With a volatile ally in the US and a steadily increasing rivalry with China, the Australian government is reportedly debating whether to produce their own nuclear deterrent. Former prime ministerial adviser Hugh White claims that Australia is no longer protected from an attack, and suggests Canberra needs to think about their defensive capabilities. His new book – ‘How to Defend Australia’ – claims that, without nuclear weapons, China would continue to rampage through the South China Sea to establish dominance.
Australia have historically maintained good relations with both Washington and Beijing – diplomatic with the former, economic with the latter.
However, China’s recent incursions into the South China Sea – including an ongoing skirmish with the Philippines – has put Canberra on high alert.
The premise of the debate rested on one question: “What about nuclear weapons?”
Mr White suggested that without Washington’s support, it will be impossible for Australia to defend itself against Chinese aggression.
He added: “It’s made perfect sense for Australia not to contemplate nuclear weapons for the last 40 years because we’ve enjoyed a very high level of confidence in the American nuclear umbrella.
“But America provided that umbrella because it secured its position as the primary power in Asia.”
Large strategic shifts in favour of Beijing could mean that Canberra will simply be rolled over by their regional rivals – unless they develop a nuclear weapon.
Australia recently planned to build a new port in Darwin intended for the use of American troops.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also pledged millions of dollars of funding to various islands in the region, in order to counter current Chinese influence.
However, more drastic action is needed, according to Mr White.
He wrote: “It is no longer clear that nuclear weapons would never make sense.
“The strategic costs of forgoing nuclear weapons in the new Asia could be much greater than they have been until now.”
He added that conventional weapons will not be enough to defend the country from Chinese invasion.
There is no way Australia can take that risk, especially with limited support from the Trump administration.
China stepped up their quest for control over the South China Sea last month as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gave Chinese fishermen access to their previously exclusive waters.
Yesterday Mr Duterte dared the US to send the entire 7th fleet into the region to confront Chinese forces if it was serious about defending the Philippines.
The maverick leader said: “I have a proposal – If America wants China to leave, and I can’t make them, I want the whole 7th Fleet of the armed forces of the United States of America there.
“When they enter the South China Sea, I will enter. I will ride with the American who goes there first. Then I will tell the Americans, ‘Okay, let’s bomb everything.'”
It is the latest in a series of disputes in the South China Sea between a US ally and China – but Washington is reluctant to get involved in a military confrontation.