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Sovereignty Surrendered: Subordinating Australia’s Defence Industry

One could earn a tidy sum the number of times the word “sovereignty” has been uttered or mentioned in public statements and briefings by the Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.

But such sovereignty has shown itself to be counterfeit. The net of dependency and control is being increasingly tightened around Australia, be it in terms of Washington’s access to rare commodities (nickel, cobalt, lithium), the proposed and ultimately fatuous nuclear-propelled submarine fleet, and the broader militarisation and garrisoning of the country by US military personnel and assets. (The latter includes the stationing of such nuclear-capable assets as B-52 bombers in the Northern Territory.)

The next notch on the belt of US control has been affirmed by new proposals that will effectively make technological access to the Australian defence industry by AUKUS partners (the United States and the United Kingdom) an even easier affair than it already is. But in so doing, the intention is to restrict the supply of military and dual-use good technology from Australia to other foreign entities while privileging the concerns of the US and UK. In short, control is set to be wrested from Australia.

The issue of reforming US export controls, governed by the musty provisions of the US International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), was always going to be a feature of any technology transfer, notably regarding nuclear-propulsion. But even before the minting of AUKUS, Canberra and Washington had pondered the issue of industrial integration and sharing technology via such instruments as the Defense Cooperation Treaty of 2012 and Australia’s addition to the National Technology and Industrial Base in 2017.

This fundamentally failed enterprise risks being complicated further by the latest export reforms, though you would not think so, reading the guff streaming from the Australian Defence Department. A media release from Defence Minister Richard Marles tries to justify the changes by stating that “billions of dollars in investment” will be released. Bureaucratic red tape will be slashed – for the Australian Defence industry and the AUKUS partners. “Under the legislation introduced today, Australia’s existing trade controls will be expanded to regulate the supply of controlled items and provision of services in the Defence and Strategic Goods List, ensuring our cutting-edge military technologies are protected.”

Central to the reforms is the introduction of a national exemption that will cover trade of defence goods and technologies with the US and UK, thereby “establishing a license-free environment for Australian industry, research and science.” But the broader object here is unmistakably directed, less to Australian capabilities than privileged access and a relinquishing of control to the paymasters in Washington. A closer read, and it’s all got to do with those wretched white elephants of the sea: the nuclear-powered submarine.

As the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, states, “This legislation is an important step in the Albanese Government’s strategy for acquiring the state-of-the-art nuclear-powered submarines that will be key to protecting Australians and our nation’s interests.” In doing so, Conroy, Marles and company are offering Australia’s defence base to the State Department and the Pentagon.

With a mixture of hard sobriety and alarm, a number of expert voices have voiced concern regarding the implications of these new regulations. One is Bill Greenwalt, a figure much known in the field of US defence procurement, largely as a prominent drafter of its legal framework. He is unequivocal in his criticism of the US approach, and the keen willingness of Australian officials to capitulate. “After years of US State Department prodding, it appears that Australia signed up to the principles and specifics of the failed US export control system,” Greenwalt explained to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Whenever it cooperates with the US it will surrender any sovereign capability it develops to the United States control and bureaucracy.”

The singular feature of these arrangements, Greenwalt continues to elaborate, is that Australia “got nothing except the hope that the US will remove process barriers that will allow the US to essentially steal and control Australian technology faster.”

In an email sent to Breaking Defense, Greenwalt was even more excoriating of the Australian effort. “It appears that the Australians adopted the US export control system lock, stock and barrel, and everything I wrote about in my USSC (US Studies Center) piece in the 8 deadly sins of ITAR section will now apply to Australian innovation. I think they just put themselves back 50 years.”

The paper in question, co-authored with Tom Corben, identifies those deadly sins that risk impairing the success of AUKUS: “an outdated mindset; universality and non-materiality; extraterritoriality; anti-discrimination; transactional process compliance; knowledge taint; non-reciprocity; and unwarranted predictability.”

When such vulgar middle-management speech is decoded, much can be put down to the fact that dealing with Washington and its military-industrial complex can be an imperilling exercise. The US imperium remains fixated, as Greenwalt and Corben write, with “an outdated superpower mindset” discouragingly inhibiting to its allies. What constitutes a “defence article” within such export controls is very much left to the discretion of the executive. The archaic application of extraterritoriality means that recipient countries of US technology must request permission from the State Department if re-exporting to another end-user is required for any designated defence article.

The failure to reform such strictures, and the insistence that Australia make its own specific adjustments, alarms Chennupati Jagadish, president of the Australian Academy of Science. The new regulations may encourage unfettered collaboration between the US and UK, “but I would require an approved permit prior to collaborating with other foreign nationals. Without it, my collaborations could see me jailed.” The bleak conclusion: “it expands Australia’s backyard to include the US and UK, but it raises the fence.” Or, more accurately, it incorporates, with a stern finality, Australia as a pliable satellite in an Anglo-American arrangement whose defence arrangements are controlled by Washington.


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  1. Richard Laidlaw

    Singalong. All together now: We all live in a yellow submarine. See! easy, isn’t it? And such a catchy little tune.

  2. Phil Pryor

    We all live in a smelly submarine, the effing thing’s obscene, and it never will be seen, the costs are set to rise and the bloody things a crock, obsolete from birth and a target off the dock. Defence is murder, aggression, attack. What uncivilised filth.

  3. Frank

    Nothing new here we have always been puppets of America,only difference now is we have a bloke willing to give them the kitchen sink as well,weak spinless jellyfish,sovereignty what a laugh

  4. New England Cocky

    Perhaps the Albanese LABOR government could look outside Canberra and see what is happening in 21st century warfare, like the proxy USA Ukraine ”war” and the state sponsored genocide in the Gaza Strip by the Zion@zis.

