To say we live in strange, unprecedented times is a monumental understatement. Coronavirus has been the icing on a cake of political and economic upheaval that has been baking slowly for decades.
The emergence of China has shifted the balance of power across the globe and has seen tensions rise politically, economically and militarily in various regions as the CCP has sought to exert influence beyond its own borders.
Brexit has caused its own problems in Europe and the UK, while Iran and North Korea remain aggressive towards the US and its allies.
For Australia – with our recent penchant for talking tough on the world stage – our future and our national security is less clear than ever. We have painted a target on ourselves, whether we like it or not.
Many analysts predict the US will be unable to defeat China in a conventional war. This makes Australia’s historic policy of relying on the US for protection untenable if we continue to stand up to (or provoke, depending on your perspective) China.
Should the CCP turn its military might towards Australia we could still expect support from the United States but we cannot rely on our greatest ally to save us. The ultimate responsibility of preserving the sovereignty of Australia and defending our people and land rests on the shoulders of the Australian government.
At the time of writing, China is believed to be adding 110 silos to its intercontinental nuclear missile capabilities. The United States and all its allies should be deeply concerned by this development as it flies in the face of the CCP’s “minimal deterrence” policy, proving once again that little of what Beijing says can ever be believed.
As such, we must immediately prepare for worst-case scenarios and bolster our defence forces to suit.
Many of the aforementioned analysts also believe war between the US and China to be nigh on inevitable. The actions of the Australian government in the last few years suggest we will side with the Americans in such a conflict, as we well should.
If this were to eventuate, Australia must be able to hold its own in any conflict with China and it must be assumed that US assistance will be either minimal or non-existent under such circumstances. As it stands, most pundits believe Australia would be lucky to last a week at war with China, whose armed forces massively outnumber Australia’s.
While the US has powerful allies, one must also be mindful of a World War 3 scenario in which Russia lines up alongside China against the West. The global devastation of such a conflict is almost unthinkable.
Therefore Australia must rapidly pursue a military expansion to allow greater, smarter and efficient defence at home as well as attack opportunities. This means modern weapons systems, more drone systems, a significant increase in personnel and the introduction of nuclear weapons, primarily as a deterrent.
The moralities and legalities around arming the Australian military with nukes is murky. At face value, it seems a direct violation of the non-proliferation treaty (NFT) of which Australia is a signatory.
In contrast, NATO’s nuclear sharing policy does allow for nuclear weapons to be transferred to non-nuclear states for use in warfare under specific circumstances. The argument is that the NPT is designed to prevent nuclear war while the sharing policy is only to be used once prevention is no longer possible. The US is a NATO member but Australia is not.
While this makes obtaining ready-made nuclear weapons controversial at best and illegal at worst, these is little to stop a nation such as the US (or any other nuclear-armed country) from providing materials and technology to a non-nuclear state. This would allow Australia to build our own nuclear weapons rather that waiting for delivery of complete weapons from a foreign power. Incidentally, France became a nuclear power through a similar agreement with Norway.
While this would contravene our ratification with the NPT, there is little that can be done in retaliation. Some individual nations could impose sanctions on Australia (and China almost certainly would), but there is not much else to worry about. The reality is that any nation that goes nuclear with the backing of the United States will remain a nuclear power.
And of course, Australia would need the support of the US. While they may not provide everything required, their backing would clear the way for Australia to develop nuclear weapons systems in short time.
The US is also in the early stages of modernising it’s nuclear arsenal which presents another opportunity to Australia. As a longer-term option, the two countries could share the costs of the upgrades with Australia receiving weapons in return.
Alternatively, a weapons-sharing arrangement could be used to get a nuclear deterrent system up and running almost immediately. Australia would need to provide the supporting infrastructure but the weapons themselves could be ready to go straight away. The shared warheads could be returned as they are replaced by locally-produced weapons, eliminating any periods of vulnerability.
The fastest method would be to simply buy complete weapons systems from allies such as the US. No doubt a monumentally expensive exercise, it would certainly be the quickest way to put the weapons to work. Any of the other methods would take years – if not decades – to establish. Given the state of the world, we may not have that sort of time up our sleeves.
Regardless of how a nuclear arsenal is secured, once it is then deployment methods must be decided, and this is an area where bigger is better. Deterrent is not achieved by having five nukes in one silo on an army base somewhere. Delivery of nuclear weapons needs to be available on multiple platforms, preferably through all three branches of the military. The weapons need to be dispersed in sufficient numbers than no enemy can be confident of neutralising the threat with a pre-emptive strike.
Australia’s influence is growing on the world stage and if this is the role the nation wants to pursue then it must be able to put its money where its mouth is. In an increasingly volatile world, nuclear deterrence and military expansion is no longer an option: it has become a necessity.