Asian Century By Herman Tiu Laurel
On September 15, 2021 the shocking announcement from Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. of a new security/defense pact called AUKUS unsettled the world again. It was a new alliance led by the U.S. to supply Australia with nuclear submarines ostensibly in defense of Australia but taken by the ASEAN, Asia, and particularly China, to be another provocation by the Western Powers dragging its Oceania partner Australia to menace the region.
Under the pact, the US will share nuclear propulsion technology with Australia, as will the UK. The Royal Australian Navy will acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines armed with conventional weapons to be built in Australia. The pact also includes cooperation on advanced cyber, artificial intelligence and autonomy, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic, electronic warfare, innovation and information sharing.
ASEAN abhors AUKUS.
One international media headlined ASEAN reaction, “AUKUS roils ASEAN waters…”, as ex-Malaysian PM Mahathir blasted Australia after the announcement of the AUKUS pact: “You have escalated the threat.” The prospect of AUKUS nuke subs in ASEAN waters FONOPS (Freedom of Navigation Operations) riles the region which has since 1995 has the SEANWFZ (Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone) and ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOOPFAN).
The odd-man out of the ASEAN’s opprobrium for the AUKUS pact was then Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Teddy boy” Locsin (aside from being a “teddy boy” he is also a very well-known and disreputable Amboy, i.e. American Boy) who in an official statement that is of doubtful authorization “welcomed” AUKUS even as his president, Rodrigo R. Duterte expressed “concern” the AUKUS would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. Now tell me if that’s not contradictory.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte echoed the concern of Malaysia and Indonesia, two ASEAN countries very vocally expressing “strong reservations” over Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines through the AUKUS. The outgoing president Duterte again spoke on AUKUS imploring regional powers to exercise self-restraint and stating that AUKUS ‘must complement and not complicate’ ASEAN’s methods of cooperation which is impossible due to the SEANWFZ and ZOPFAN.
The ”teddy boy” spreads nuke material.
Ex-secretary Locsin persisted in his abusive and nasty habit of pre-empting President Duterte, but Locsin also pre-empted the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in judging that nuclear submarines does not constitute violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Locsin said in his statement “welcoming” the AUKUS said, “Absent actual presence of nuclear weapons, we cannot infer violation of the SEANWZ Treaty.”
What Locsin missed to consider in his eagerness to please his American mentors and benefactors is that nuclear submarine fuel is weapons-grade ready material and, hence, clearly and actually a danger and a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which states, “The NPT is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology…”
From Science News, June 2, 2022: “Nuclear submarines are particularly worrisome. Many use highly enriched uranium, a potent type of fuel that can be weaponized relatively easily. But submarines are protected from monitoring by a loophole. Unlike nuclear power plants, nuclear submarines are used for secretive military purposes, so physical inspections could infringe on a country’s national security.” So there Locsin errs grievously and stupidly so eager to lick the boots of the AUKUS.
China blocks AUKUS petition at IAEA.
On October 1, 2022 I chanced across the Global Times report of China’s action to address the imminent danger of the AUKUS causing the proliferation of weaponized nuclear materials in its deal to provide eight nuclear submarines to Australia between now and 2040. Entitled “China thwarts AUKUS-related amendment attempts on legitimizing nuclear sub marine deal at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) conference.”
The problem with the AUKUS deal is that if carried through, it would be the first time a non-nuclear weapons state acquires nuclear-powered submarines. It presents a grey area in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows fissile material to be removed from IAEA safeguards for such purposes. The procedure has yet to be worked out. Rafael Grossi, IAEA director general, had set up a special team to look into safeguards and legal implications of the deal.
China had initiated an inter-government review process over he AUKUS deal in November 2021, the first time the agency reviewed the deal. In late September 2022 the three AUKUS countries sought an amendment to the IAEA safeguard resolution in an effort to legitimize their pact in the context of the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) but later withdrew this after China’s opposition. The NT world and anti-nuke ASEAN should be thankful to China for posing that opposition creating a dilemma for the AUKUS.
Stopping the Doomsday clock.
The world on October 2022 is pushing the second hand of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists with the world aghast at what it perceives the U.S. and it allies have done sabotaging Nord Stream 1 and 2, pushing Russia to quietly and silently consider its response to this ultimate provocation. At the rate the geopolitical heat is being turned up, with a German delegation also following up the Pelosi Taiwan visit, we can’t tell what the desperate U.S. will finally do in the next year when its financial crisis is full blown.
Even in the best of conditions for the AUKUS the first nuke sub it could get is in 2040. The AUKUS will likely be overtaken by events before it even starts. The IAEA review can possibly permanently block the legitimization the U.S., U.K. and Australia seeks for the pact, stigmatize it in the eyes of the international community in light of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is but proper for ASEAN and the world to thank the IAEA and China for taking the initiative to stymie the AUKUS.
The goal of Mankind, as China’s President Xi Jinping reiterates often, is security and prosperity of all and, hence China’s advocacy of the Global Security and Development Initiatives. This call should rise above the din and cacophony of today’s drumbeat for WWIII. The threatening darkness is darker than during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. President Xi has called for total nuclear disarmament since his 2017 speech at the World Economic Forum. It is time to stop the Doomsday Clock.