February 4, 2015

Australia - the future junior ally of Japan - revised


Most of the following article was also publised at Australia's On Line Opinion news http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=17065

The revision is at FURTHER COMMENT below.

As the political reputation of Australia's Prime Minister, currently Tony Abbott, plummets, some of his more outlandish foreign policy ideas are being seen for what they are. This article doesn’t raise the bright ideas of rushing Australian troops to Ukraine, presumably to hold back Russian tanks, or to rush Australian troops to the Middle East, where those troops waited for an Iraqi invitation for two months, but the policy of buying into an alliance with Japan.

News.com.au reported on July 9, 2014 that: “AUSTRALIA and Japan have become partners in a “special relationship” that will see both countries join with the US in a powerful military alliance aimed at curbing China’s influence in the region. During an extraordinary day in the long Australia-Japan relationship, yesterday in Canberra both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe pledged to create a partnership for “peace, prosperity and the rule of law”. Fresh from reversing almost 70 years of pacifism embedded in his nation’s post-World War 2 constitution, Mr Abe placed Australia alongside the US at the forefront of Japan’s future defence strategy.”

Alliance maintenance through weapon system purchases has long been a factor in Australia’s relationship with the US. However, as the US has no conventional submarines to sell, there is a joint US-Japanese scheme to sell Japanese submarines to Australia. The purchase price for Australia to secure this alliance with Japan is now around $25Billion (with the recent depreciation of the Australian dollar compared to the US dollar). This is specifically for 12 Made in Japan submarines. Abbott’s budgetary ideas have skimped on health, education and welfare but money is no object when paying for a military alliance from Abbott’s friend, the like-minded conservative Japanese Prime Minister Abe. 

[Note this Submarine Matters article, of February 4, 2015, appears to have triggered a subsequent  article of February 7 in The Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/defence/japan-fears-25bn-submarine-deal-at-risk-in-tony-abbott-crisis/story-e6frg8yo-1227211135322  :-]

By having Japan build our submarines Abbott can also run down Australia’s ship and submarine-building industry, which he sees as a hotbed of Labor, leftwing, union interests anyway.

So what’s in it for Japan? Well the money helps. Japan also frets about what it sees as rising threats from China, North Korea and increasingly Russia. However Japan is mainly thinking about the potential economic benefits of contested islands in the South China and East China Seas.

Few Australians know or care about several disputes in the East China Sea involving China, Taiwan, Japan and others. Possibly the most dangerous Japan versus China dispute is over a small island chain - which is known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, the Diaoyu Islands in China and the Diaoyutai Islands in Taiwan. The importance of the Senkakus are that great unmentionable factor - oil. Oil draws military forces – be they Australian forces in the Middle East or future Australian forces in Northeast Asia.

The US, for its part, is worried about the cost of keeping the world’s oceans open for trade, including oil. Although the US, in the next 12 months, will be spending many extra $Billions to maintain the Asia-Pacific “pivot” against China the US increasingly wants Japan to spend more on defence. Japan’s current defence spending is only about 1% of its GDP. The US also wants Japan to secure military alliances – that is with the few countries interested – not South Korea or most Southeast Asian countries - after Japan’s horrific conduct in World War Two.

The US and Japan are quite explicit in seeing a submarine sale as Australia-Japan strategic alliance cement. A US Admiral has condescended to interpret what an Australian Defence Minister really wanted. The Japan Times of January 18, 2015 reports: "Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, commander of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, reportedly said Oct. 24 [2014] in Tokyo that then-Australian Defense Minister David Johnston was very interested in Japan’s Soryu-class subs. “I talked to him about it four years ago and I said: ‘You want to find the finest diesel-electric submarine made on the planet — it’s made at Kobe works in Japan,’…”

Also in that Japan Times article retired Japanese submarine admiral Masao Kobayashi said."The U.S., which has close but separate security pacts with Japan and Australia, probably wants Australia to buy Japanese submarines because it would greatly strengthen their strategic military ties.”

When anyone bothers to ask ordinary Australians whether Australia should be drawn into a conflict by an additional senior ally (Japan) the response appears encouragingly negative. ABC News (online), January 6, 2015, reported the results of a Survey of over 1,000 Australians, which indicated “Australians would overwhelmingly reject siding with close ally Japan against top-trade partner China over a dispute in the East China Sea and prefer to remain neutral.” In the article Australia's former Foreign Minister Bob Carr said “…as far as the public was concerned, Australia was not obliged under the Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) treaty to make a commitment…".

Now it needs to be explained that the Survey, Australian Attitudes on ANZUS and the East China Sea , was commissioned by the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) . ACRI was established in December 2013 with a grant of $1.8 million from a citizen of China. Bob Carr is the Director of ACRI.

Before one writes off ACRI as a support system for Chinese interests and for Bob Carr it must be said that ACRI was officially launched on May 16, 2014 by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Given the Coalition’s declining fortunes Bob may be a “former Foreign Minister” for a very short time. He may again be Foreign Minister after the next Federal Election.

If Abbott has his way Australia will be junior ally not only of the US but of Japan with either of those two drawing Australia into their wars. It must be asked “If or when Abbott stands down as Prime Minister would a Coalition Government still pursue an alliance with Japan?”

If Labor wins in the next election would Bill Shorten (who agrees with Abbott’s Middle East policies) pursue an alliance with Japan?

