The AUKUS deal for nuclear-powered submarines has come under a lot of fire in Australia this week:
Ex-Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating condemned the center-left Labor government’s deal with the US and UK to obtain nuclear submarines, saying the nation’s military sovereignty was being surrendered to the “whim and caprice” of Washington.
Criticism of AUKUS in Australia has been steadily growing, and it’s not surprising that there would be significant resistance to a major policy commitment that was made with so little deliberation beforehand. It is an expensive, decades-long commitment with substantial implications for Australia’s relations with all its Asian neighbors, and it is questionable whether there is enough of a political consensus behind it to keep it going. The massive price that Australia will have to pay for these submarines raises obvious questions of whether this is a wise and efficient use of their resources. The New York Times reports:
Although the AUKUS agreement was announced a year ago, the current debate has in part been sparked by the revelation that the deal is projected to cost $246 billion (368 billion Australian dollars) over the next three decades, said James Curran, a professor of Australian-U.S. history at the University of Sydney. That hefty price tag effectively asks whether China’s threat to Australia is worth that much money, he said – and the answer is unclear.
As I look at it, it seems to be a very big gamble that the Chinese threat to Australia is much greater than it really is, and they will be paying a steep price to guard against an exaggerated danger. There may be agreement between the major parties right now, but that could easily break down if the costs come to be seen as outpacing potential benefits. An arrangement that is meant to solidify the alliance with the US could very well end up straining and damaging it a decade or two from now.
Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.