A former US navy chief says Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines will help protect trade routes and undersea communication cables against Chinese aggression.
Australia will spend up to $368 billion on the acquisition of eight nuclear-powered submarines over the next three decades through the AUKUS pact, which includes the United States and the United Kingdom.
Former US Navy Secretary Richard Spencer says Western nations need a presence in the area to deter a potential attack.
“If China wants to make a play for power, look at what they are already doing with cutting the cables in Taiwan, they must be able to show that they are in the area,” he told the National Press Club. on Monday.
“There is a great phrase, ‘peace through presence.’ I call it ‘power through deterrence’. You have to be up to date, you have to be on patrol.”
Spencer said collective governments also needed to work with the private sector to ensure the success of the AUKUS pact, which includes technology collaboration in areas such as artificial and quantum intelligence.
He spoke of the buildup of American industry experienced during World War II as precedent, with Henry Ford increasing investment in his manufacturing line so that he could produce one B-24 aircraft every hour at his peak.
“I use it as an example of how to approach government and private practice to get the results we need,” he said.
“It’s time for us to get in shape and get back in the weight room. In my opinion, we don’t have the luxury of time.”
The former secretary also echoed the point made by the Australian defense minister that the acquisition of nuclear submarines was not just about potential warfare.
He said trade and economic ties beyond military investment would help boost regional security.
“Subs are the headlines today and the first steps, but there is more,” Spencer said.
“The army is just an arrow in our quiver. There is a more powerful arrow in the quiver and it is trade”.
Defense Minister Richard Marles said Washington’s purchase of three nuclear submarines before a new AUKUS-class submarine is built and procured was not linked to any war pact with the White House.
“Yes, nuclear-powered submarines obviously have the ability to operate in the context of war, but the main intention here is to make our contribution to the stability of the region,” he said.
“What Australia would or would not do in respect of any future conflict will be a matter for the government of the day to consider at that time.”
Spencer said that while he would expect Australia to side with the United States in any war, it would be a decision made by Canberra at the time.