Is a survey a genuine gauge of what Australians’ want? How else can we, the public, influence basic foreign and defence policy changes - including multi $Billion defence alliances with “friends” likely to draw Australia into wars?

FURTHER COMMENT


US Admiral Thomas (mentioned above) might be right that the Soryu might be the closest approximation of what the Australian Government thinks it wants in a submarine. I disagree and think a modified HDW Dolphin 2 or 214, enlarged DCNS Scorpene or Saab-Kockums A26 part or mostly built in Australia, would be more reasonable on military, technical, cost, Australian industrial and political grounds. Regarding Admiral Thomas's public advice to Australia - in the Australian system of values serving military men should not get involved in what are key issues between other countries (in this case Australia and Japan). If the current US Defence Secretary (still Chuck Hagel?) wants to offer advice, then that is his legitimate multi-lateral right and responsibility.

The main problem with the Soryu, apart from "Build in Japan only", is that selection of that submarine brings grave strategic, political and economic risks for Australia. 

That risk centers on being drawn into Japan's battles involving Australia's main trading partner (China). Such Japanese battles may not even relate to Japan's national survival but to sometimes slender Japanese claims to undersea oil resources.

Japan appears immature. Japan is unwilling to introduce peaceful precedent solutions such as those that occured in Northwestern Europe six decades ago. The Western European solution of sharing the oil and profits for "North Sea Oil" is what mature, peaceful countries should be doing in Northeast Asia.

Admittedly politics encouraged Australia from the 1960s to choose then operate the British built Oberon submarines. But Britain by then was not expecting Australia to get involved in Britain's battles. Britain like the US was a long term friend and mentor of Australia - Japan isn't.
Life would be so much easier if the US had conventional submarines to sell to Australia or if Australia took up the US offer in early 2012 for Australia to buy or lease Virginia SSNs.

It is a political and economic necessity that some or most of a conventional submarine build take place in Australia. Australia has the capacity to build conventional submarines but not nuclear submarines. 

These are all things for embattled Prime Minister Tony Abbott to work through - in his relations with Coalition Backbenchers and some Coalition Frontbenchers from Australia's submarine states of Victoria, NSW, Western Australia and South Australia.

BACKGROUND

Note that two senior Australian defence commentators are saying the same thing as me - see:



http://www.asiapacificdefencereporter.com/articles/574/The-consequences-of-capricious-decision-making

Pete

5 comments:

Vigilis said...

Hello Pete

As I have repeated often in your very informative blog, I have no personal preference for RAN's new submarine source (indigenous or outsourcsed). I am also on record with 2 serious reservations regarding caution with a Japanese build.

My hope continues to be that Australia's sovereign choice will be the best one for your nation, one that has been a formidable and longstanding ally of the free world.

In crediting US Seventh Fleet Commander Vice VADM Thomas's esteem for Soryus in a prior post I showed my respect for his opinion about a vessel for which I have had scant information besides your postings. In other words, a vessel whose most significant characteristics are still relatively unknown to me.

There is little doubt VADM Thomas has "insider" scoop on all of the competitors as well as the capabilities the US sub service holds most valuable. While my inclinition might still favor Israel's recent German selection, experience also tells me to respect this admiral's secretively informed insights.

Whatever Australia's final choice
is to be, I wish only that it is the absolute best in service of YOUR nation as a very formidable and durable submarine fleet.

Cheers, and best of luck! - Vig

Peter Coates said...

Thanks Vigilis

Admiral Thomas might be right that the Soryu might be the closest approximation of of what the Australian Government thinks it wants. However Serving military men should not get involved in what are key political issues between other countries.

The main problem with the Soryu is that selection of that submarine brings grave political risks for Australia. That risk is being drawn in Japan's battles involving Australia's main trading partner (China). Such Japanese battles may not even relate to Japan's national survival but to sometimes slender Japanese claims to undersea oil resources.

Japan appears unwilling to nurture peaceful precedent solutions like "North Sea Oil" agreements between the countries of Northern Europe from the 1950s.

Now I have to admit that politics encouraged Australia from the 1960s to choose then operate the British built Oberon submarine. But Britain by then was not expecting Australia to get involved in Britain's battles. Britain like the US was a long term friend of Australia.

Life would be so much easier if the US had conventional submarines to sell to Australia or if Australia took up the US offer of buying Virginia SSNs.

Anyway I hope you continue to visit my website, my friend.

Regards

Pete

Anonymous said...

Submarine selection should ideally be free from politics e.g. jobs and geopolitics e.g. alliances, but should focus on military requirements.

But then again, that's the ideal. And no procurement deals are ever idealistic e.g. no political baggage etc.

Perhaps selection is best left to the admirals and not those elected to office.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

National politics and international relations are very much relevant to the purchase and construction of any $20+ Billion weapon system.

There are important strategic details of where the submarines should be built - better in territory under Australian government control.

This will be Australia's largest, most expensive ever weapon system.

Purchase of this weapon system brings with it a new alliance - with Japan.

The military is under the control of the democratically elected civil government - even in Japan. Ex-military man Nakatani is now a politician.

Pete

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with Japanese submarines for Australia is Japan may rethink its postion and Australia will be left without any new submarines.

Regards,
MHalblaub