Paul Keating’s criticism of Australia’s AUKUS deal is damming but not “astonishing”, – in fact, timely!

submarine aukus

On March 14, 2023 Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stood side by side with the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the US President Joe Biden at a Naval base in San Diego, USA and signed off the next phase of AUKUS deal, where Australia will purchase three nuclear powered submarines.  which would be based in Australia. According to the Australian government press release three leaders affirmed that the “trilaterally-developed submarine based on the United Kingdom’s next-generation design that incorporates technology from all three nations, including cutting edge U.S. submarine technologies.” is “a new security partnership [between Australia, UK and USA] that will promote a free and open Indo-Pacific that is secure and stable.”[1]

Following the above announcement, Australia’s former Labor government Prime Minister, Mr. Paul Keating strongly criticised the deal at a press briefing held on March 15, 2023, at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia implying that the deal would do more harm than good to Australia.[2]

One of Australia’s leading media outlets, the SBS news, has termed Mr. Keating’s criticisms of AUKUS, “astonishing.”[3]

The Prince of Denmark

True, Mr. Keating’s response to the AUKUS, a deal which has been endorsed by the Australia’s Labor Party (ALP) government and a deal which was inked by its predecessor, the Liberal/National Party (the LNP) government, Labor’s supposed ideological rival, has indeed been scathing, but by no means, “astonishing.”

A deal, such as that of AUKUS, which has significant security and economic ramifications for Australia should have been discussed in much greater detail, within and outside the parliament, before it was inked. But was not.

By dissecting the deal in terms in of its security and economic implications and by the way, in a globalized economic system security and economic dimensions are interlinked, and by exposing the deal’s pros and cons for Australia, mostly cons, Mr. Keating in fact, has done Australia a favour. Mr. Keating played the Prince of Denmark, “be cruel to be kind”.

“Anglosphere” affinities

Australia, a country which happens to be in an ethnically varied and demographically daunting neighbourhood and a region from which it derives most of its economic benefits, needed to carefully weigh its foreign and security policies and in a manner that responded more practically and sensitively to the changing geoeconomics and geopolitics.

After all, the world is on the move where the old unipolar order is fracturing, giving way to a new multipolar world. If we can’t see it we are either doping or cerebrally challenged.

Mr. Keating, a man of exceptional vision is among few in Australia who has had the crystal ball in hand, who clearly saw these changes decades ago and acted to bring Australia closer to the region and not push it away. Thus he is fully aware of the danger the AUKUS deal poses to Australia, a deal which according to him fulfills the agenda of the “old colonial masters” and not Australia’s and a deal which is likely to be viewed by the Australia’s neighbours especially by China, an important trading partner, as “ arms race in the Indo-Pacific, with a Cold War mentality” and a return “…to our former colonial master, Britain.”

To many in the Asia/Pacific region where Australia is physically located, the AUKUS deal revives bad memories. They see AUKUS, an initiative that seeks “security in and within the Anglosphere”, as revival of a hegemonic nexus that once colonised, waged wars and devasted their countries.

It was not that long ago that Australia, partnered with the US in all of wars for example, in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan – all illegal and immoral wars and all contributed to massacre of hundreds and thousands of their people, men, women and children and destroyed their countries.

However, The Albanese government defends AUKUS by saying “a really exciting opportunity for Australia” which do not pose threats to none let alone China and assures that AUKUS is a deterrent against future threats and not for attacking anyone.

However, Mr. Keating has trashed Labor government’s justification for the submarines as “rubbish” and warned of the dangera of installing a military facility in Australia that has the potential to intimidate, the “mighty” China, the unannounced but the real target of the submarines.

“Mighty” China

We all know and should know by now that China is no more Seventy’s impoverished poverty-stricken China that we once were familiar with. Nor is China, what we see in our China Towns – a great place to have cheap noodle soup, served by petit and polite waitresses!

China has progressed vastly – economically, technologically and military and reportedly, has outpaced the West, in certain aspects, apparently, in military arsenals.

Until recently, and thanks to Mr. Keating’s pro-China interventions during his time as the Treasurer and later as the Prime Minister of Australia, China became a major trading partner of Australia. AUKUS may be changing all that because China views the initiative a “path of error and danger.”

Gazing at the mirror

Several decades ago, during the Keating era especially at a time when Mr. Keating was aggressively promoting the idea that Australia is a part of Asia, mainly to benefit from Asia’s rising wealth, he apparently drew a map of Asia where he showed Australia as Asia’s part.