    Something about rockets and missiles seem to fill the media pics – an expensive methodology for killing people considered by the ”democratically elected” FRWNJ Netanyahu fascist racist apartheid misgovernment.

    Even the USA (United States of Apartheid) Congress doubts the value of this ”investment” and the ability of the US manufacturers to supply on budget & on time, two events that rarely happen with armaments contracts with the NE military industrial complex.

    The USUKA sub debacle does little to show that Retched Mediocre has the intelligence to be ”Defence Minister”.

    Any country that has America as an ally and armaments supplier has no need for any other enemies ….. especially when the Americans want Australian natural resources like the rare metals for the ev revolution.

  5. andrino apolloni

    its party time, the butcher of cambodia has died. Another nasty shit has gone , this time for good. Lets hope if there is a god, he is tied to the whipping post.

  6. Andrew Smith

    NEC: ‘the proxy USA Ukraine ”war’

    Are you claiming Ukraine has no agency and Ukraine like its EU neighbours has nothing to fear from Putin’s Russia yet accused of ‘provoking’ Putin?

    Says something about how out of touch the Anglosphere is? Meanwhile Tony Abbott is hanging out with similar types via Hungarian Koch linked entities supported by PM ‘mini Putin’ Orban?! Is it about worshipping and being fearful of perceived authority or the enemy of my enemy is my friend?

    While people in Anglosphere fall for Kremlin, Koch & FoxNews agitprop claiming US is to blame, along with US faux anti-imperialist ‘tankie’ left sources, they gaslight Europeans and like Kampmark does, ignore the wealth of informed academic and other analysis in Europe etc. including by (exiled) Russians and Ukrainians, in favour of fossil fueled Koch Network’s geopolitical non expert grifters e.g. Mearsheimer (recently hosted by CIS, brothership of IPA), or Rockefeller’s (Standard Oil/Exxon) Sachs?

    On the latter, it has long reported and alleged by US media that Kissinger had always been the Rockefellers’ guy, David especially; they also seemed to ‘own’ divisions of the UN in return for gifting the Manhattan real estate.

    The only Australian ‘analysis’ one would follow on Russia’s invasion is Perun, Ryan et al. on military strategy (& anything else grounded in Europe) vs. imported US right or faux left glib talking points masquerading as geopolitical insight, and used to nudge perceptions and attitudes…..for geo-political business as usual e.g fossil fuels, attacking the EU, liberal democracy etc.

    Australia is stuck in a fosis fueled Anglosphere bubble created by Howard et al, Murdoch and fossil fueled Atlas or Koch Network, and with a commensurate decline in media and analysis, people have become easily gamed by agitprop playing on their sentiments.

    A question one would ask, same as anyone doing analysis in media etc., can you cite any credible and relevant analysts, journalists or academics in Europe or ex. US, able to offer insight into the complexity of the Russia – Ukraine conflict?

  7. corvusboreus

    Is “war” some kind of cunningly coded euphemism for ‘special military operation’?

    Ps, methinks that people who deliberately allow their housecats out to slaughter native wildlife are “genocidal sociopaths”.

  8. Steve Davis

    Andrew Smith likes to ask penetrating questions, but does not like to deal with the answers.

    He asks here “A question one would ask, same as anyone doing analysis in media etc., can you cite any credible and relevant analysts, journalists or academics in Europe or ex. US, able to offer insight into the complexity of the Russia – Ukraine conflict?”
    This is the very same question he asked on another thread.

    And here is the answer I gave him, from a high ranking NATO official; “Kuyat said in an interview just a few days ago in regard to the goals of the Russian armed forces; “Their goal is not to hold territories at any cost, but to destroy the APU. This is the basic rule of Clausewitz : disarm the enemy — and then everything else will work out by itself. This is exactly what the Russian armed forces have achieved.”

    So the reality that Andrew does not want to face is that there is no longer any complexity to the Russia Ukraine conflict. It is, from a military standpoint, effectively over.

  9. wam

    albo will wear USUKA and the tax cuts, representing the flat tax that the rich have been screaming to introduce for years, and lose.
    The clear majority of people will not benefit from the tax cuts but the most to benefit are all politicians.
    There seems no way to stop dutton even the lnp’s winning tactic of sacking leaders, whilst being Labor’s best chance is unlikely to succeed.
    one of the cleverest and funniest satirical comedians retired with a last comment,
    “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

  10. corvusboreus

    So an 81yo ex-Bundeswehr general (retired in 2005 to think-tank duties) reckons the Russian army has achieved their (Von-Clauzewitz) goal of destroying APU (Ukrainian army).
    In spite of the fact that the Ukrainian military has significantly increased both in terms of number of combat personnel and material since Russia invaded, and have taken back around 50% of the initial Russian territorial gains, I choose to accept Herr Kuyat’s assessment that Russian has already won their ‘special military operation’.

    I would add that Putin’s stated goal of deterring NATO expansion has also broadly succeeded, despite the fact that their military aggression in Ukraine has not only spurred both Finland and Sweden (previously neutral) to join NATO, but has increased domestically polled support for NATO membership in Ukraine from 62% in Feb 2022 to 86% in Feb 2023.

    Ps, when I said that sociopaths who enabled their cats to kill native wildlife were ‘genocidal’, I meant ‘ecocidal’.
    Genocidal is a purely anthropocentric term.


  11. Zathras

    The only worthwhile thing Kissinger for the world did was to prevent a drunken Nixon from nuking North Korea during one of his tantrums and thereby avoiding a probable WW3.
    Otherwise he always acted only in the interests of the USA as have all Australian governments and the results have been the basket case that is the Middle East and untold loss of lives from the overthrow of many democracies in favour of compliant dictatorships.

    The satirical comedian mentioned above was Tom Lehrer.

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