AUKUS – it’s all very well expressing our moral repugnance but that won’t halt China’s bullying

“AUKUS  logic  is  morally  repugnant,  and NZ  must  resist  it”  ran the  headline  over a leader- page  feature  in the  Dominion-Post recently.

In  the article beneath that advice, Thomas  Nash, co-director of the independent  think-tank, New Zealand Alternative,  argued the  AUKUS  alliance  between Australia, the  United Kingdom  and the United  States has  triggered a  dangerous line  in commentary  questioning this country’s nuclear-free  status.

Nash  says  many of the opinion writers appear to prioritise  a  militarist  worldview  but  he  contends if we  are to  enjoy a  peaceful  future, we should  do the  exact  opposite  “and  forge closer  relations  that  share our  anti-nuclear  values”.

NZ should resist  pressure to  fall  into line with  the military  power  of the  US, the  UK and  Australia.

Instead of focusing  our  diplomatic  and  security  efforts on the  Five  Eyes, he argues, we should strengthen our  relationships  in Asean  countries, Latin America,  and in our neighbouring nuclear-free Pacific  Islands.

Among  those  who  might  not  agree  with  Nash  are  the  NZ  cricketers  who stepped  away  from a  potential terrorist  threat in Pakistan, just weeks ago, thanks  to  a  timely warning through  a  Five Eyes  channel.

That incident  underlined  how  valuable it is  for   NZ  to  belong  to that particular   arrangement and  receive critical  intelligence  when it discloses threats  to New Zealanders’ security.

But it’s hard  to believe NZ  would  get more  sustenance  in a  crisis  from “Asean  countries, Latin  America,  or neighbouring nuclear-free  Pacific  Islands”.

In  not  being invited to even consider  membership  of  AUKUS,  NZ might  have  been  written  off, not  just by  the  US,  but by the  countries  which it  fought alongside  in the world wars  of  last  century.

NZ  indeed  is  missing  out  on a   guarantee  of  security,  which  given the limited  firepower  of  its  armed  forces  some would suggest leaves it  without  any protection.

Additionally  it  is  accepting  being  locked out from  the agreement  of  the  three  countries   to  share  their  most sensitive  technology.  As The Economist noted in  an editorial last week:

“The  three  countries’  co-operation promises to  embrace  cyber  capabilities, artificial  intelligence,  quantum  computing  and  more besides”.

The  journal  argues AUKUS’  true  significance  is  as

“… a step towards a new balance  of  power  in the Pacific….It  is  a  decades long commitment  and a  deep  one”.

The  Economist  notes  that,  as  an arms  deal,  AUKUS  is  big.

“At  least   eight  nuclear  submarines  suggests  a  contract  value in  the tens of  billions  of  dollars.  As  a  strategic  shift  it  is  even  bigger. The  pact is  America’s most  dramatic  and  determined  move  yet to  counter what  it  and others in the  Indo-Pacific  region  see as a growing  threat from  China.”

As  Point  of  Order  noted  earlier  this  week, no-one  in  Wellington yet grasps the full impact of the AUKUS deal.

There are warning signs ahead.  China has already condemned the submarine pact and says Australia is reinventing the old cold war. Beijing never stands still and analysts understand the Chinese government is already looking at ways to make life even more difficult in the Indo-Pacific.

It might use NZ’s well-known anti-nuclear stance and attempt to try and drive a wedge between NZ and Australia – and the US and UK.  This will make life difficult to Cabinet ministers who have only recently adjusted to the new realities of Chinese tactics in the region.

Trade may be questioned. China may step up its activities in the South Pacific.

Interestingly,  among Asean  countries, the Philippines  and  Singapore   openly welcomed  AUKUS. As  one  hard-nosed Singaporean strategist  puts it,  anything  that maintains a balance of power  in the  region is desirable.

Vietnam  is  likely  to approve, too, but  more  quietly.

Another   country  which  was  quick  to endorse  AUKUS  is  Taiwan,  which  faces  near-constant bullying from China.  Just  this  past week  it has been   subjected  to  constant incursions  into  its  airspace by  Chinese military  jets.

Against a  China  in  that  mood,     a  country   displaying  “moral repugnance” doesn’t  cut  much ice.

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