AUKUS: the new “Kid on the Block”

By:  Victor N. Corpus

AUKUS is the new acronym for the newly-formed military alliance of Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. The recent announcement of its formation a few days ago came with the news that the US and UK will provide Australia with nuclear technology for the construction of some eight nuclear submarines. This new development may have serious geopolitical repercussions that may affect us all. But in order to understand its full implications, there is a need to go up the balcony in order to see the big picture.

 This “big picture” starts with the collapse of the USSR way back in December 25, 1991. Less than two months after, in February of 1992, the Wolfowitz Doctrine was formulated. It states, in effect, that the US will not allow any country to attain parity or surpass the US economically, technologically and militarily; that the US will launch a preventive war to pre-empt any country that threatens to surpass US dominance while the US still holds all the advantages.

Deng Xiaoping of China reacted to this US policy by issuing his “24-character Formula” which in effect, advices China’s leaders to “observe calmly, cope with affairs calmly, keep a low profile, hide capacities,” etc. This was because China was still weak and has not yet finished developing its so-called “assassin’s mace”, China’s defence and offense systems to protect itself. If China reacts foolishly to US military provocations, China might be nuked back to the Stone Age. Hence, when the US/NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999; China bit the bitter pill and “observed calmly; cope with matters calmly”, thereby escaping sure catastrophe.

By 2014, China’s GDP exceeded that of the US in terms of purchasing power parity. This alarmed the elites in Washington; prompting the US Army to commission RAND CORP. to develop a grand strategy on how to arrest China’s further rise. A strategy paper entitled “Thinking the Unthinkable” emerged in 2016. In summary, the strategy to stop China’s Rise involved the conduct of the US and its principal allies of a regional conventional war covering the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS); the longer duration the better, in order to adversely affect China’s GDP to plunge 35% or more. It is envisioned to keep the armed conflict confined in the region so as not to adversely affect the economies of US and Europe; but China to include the other countries in the region will be adversely affected – like Japan, South Korea, and others in ASEAN (all of which are alarmingly growing fast like China). The Rand study cautioned that there is only a short window of opportunity by which said grand strategy can be effective; i.e., 2015 – 2025; after which said window will close because China would be too strong by then, making victory impossible.

The Rand strategy is confident that their proposed regional conventional war will remain conventional. This is due to China’s declared policy that they will never be the first to use nuclear weapons, and China will not use nuclear weapons against countries with no nuclear weapons. Hence, US is confident that if they launch a regional conventional war in the SCS and ECS, the war will remain conventional that will not spread and affect the US and its allies in Europe. But it will devastate the economies of China and its neighbouring counties.

The fatal mistake of this US grand strategy packaged by the Rand Corporation is its lack of deep knowledge of its key adversary: China.  It was Sun Tzu who advised: Know your enemy, and know yourself; and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger of defeat.  The US grand strategy is envisioning a protracted conventional war in order to plunge China’s economy down 35% or more.  But geography and the balance of military power make this dream of a protracted conventional war with China impossible. The US may have some 400 military installations surrounding China; but such fixed bases are surely allocated with their corresponding barrage of missiles once the first shot is fired. And such targets will not survive after the first hour of engagement. These include the air bases in Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines (EDCA bases), Islands in the Pacific, and Guam. The same may be said of all floating surface warships or aircraft carrier strike groups in the region visible by satellites. And submarines undersea will be hunted and destroyed by swarms of unmanned hunter/killer drones. All these will last only a matter of hours if not minutes.  It may only take longer to dispose of adversary submarines.  Hence, the dream of the US Grand Strategy for a regional protracted conventional war is just that – a wishful pipedream.

Now comes AUKUS. What are its implications when added to this equation? Eight nuclear submarines with be provided to Australia, according to news reports, PM Morison and the heads of US and UK assured the public that this deal does not include nuclear weapons. But China’s leaders are not that stupid to believe the preposterous claims of the main adversaries.  It is like buying a Ferrari and using it as a taxi cub!  A nuclear submarine of the Ohio Class carries a total of 154 Tomahawk Cruise Missile; each with a range of 2,500 kilometres and armed with a 200 kilotons of nuclear warhead – more than ten times powerful as that dropped in Hiroshima.  Eight of these nuclear submarines can target 1,232 cities in China 2,500 kilometres away; each with a warhead that is ten times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. What more if these missiles are modernized by hypersonic booster and miniaturization systems? It could spell the end of the Chinese nation and civilization as we know it!

So, what could China’s response to this looming threat be? The actual deployment of the nuclear submarines in Australia could be regarded by China as a “first strike” by AUKUS against China at the strategic level; necessitating a counter strike. What that counter-strike will be is anybody’s guess.  It is worth noting that one of China’s military doctrines is the principle of seizing the initiative.  They will not wait for those missiles coming from such submarines to rain on their cities. China will surely seize the operational and tactical initiative.

China can also respond using non-military means; such as stopping all exports of rare earth oxides to AUKUS.  Australia may be rich in rare earth deposits; and so is the US. But all that deposits are useless if not refined into usable oxides. And China controls more than 90% of rare earth metal oxides production. Without rare earth oxides, there will be no military nor industrial/commercial high-tech gadgets.  Another possible China response is the acceleration of the internationalization of its digital currency; which has now started in countries participating in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; gradually spreading to some 160 countries taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative.

With the wanton printing of dollar by the US Federal Reserve; inflation or hyper-inflation is apt to follow. As the Covid 19 pandemic in the US continues to negatively affect the entire US economy, the US Federal Reserve will be forced to print more and more money; which could lead to total economic collapse.

Amidst this super power rivalry brewing in our region, how should the Philippines act to protect our national and security interests? The best option in this situation is strict neutrality. If the Philippines allow the US to use the EDCA bases to deploy their INF missiles; China will surely not wait for those missiles to rain on Beijing or Shanghai. China will surely seize the strategic, operational or tactical initiative and take out such threat before they even become operational. Or if the Philippines allow said US EDCA bases to be used as launching pads for attacks against China in the event of Taiwan declaring independence and China clash with US; counter attacks against said bases can be expected – and such attacks can be nuclear if the war come to that.

So Philippine leaders should ponder well if siding with one power is to our national interest. Or is adaption of neutrality the best choice to protect Philippine national and security interests?

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