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Reader ripostes: Uranium and the alliance

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This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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16 November 2011 15:02


This post is part of the Selling Australian uranium to India debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Below, Richard Broinowski on selling uranium to India, but first Cam Hawker on the US-Australia relationship:

A quick response to Andrew's piece on the decision to host US Marines in Darwin. Andrew questions if this represents 'the moment where Australia fundamentally cast its lot in with the US'. I would suggest that this moment occurred long ago. Not, as Andrew suggests, with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, but with the decision to host the Joint Facilities such as Pine Gap, and the now defunct establishment at Nurrungar. I am referring particularly to those assets that monitor the early detection of ICBM launches and nuclear detonations.

These tracking stations form an integral part of America's war-fighting capability, without them Washington would be flying blind, vulnerable to nuclear attack. They are online now. In the advent of a war between the US and China, or any other nuclear power for that matter, Australia would automatically find itself a belligerent. I suspect there would be little opportunity to either consult with Washington on how those facilities were used, or with Beijing on how our actions should be interpreted.

The US would quite justifiably regard the facilities as part of their arsenal of strategic assets and use them accordingly. Beijing, would understandably regard them as enemy instillations. This is not to suggest the facilities would automatically become targets. However, there cannot be much doubt as to Beijing’s probable attitude towards the facilities' host. China is well aware of this dynamic, arguably more so than we are because there is remarkably little discussion of this as a determinant of strategic policy in this country.

We have been on the ride that Andrew refers to for some time; it just got a little faster.

Richard Broinowski:

If only selling Australian uranium to India were as clear-eyed and simple a solution to bilateral relations as Rory Medcalf suggests. The actual situation is a lot more complex. First he asserts that there is no conspiracy (except in the minds of the 'left') between President Obama's visit and Prime Minister Gillard's announcement. According to The Australian on 16 November, however, Gillard's decision came after talks with the Obama Administration, which viewed the ban as a roadblock to greater engagement between Washington and New Delhi. It is likely that the 'talks' were a quiet word Obama had with Gillard in the margins of APEC in Hawaii. Her announcement is consistent with her predisposition to follow Washington's lead on every aspect of foreign policy.

Second, like many advocates of uranium sales to India, Medcalf suggests that this would instill confidence and allow the full bilateral relationship to flourish. This is to concur with Indian propaganda, but it is far from the truth. Poor relations and missed opportunities to change things began with mutual dislike when Australia refused India's invitation to join the non-aligned movement in the late 1940s, and consolidated in mutual distrust between Menzies and Nehru in the 1950s. Ever since, we have actively tended to marginalise India in regional forums, including keeping it out of APEC. India's cultural disdain for Australia runs deep, and it is going to take much more than selling them uranium to change that.

Third, Medcalf argues that selling India uranium will reinforce our foreign policy, security and economic interests. On the contrary, it will enhance India's ambitious nuclear weapons program, which far from being 'small', is driven by an urgent timetable for multiple nukes for land, sea and air delivery platforms to match China's. Our uranium, even if confined to fuel India's civil reactors, will free up other reserves for use in its weapons program and increase an arms race in the unstable South Asian region, and between India and China.

Until Gillard's announcement, Australia maintained a rule, conceived by Mr Justice Fox in 1975 and endorsed by successive Liberal and Labor governments, that we would not sell uranium to non-signatories to the NPT. Yielding to commercial pressure, our bilateral safeguards attaching to uranium sales were gradually attenuated over the years, but not this cardinal principle. Now it is likely to be abolished, providing a precedent for many signatories to the NPT to question their own adherence to the Treaty. If India can get away with all the benefits of not joining, why can't they walk away from it and pursue their own? Why, China will ask, did they have to sign the NPT if India does not? And what will be our response to Pakistan?

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