The decision by the Australian government to acquire nuclear-powered submarines is irresponsible and dangerous for the whole South Pacific region.
Adding more weapons to the mix of ongoing hostilities between Australia and China is more likely to lead to war in this region. Because of their longer range, nuclear-powered submarines are for offensive warfare, not self-defence. With this acquisition, they are admitting to seeking a fight with China.
The newly cemented alliance between the US, UK and Australia, and Australia’s massive buying of weapons is deeply troubling for the region. The arms race in the South Pacific is already at a fevered pace even before this announcement. We can expect that the Chinese will respond in kind by further ratcheting up their own arms proliferation.
The issue with nuclear-powered submarines isn’t just about their offensive war-making capability. The very production of them is an ecological catastrophe: devastating uranium mining and onboard nuclear reactors that produce radioactive waste are just two of the issues. That doesn’t address their eventual decommissioning, and the toxic remains.
As importantly, there are major safety and security issues with any nuclear material: any damage, failure or leak of material would be a catastrophe for human health and would leak radioactive material all throughout the South Pacific.
The US, UK and Australia have just extracted themselves from a disastrous 20-year-long war in Afghanistan with no real reflection on what they did there, and instead are launching themselves onto a path to another military confrontation. The US and UK appear to be incapable of adjusting their worldview to one in which they aren’t at the centre. That world is gone; their leadership, such that it ever existed, and claims to uphold freedom and democracy, died with their illegal invasion of Iraq and the massacre of millions of civilians.
New Zealanders are rightly proud of our nuclear-free stance. This decision by Australia, along with a number of other high profile issues between New Zealand and Australia, must prompt a serious strategic rethink of New Zealand’s own defence and foreign policy.
We are obviously deeply relieved that the New Zealand government has not signed up to this new alliance. We have choices to make: we can continue on the path of US-led global wars and empire building, or we can choose to chart an ethical foreign policy based upon the interconnection of all peoples on the planet and the necessity of protecting our life-giving ecological systems.