AUKUS, Technology and the militarization of Australia

Think tanks across Australia, filled with money from US sources, are all showing how excited they are about the AUKUS security pact and its potential for local, albeit subordinate, industry. The Center for United States Studies, Washington’s voice of opinion based at the University of Sydney, has added its share of the militarization fun with a report on what AUKUS will be able to do.

The report’s author, Jennifer Jackett, a nonresident member of the American Center’s Foreign and Defense Policy Program, springs on the “more consequential” nature of various “technological developments in quantum, cyber, artificial intelligence, submarine, hypersonic and electronic warfare” than nuclear-powered submarines. The latter are, after all, supposed to appear much later on the horizon. In the meantime, the war potential could be exploited in other areas.

Jackett stresses the urgency of appreciating these areas, given that Australia faces “a more hostile Indo-Pacific”. No ironic reflection follows that such hostility was facilitated, in large part, by the AUKUS security pact which put the countries of the region, China being the main target, under military surveillance.

To address such threats, AUKUS partners – the US, UK and Australia – needed to “understand areas of comparative advantage, complementarity and potential gaps or overlaps between three industrial bases”.

Reading, at times, like a scrutiny of local assets and resources of wealth by a future colonizing power, the report is indicative of what Vince Scappatura called those “loose networks of elites and institutional relationships” that feed Australia’s umbilical cord to Freedom Land.

The Australian population is described in glowing terms, with some suggestions for improvement for fortunately compliant subjects. “Australia stands out for the quality of its educational institutions and skilled workforce. Australian scientists are renowned for the global impact of their research in areas such as quantum physics and artificial intelligence. There is, however, a belated admission that Australia’s STEM workforce, with 16% qualifications in the field, trails that of the United States, “where around 23% of the total workforce has a qualification. STEM at university level or below”.

Australian Abrams tank during training. (ADF)

Next comes a mild rebuke in terms of Australian approaches to venture capital. Jackett can be seen shaking his head in disapproval as he writes: “Australia remains an attractive destination for foreign direct investment, but the venture capital industry – the type of financial entity willing to make investments more risky in unproven technologies – remains small, less than half the OECD average.

It is not a meditation on peace, on miracle answers to climate change, poverty or miserable diseases. It has nothing to do with exploiting the potential of technology to help good causes. It’s the chatter of imperial militarization, and how “innovation” helps it.

Similar remarks were made by Mike Rogers, former head of the US National Security Agency, who gave a moving performance during his visit to Australia praising his hosts. “I applaud Australia’s willingness to make this kind of commitment [to acquiring nuclear-powered submarines] and to talk about it so frankly, he said Australia’s first Murdoch cloth, The Australian.

What troubles Rogers, like those at the US Studies Center and other similar groupies, is a worry about what to do before those white elephants of the sea make their ponderous appearance. He cites various other weapon abilities as “alternatives in between”. There are, for example, options in “autonomous vehicles, robotics, sensors, situational awareness technologies”. AUKUS was, and here the warning is clear to all of us, “much more than submarines”. AUKUS was to be used “to drive change”.

The bewildering blindness of local security elites turning Australia into something even more like a fortress for foreign military operations is palpable. Its corollary is the idea that the United States does not meddle in the affairs of empire. The mechanism of making Canberra another appendage of US operations and strategic interests was already well underway with forums such as the Australian American Leadership Dialogue making it very clear who the leaders are.

As it stands, the current composition of the AALD includes vassals duly qualified for the American mission. There is Tony Smith, former Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, who is the CEO of the group. Upon his appointment to the post, he claims it “would allow me to continue to serve our democracy and our nation in this vitally important, unique and bipartisan diplomatic endeavor of the private sector”. Journalists wondered if Smith got along with his future masters. “Pretty good, I think,” he replied.

Glyn Davis, the new Secretary to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department, also emerges as a prominent member of the advisory board, linking one of the most important civil service roles in Canberra to the US administration. The grouping is secretive and observes non-disclosure rules that would make any official in Beijing proud.

From the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to the US Studies Centre, we are meant to celebrate Australia’s prospect as a military annex of US power in the Asia-Pacific region, its sovereign status subsumed under the horrific blast of freedom lovers supposed to face the oriental barbarians. The analysis is then capped off with praise from former US defense and security officials who speak casually of Australia’s potential as they would of mineral deposits. The lie, wrapped and wrapped, is duly sold for public consumption. Australian sovereign capacity becomes the supreme fiction, while her bondage is hidden, only to be exposed by heretics.

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