Around this time an Australian journalist who was based in Kuala Lumpur showed the map to Dr. Mahathir Muhammad, then the Prime Minister of Malaysia, to convince him that despite his contrary thoughts, Australia sees itself as part of Asia. However, typical of Mr. Mahathir who never missed an opportunity to insult Australia, retorted by saying, “To find out whether you Australians are Asians or not, do not look at the map, look at the mirror.”

Despite such antagonisms from some of the Asian leaders who refused to accept Australia as part of Asia Mr. Keating continued to persist with success, his mission of integrating Australia with Asia and the result has been that all parties gained, Australia more – two thirds of Australia’s exports go to Asia, bulk of it to China.

Sadly, the current political bunch, both LNP and Labor, don’t seem to see the picture and by embracing AUKUS seem to have embraced Mr. Mahathir’s advice – they are making policies by gazing at the mirror and not at the map, nor the economic and geopolitical realities of the day.

“Run by the military”

Mr. Keating also suspects that Australia’s sudden shift towards “Anglospheric” hegemonic security policy may be because presently, Australia’s foreign policy is “run by the military” and not by the foreign office. If true, this is ominous.

A story from the Indian sub-continent may explain better the harm the control of national policies, foreign or otherwise, by the military causes to a nation.

In 1974, in the aftermath of the 1971 Pakistan army’s defeat at the hands of the Indian Army and the Bangladesh liberation forces that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and emergence of its erstwhile eastern wing into Bangladesh as an independent state, Mr. Tariq Ali, the Pakistan born-British political activist conducted an interview of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India at her office in New Delhi.[4]

During the interview Mr. Tariq Ali while reflecting on how the arrogant and myopic policies of the Pakistan army who at the time ran the country, contributed to a civil conflict, and led to the break-up of Pakistan, told Mrs. Gandhi that “Pakistan’s problem is that our Generals are stupid.” To this Mrs. Gandhi apparently replied saying, “Mr. Ali, how about I share one of my own experiences of an encounter with one of our Generals. You see, in 1971 when Pakistan army surrendered and East Pakistan was gone, our Chief of Army Staff, General Sam Manekshaw came up to me and said, ‘Madam Prime Minister, East Pakistan is gone, and we are also deeply inside in several parts of West Pakistan. If you order we can march into Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city in 24 hours and take over rest of Pakistan.” After listening to General Manekshaw’s ambitious idea, Mrs. Gandhi told the General “General, why don’t you give me 24 hours to make the decision.” Mrs. Gandhi then called an emergency cabinet meeting and informed her cabinet colleagues of General’s idea. The Cabinet was unanimous in their response, “absolutely not”.  Mrs. Gandhi then turned to Tariq Ali and said, “you see when it comes to stupidity our Generals and your Generals are not different, they are all stupid. The only difference is that unlike Pakistan, Generals in India do not make policies.”

If Mr. Keating’s suspicion is correct that Australia’s military has taken over the running of the Australia’s foreign policy and in the process, weaponizing diplomacy, then it indeed is deeply concerning.

Given China’s formidable military might and its readiness to act in “self-defence” an attack or even a threat, is likely to be greeted with vicious venom. China is likely to respond with its newly acquired arsenals which most certainly would rain on Australia, the AUKUS bloke and not on those who would have had the cheque in their hands by then and thousands of kilometres away relaxing with the, “the band playing!”

“Dig two graves” – Confucius

Finally, since AUKUS is aimed at China (regardless of official denials, let us not kid ourselves – the target of submarines is China), it may also not be a bad idea to take a lesson or two from China itself to prepare against repercussions.

Confucius, one of China’s wisest men once said, “if you are planning for a revenge against an enemy, dig two graves – one for the enemy and one for yourself.”

Since China never considered Australia as an enemy and thus have no need to dig a grave. However as Australia has made China its target, it may need one and given that the AUKUS deal, the submarines, would cost Australian taxpayers $368.0 billion upfront to procure and billions annually to maintain including the costs and hazards of storage of fuel wastes and furthermore, as the deal would most certainly wreak the decades-long vital trade and investment ties between the two countries which most certainly would hurt Australia more than China, it is conceivable that Australia has already commenced digging its grave!

The author is a Professor (Adjunct) at the School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland, Australia, and former senior policy manager of the United Nations




[4] Can Pakistan Survive?: The Death of a State (1983). ISBN 978-0-8052-7194-2; (1991) ISBN 978-0-86091-260-6


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