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Former US Navy secretary calls Australia the “tip of the spear” against China
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Nov 30 2022

Australian Sea Hawk helicopter lands on guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins in the South China Sea

In comments to the Australian newspaper published yesterday, Richard Spencer, a former US Navy secretary, described Australia as the “tip of the spear” of the US-led confrontation with China. He called for greater integration of Australian personnel into the US navy’s key strike capabilities. These statements, which were prominently featured by the Murdoch-owned publication, form part of an increasingly feverish discussion on the need to accelerate Australia’s militarisation as the US intensifies plans for a war against China. Each week current and former political and military leaders insist on the need for northern Australia to be placed on a war footing, as they emphasise the critical role of the Pacific in the catastrophic conflict they are preparing. Spencer was US Navy secretary under Trump from 2017 to 2019. He undoubtedly retains connections to the military-intelligence apparatus and currently works for Bondi Partners, a strategic advisory firm founded by Joe Hockey, former Australian ambassador to the US. Spencer was speaking specifically on the plans for Australia to establish a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines under last year’s AUKUS pact with Britain and the US. He decried the prospect of a delayed acquisition of the subs, which would not be ready until the 2040s if they were to be built from scratch in Australia. Spencer stated:

I believe it is difficult to say, we are your ally and we are here to support you, when you are sitting at the tip of the spear but it’s going to be 10 years until we deliver the critical piece of gear you need.

Spencer proposed placing Australian naval personnel on the US fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. The subs would be based or placed on an “extended deployment” in Australia and would be “patrolling specific Australian threat waters.” The former US official was not suggesting a token deployment of a handful of Australian personnel. Instead, according to the Australian:

Spencer said it was vital Australians started training soon on Virginia-class submarines with a view to reaching 50% Australian and 50% US crews as soon as possible.

The Australian article was timed to coincide with a week-long visit to Western Australia by the USS Mississippi, part of the US nuclear submarine fleet. Its stopover, purportedly to provide the crew with rest, has been used to intensify discussion on the urgency of Australia acquiring its own fleet. The Australian cited other possible “solutions” to the submarine time-lag, stating:

The most likely interim options would be acquisition of several US Virginia-Class nuclear submarines off the production lines in the US as soon as possible.

“Another option” was “to provide a home base for several US Navy Virginia-class submarines in Perth, a move that would anger China and represent a quantum leap in naval co-operation between Australia and the US. The government is building a dry dock facility in Henderson, near Perth, which will be able to service large naval vessels including nuclear submarines. The paper observed:

China last week elevated its opposition to the AUKUS pact, calling it a threat to Australia’s relationship with China and a danger to world peace.

Next month, the Labor government’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles will travel to Washington for annual AUSMIN talks with the Biden administration. The question of the nuclear submarines will clearly be a key item on the agenda. A task force examining the options for acquiring nuclear submarines is due to report to the Labor government in March. In the same month, the government is due to receive a report from a review into military capabilities being conducted by former Defence Minister Stephen Smith and ex-Defence Force chief Angus Houston. Officially, the review is being undertaken in response to “deteriorating regional security.” Marles and other government leaders have declared the need to vastly expand Australian military capabilities. An interim report from the review was provided to the government last week. It was not publicly released, but the Australian’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, who has extensive ties to the military-intelligence establishment, indicated some of its content. Sheridan wrote:

The review will call for a significant expansion, and perhaps hardening, of our northern air force bases. It will also call for the development of missile defences around some of them. This will be accompanied by a recommendation for a big investment in missiles and drones. In the event of a clash between the US and China, Australia will furnish a dozen high-priority targets for Chinese attack. These targets will include airforce and other military bases in northern Australia and the US Pine Gap spying and military coordination facility in the centre of the country.

The US and its allies frequently establish missile systems described as “defensive” when in fact their purpose is to conduct offensive operations. Missile systems in northern Australia, for instance, would be able to strike far into the Pacific. This would be in line with the role that Australia is to play in a war with China as the staging ground for a naval blockade of key shipping lanes upon which Beijing heavily relies and as a “southern anchor” for offensive operations throughout the region. Sheridan said:

The review will also advocate a fourth combat squadron of Joint Strike Fighter F-35s. If we get this extra squadron, and maybe some extra training F-35s, and keep our Super Hornets and Growlers in service as we should, this would take us over the magic 100 fast-jet figure.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation revealed last month that US B-52 bombers are to be stationed in northern Australia. The plans, not publicly announced, are well underway, with a major expansion of airforce infrastructure and fuelling facilities. The B-52s are nuclear-capable. It is US policy not to reveal which of its nuclear-capable assets are carrying a nuclear payload at any given time. That means that Australia’s status as a nuclear-free power effectively has been overturned.

