily has a sideline of producing all the killing apparatus necessary for the job.It’s unofficial name is Costa Plenty.Rumour has it that certain numbskulls in the antipodes are walk up plums for their wares.Even third rate obsolete ones,whose speedos have been given a short back and sides.Their motto is ‘never give a mug an even break”

  8. Clakka

    Provocative article Dr Binoy,

    The bit that provoked me the most was “Submarines are stealthy, but trade is stealthier.” After reading the associated articles and the responses, and the articles attached to those comments, I became consumed by discombobulation in the way the layers of things in the vastly complex web of historical context and the technological rat-race could be used ad hoc to distinguish bad and good, right and wrong, or for that matter whom one mingles with in the pursuit of better understanding. It’s the word BUT in the above quotation that has me interested.

    In Complexity Theory,

    “Organizations can be treated as complex adaptive systems (CAS) as they exhibit fundamental CAS principles like self-organization, complexity, emergence, interdependence, space of possibilities, co-evolution, chaos, and self-similarity.”

    Should I consider, and how should I weigh the following histories and ideologies in forming my opinion of any of the myriad of events rapidly unfolding in the world today?


    And in each of those, the frameworks of ethics and survival? For example, how do I cope with ‘creative destruction’ and (Hillsong-type) Pentecostalism? If I had the podium, how would I address them? Maybe,

    “Armageddon; be careful of the prophecy of your fears becoming self-fulfilled.”

    “Do those that pay God for enlightenment consider manumission for the others?

    “As science and technology vastly outstrips one’s ability to contemplate its application, and convergence, do we scuttle back to faith and become obliged to the AI rent- seekers?

    Might I simply resurrect Christopher Hitchens? Nah.

    Right from the get-go, I suspected AUKUS was a malleable device by which the parties could hitch themselves to an old bloc for a purpose which has yet to be unfolded. Although the status quo seems to be all blocs of the new-world are heading down the gurgler. Never mind the old neocon hawks-and-doves scenarios, they are left in the mire that is the 1970s to 1990s. And it took 20+ more years to understand the complete mess it generated – the cost of hegemony.

    Since then we have all been punched squarely on the nose by the corruption driven GFC and its aftermath, and the pressing urgency of global destruction via climate change.

    How to move on from the nonsense of a beneficial monoculture formed by threat and force. It’s never going to happen. There is no ‘axis of evil’, nor is there an axis. There are simply strivings for wellbeing, cultural stability, and perchance civility in the marketplace. The architecture of the shadow-play leading to today seems straightforward, and provides for a gateway into the concerted efforts needed to address stagnation and climate change:

    USA gets out of Southern Asia
    Putin; get out of my face, we’re all Russians anyway
    Xi, we might take Taiwan by force, we were always one.
    Pelosi to Taiwan
    PRC fires over the Straits and Taiwan
    Ukraine’s east dissolved by Russia (again)
    USA’s childish provocations to PRC
    AUKUS emerges
    Xi says he’ll build a ring of steel
    Albanese rushes off to glad-hand Modi – sub-bloc cemented
    AUKUS cemented
    ICC issues warrant against Putin
    Xi dashes off to Putin, peace-plan in hand – to save ‘everyone’s’ face
    Kishida dashes off to Zelenskiy to glad-hand and to repudiate Russia (no surprise)

    … and so it goes, they’re all up to their gills in massive debt and impasse.

    It’s like watching a Rubik’s Cube shuffle seeing who gets the best outcome of blocs in the shortest time. Will it be belts and roads or belting and more belting … who knows.

    It seems to me that AUKUS has been so loosely designed as a tool of technological exchange and ‘deterrence’ rushed to press to preface the climate change urgency, to let the USA off the hook from the China Sea ring-fence, and to consolidate an experienced bloc of (now multi-cultural) Anglophone technologists and traders, who along with the QUAD will trade with the Sino-Russians.

    It may be revealing what the next G7 in Japan and the COP 28 in UAE have to say (or not say) this year. Who is invited and who is not and who abstains. Could we see a quantum leap, from stupidity and the convenient subscript of ‘deterrence’, to detente and the desperately needed actions by all to cool the world?

    I dunno, as my head spins, my gums just keep flapping in the breeze.

  9. Fred

    Clakka: At least a Rubik cube puzzle has a solution. What the planet needs are pragmatic “statesmen” (both male and female). Just had Ken Henry point out that our govt needs to raise taxes in the order of $50B PA just to break even so $360B+ for subs is living beyond our means. The need for submarines/AUKUS should be critically reviewed. What would happen if we joined the Swiss and became “neutral”?

  10. Douglas Pritchard

    We could use this time in our history to gift our fleet of Taipan helicopters to Ukraine.
    That way we reduce the risk to our own Army, and look good at the same time.

  11. Clakka

    Fred: Indeed, what would happen?

    I have at this point given up trying to unpick / deconstruct / reconstruct the sexational word salad that comprises the post-AUKUS papers. To assess what it really means, one could extract the layers of time, quantity and cost to establish a coherent critical path upon which to do further analysis and perhaps arrive at some appreciable value for money (vfm) assessment.

    Clearly the AUKUS pact, and papers are not meant to be unpacked that way, other than a few ‘gimmies’, it seems to stand as a wonderful charade that offers the participants an opportunity to spread codewords and yet offer maneuverability to introduce ad hoc any new fandango.

    And, I know I may have been somewhat obscure with regard to my reference to “… quantum leap …”, I guess I owe it to myself and others to elucidate:

    quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum
    quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum
    quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum
    quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum, quantum …..

  12. Douglas Pritchard

    For the humungous amount of dollars of taxpayer funds we are splashing out on a few subs “Made in USA”, we should expect a lot of benefit.
    Now to spin just the propellers with nuclear assistance is not a strong enough arguement.
    So we move onto the justification which says they can stay submerged for an unbelievably long time.
    However these super expensive, and complex (which means that break down in any of the systems needs immediate attention…otherwise lives will be lost) with a home port in USA, will be granted freedom to surface at a designated port in this country.
    With google maps you can find the Stirling Naval base where subs, which may be nuclear armed, (how would we ever know?) will dally for a while to draw breath….why?
    Because when they get here, they are a big ticket target, and I am close enough to get blown to kingdom come when the whistle is blown
    They can stay underwater so why not wait till they get home?
    If its so essential to stay submerged, and undetected, for the defence of our nation it seems completely daft to have them pop up off the Coast of Freo.
    Why are we suddenly required to host WMDs as part of this appalling AUKUS arrangement?
    If we spent just a fraction of the time we have allocated for the “voice”, on sorting out our defence strategy, then we could start putting a dent into climate change aspirations, and prevent water lapping at my doorstep in the foreseeable future.

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