|Cartoon courtesy The Guardian|
The story of the week is Australia's move to acquire nuclear powered submarines.
But under the radar, is a much more important story, that is all about taking our foreign policy priorities back to the sixties.
Let's first examine the outcome of the decision to cancel the French project and consider the realities. Hugh White does just that.
The likely acquisition date of replacements for the Collins class boats is now further down the track than it was for the abandoned French project. We're talking about the 2040s. Let's hope our enemies, imagined or real, are prepared to give us that much start.
In addition, it is going to cost more, even before we compensate the French for the cancellation.
As Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said a few days ago -
"The irony is that when we chose the French-designed submarine a few years ago we actually took a nuclear-powered submarine and have been spending millions of dollars turning it into a diesel submarine."
So we have moved from modifying a nuclear powered boat to take diesel electric propulsion (a complicated and expensive proposition) to going full circle and deciding that we really wanted nuclear all along. That is at least bizarre, and almost unbelievable.
But it's real...
What is far more significant is the return to the strategic alignments of the sixties. A glance at a map reveals that Australia is located in the South Pacific, a very long way from both Pennsylvania Avenue and Downing Street.
We are much closer to Jakarta, Singapore and Hanoi. Yet, apparently there was no consultation with any of our neighbours. There was also no negotiation with the French at government to government level. The French are more than a little miffed - hardly surprising.
Perhaps if some real consultation had taken place, we may have been able to set up a deal where we leased the nuclear powered version of the Barracuda from France whilst we were waiting for the Yanks and Brits to get their act into gear.
As it is, we seem to have come out of the whole debacle with more expense, greater delays, and some seriously fed up neighbours.
But most significantly, any real sovereignty that we had in terms of our relationship with the USA has gone down the plughole. Perhaps we could be optimistic and hope that in the fullness of time, the acquisition of these boats may allow us to develop our own independent deterrent, rather than depending on the Americans, but how much time do we have?
As it is now, we are tied to them, and to their capricious foreign policy which bangs backwards and forwards like a dunny door in the wind driven by their dysfunctional and erratic domestic politics.
If I'm still around when these subs finally hit the water under their own steam, (I'll be in my nineties), I'll be fascinated to observe what form of leader occupies the White House. Recent history has shown that the Yanks have the capacity to "elect"* complete snake oil merchants to that position.
And there will be five different POTUS elected between now and 2040. By the law of averages, at least one of them is likely to be a lunatic.
You only need to consider the results of domestic driven interventions and withdrawals in recent foreign wars (Vietnam Iraq, and Afghanistan) to understand the utter incompetence of the Americans. And we went along with them each time.
I lived the consequences of that incompetence fifty years ago in Vietnam.
Let's hope that no more young Australians will have to do the same in the future.
*Probably the wrong word to use to describe the process.