In a further indication of the lockstep march of the Labor government behind the US confrontation with China, the Australian reported today that it is considering measures to block Chinese investment from the country’s critical minerals sector. Such actions, already undertaken by Canada, would be carried out on the basis of “national security,” not economic considerations, the newspaper stated. This aligns with US and allied fears over China’s dominance of the processing of rare earths and critical minerals, which are crucial to nearly all modern technologies. As in the period before WW1 & WW2, steps are being taken to “decouple” supply chains and establish control over key economic areas in preparation for conflict. The vast expenditure on the military build-up occurs amid the greatest cost-of-living crisis in decades. The Labor government abandoned its May election campaign lies about a “better future” and has since declared the need for working people to make “sacrifices,” including through real wage cuts and austerity measures that further cut health and other essential social services. As always, the drive to war abroad goes hand-in-hand with war against the working class at home.

NATO summit vows to continue troop surge to Russia’s borders
Andre Damon, WSWS, Nov 30 2022

A graphic created by NATO showing the military alliance’s “eastern flank.”

NATO foreign ministers met in Bucharest on Tuesday with representatives of the prospective NATO members Ukraine, Finland and Sweden to discuss a further expansion of the NATO war with Russia in Ukraine and the stationing of more troops on Russia’s Western borders. Stoltenberg said at the start of the meeting:

In response to Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, we are raising the readiness of our troops, and we have doubled the number of NATO battlegroups from four to eight. Including one here in Romania, led by France. We have increased our presence on the ground. We have more presence in the air. Just last week, NATO Allies conducted an exercise to test air and missile defenses in Romania. Involving Spanish, Turkish and US aircraft, as well as French jets flying from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Demonstrating how NATO Allies operate together and are ready to defend every inch, but also the airspace above NATO Allies.

The “airspace above NATO Allies” is rapidly expanding, with Stoltenberg all but treating Finland and Sweden as members of NATO. Stoltenberg doubled down on NATO’s involvement in the war with Russia, saying:

Their membership of NATO is a game-changer for the European security architecture. It will make them safer, our Alliance stronger and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. So our message from Bucharest is that NATO will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. We will not back down.

Behind the scenes, these general pledges of expanded NATO involvement in the war are being filled out with concrete discussions to send US fighter jets, long-range missiles, and attack drones into the warzone. In an article that appeared in Bloomberg, former SACEUR Adm (Retd) Stavridis declared:

The West’s best option will be to significantly increase its assistance to Ukraine on the air war side of the conflict. Leaders in NATO capitals are also revisiting an idea that was discarded in the early days of the war: providing either MiG-29 Soviet-era fighters (the Poles have offered to transfer them to the Ukrainians) or even US surplus F-16s, a simple-to-learn multi-role fighter.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Latvian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that NATO should “allow” Ukraine to strike targets inside of Russia, saying:

We should allow Ukrainians to use weapons to target missile sites or air fields from where those operations are being launched. We should not fear the response from Russia.

Ahead of the meeting, Landsbergis tweeted:

My message to fellow foreign ministers at today’s NATO meeting is simple: Keep calm and give tanks.

Such calls were closely coordinated with demands by Ukrainian officials. Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted:

No eloquent speech will say more than concrete action. ‘Patriot’, ‘F-16’, or ‘Leopard’ (German main battle tank) for Ukraine.

A group of US senators have meanwhile issued a letter calling for the United States to provide lethal armed attack drones to Ukraine, the so-called “Grey Eagle,” which they praised for its “lethality.” They note most importantly that armed Unmanned Aerial Systems could find and attack Russian warships in the Black Sea. They declare:

The MQ-1C, along with already provided long-range fires capabilities, provides Ukraine additional lethality needed to eject Russian forces and regain occupied territory.

The signatories include Joe Manchin, a key Biden ally in the Senate, and Trump ally Lindsay Graham. In an indication of the degree of tension surrounding the conflict, this week Russia canceled nuclear talks with the US at the last minute. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said:

We are sending signals to the Americans that their line of escalation and ever deeper involvement in this conflict is fraught with dire consequences. The risks are growing.

As the US intervenes ever more directly in the conflict, its military strategists are expressing their aims all the more bluntly. In an essay entitled “US Aid to Ukraine: An Investment Whose Benefits Greatly Exceed its Cost,” veteran US geostrategist Anthony Cordesman acknowledges:

The war in Ukraine has become the equivalent of a proxy war with Russia. The US has already obtained major strategic benefits from aiding the Ukraine. Russia is already paying far more of its GNP and economy to fight the war in the Ukraine than the US and its partners, and has suffered massive losses of weapons, war reserves, and military personnel.

While Cordesman’s essay treats the deaths of Russian troops and the devastation of the Russian economy as a benefit, it does not anywhere factor in the cost in Ukrainian lives or the suffering inflicted on the Ukrainian population by the war. Even as the US and NATO continue to pour weapons in to Eastern Europe, Russia has responded with weeks of strikes on Ukraine’s power and water infrastructure, leaving millions of people, including much of the capital of Kiev, without power in the freezing temperatures.

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