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AUKUS is Setting up Australia to be a US Auxiliary in War Over Taiwan

Until now, arguably the two moments of greatest intimacy in the history of the Australian-American alliance both came in the 1960s.

The first was July 1966 when prime minister Harold Holt declared in the White House Rose Garden that Australia would be “all the way” with LBJ in Vietnam.

Harold Holt and Lyndon Johnson, 1966.  LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

The second was Johnson’s visit here in October that same year – the first time a serving US president had set foot on Australian soil and a month before the federal election. Holt won it in a landslide.

But the forthcoming announcement in San Diego, with the prime minister alongside President Biden and British prime minister Rishi Sunak at a US naval facility, will likely surpass both.

The language of intimacy, fealty and brotherhood will reach altogether new heights.

And it is a rhetoric that will populate the speeches over the next 30 years at least.

In the end, Australian leaders had very little to show for giving freely to the cause in Vietnam. While there was a national interest case for keeping the US engaged militarily in the region, the much hoped for access to senior decision-making in Washington did not eventuate. Australians were not consulted about any of the major decisions pertaining to the end of the war or the peace.

Once the misty haze lifted from the warmth of the rhetoric Australia had to forge its own path in Asia.

But AUKUS is a multi-generational commitment. Its domestic political appeal in the US, UK and here is obvious.

Australia believes it has gained the ultimate reassurance of its great ally, America acquires even more of a credible military base in Asia and Britain’s post-Brexit global pretensions are massaged.

Before the full detail is announced, however, only further questions may be posed.

The following are not yet clear.

Precisely when will Australia gain an operational submarine fleet? For marketing purposes it will be important that the Albanese government can show at least a joint Australian skipper of a nuclear-powered submarine as soon as possible.

Do we assume China will keep financing our acquisition of these submarines by importing more and more Australian resources and other exports?

What do Donald Trump, Ron De Santis, Mike Pompeo, the sitting Vice President Kamala Harris and other presidential candidates for 2024 think of the deal?

Does Indonesia now seek to acquire a similar submarine capability and from where would it source it?

To date, the only concrete result of AUKUS is the greater integration of US and Australian forces in joint war planning.

The prime minister and defence minister are absolute in their declarations of Australian operational control of the nuclear-powered submarines. But in Washington the expectations are of Canberra as the loyal auxiliary in a war over Taiwan to defend US primacy: and this is precisely what AUKUS is setting up Australia to do.

Yet Mr Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong have long emphasised their preference for the preservation of the status quo on Taiwan.

Will the declarations in San Diego repeat that position?

Or will strategic ambiguity steadily drop away into the mists?

Source: The Australian Financial Review