Monday, June 24, 2024

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HomeVolume 27Nuclear threats: Territory a sitting duck

Nuclear threats: Territory a sitting duck


There have always been (at least) two views in Alice Springs about the Pine Gap military base: One that it should be shut down because it is making us a nuclear target and the other, that this doesn’t matter because the Yanks do a lot of shopping in local businesses.

And what if the base houses suddenly became empty? It doesn’t bear thinking about. What would that do to real estate speculation, one of the town’s big money spinners that doesn’t actually produce anything?

I remember well how the scenario was described in Alice Springs during the height of anti-base protests in the Cold War.

Russians: “Your reckon we’re bluffing? Cop this.”

Bang goes Pine Gap.

Americans: “We can do this too, you know!”

Bang goes (for example) the Russian base in Nokra, Ethiopia.

At that point this happens:

USA to Russians or Russians to USA: “Now we’ve made our point.”

USA to Russians or Russians to USA: “Yep. Let’s talk.”

Very neat. Neither of the two countries has suffered any damage on its soil while Alice Springs and Nokra are nuclear wastelands.

In the current Quarterly essay “Sleepwalk to War” Hugh White speculates that the present Ukraine crisis, and a likely one brewing in Taiwan, give this scenario new currency.

The emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, and principal author of Australia’s Defence White Paper 2000, says the Russians call the concept “escalate to de-escalate”.

He examines how it could apply to the growing tension about Taiwan, with superpower China now also having its thumb on a nuclear button.

“The idea is to launch one or two nuclear weapons, with the aim of showing your adversary that you are willing to fight a nuclear war, and thereby convince them to back off,” writes Prof White.

“[Chinese leaders] might convince themselves that they could launch a nuclear attack on a US aircraft carrier or on the big US military base on Guam, and then deter a US nuclear retaliatory strike by threatening counter-retaliation against US cities.”

In terms of impactful targets, while staying away from the US mainland, it would only be a small step from Guam to the Territory. Joining Pine Gap and Alice Springs in the target stakes, Darwin is blithely allowing itself to become a major staging area for the American military: regularly “rotating” boots on the ground, training exercises at the edge of Kakadu, aircraft movements, a massive fuel depot for US military use, and so on.

“Exercise Kakadu this year is set to be the biggest yet with as many as 19 vessels, 34 aircraft and more than 3000 personnel from 25 countries expected,” touts Defence News.

And no questions asked by mainstream media. Like, “What’s in it for us?”

Peter Dutton, as former Defence Minister, stated it would be “inconceivable” that Australia would not support the US in an action over Taiwan. This put us squarely in the frame. As Opposition leader, he later back-pedalled, saying Australia would do what’s in its best interest – whatever that may be.

That question is usually answered in terms of the money and jobs the military buildup brings, and, of course, Australia’s need for the protection offered by our great and powerful ally. But Australians and their governments need to get real about the likelihood of American military support if we’re attacked.

That would entirely depend on whether it suited their interests – they are not bound by anything else.

The Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty (ANZUS), requires each nation to “consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened in the Pacific” and “act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes” (Wikipedia).

When the chips are down we are assured of no more than consultation. ANZUS does not require the USA to fight for us, unlike it is obliged as the superpower in NATO, in which Australia has no part.

And so, with the military buildup in Darwin, it is joining The Alice as a sitting duck.

Photo at top: Pitch Black, Australian Airforce, LACW Emma Schwenke.


  1. Never mind Pine Gap. The government, the banks, the multinationals etc, etc are doing their best to drain the pond. So there is no where else for the ducks to go shortly, even if they all fly off.

  2. Nothing more than fear-mongering. If we ever reach that level of confrontation life will be very different no matter where we live.
    We have plenty more to worry about than the possibility of a nuclear war.
    The last two and a half years should have given us enough to think about how quickly things can change and the next years or even decade will be a definite eye opener to the still asleep masses.
    The signs are on the wall and a nuclear confrontation scenario only serves a small group of people.

  3. Dying by high levels of radiation is faster and less painful than dying slowing of poor health, cold and near starvation as a lot of Australians living in poverty are doing now.

  4. It’s what I tell my friends and colleagues in Europe: We will be the last to be told but probably the first to experience a nuclear war.
    The first thing to do is to take out the eyes and ears of your opponent.
    If Taiwan eventually attracts full on military confrontation, then the Chinese will take out Pine Gap. USA will never come to the aid of Australia unless the place is full of GIs (always a possibility). Meanwhile the world economy could have already collapsed. It’s a fun time.

  5. If China or anyone else wanted Pine Gap out of the picture, they’d first go for cyberattacks and second for a conventional warhead ICBM.
    No need to start a nuclear war just to knock out a spy base.
    The latter scenario obviously wouldn’t be great news for anyone working at Pine Gap that day, but at least the damage to Alice and surrounds would be minimal.

  6. China is not the problem. We are.
    We are allowing the United States and the United Kingdom to dictate our future by allowing them to use us for their own purposes.
    Do you think the USA and UK care about Australia? Think again.
    We are just a strategic outpost that they think will limit the harm to themselves. We are fodder for their picking.

  7. I quoted multiple expert analysts on this issue in two articles back in November 2020, here and here. None of them treated the prospect as ‘fear-mongering’, @Peter, nor with @Morgan’s equanimity.
    The issue has been raised again by the ANU’s Paul Dibb in recent weeks. His quotes here include this:
    ‘We need to plan on the basis that Pine Gap continues to be a nuclear target, and not only for Russia. If China attacks Taiwan, Pine Gap is likely to be heavily involved. We need to remember that Pine Gap is a fundamentally important element in US war fighting and deterrence of conflict.’
    And: ‘Australia needs to understand what the implications of that are for Alice Springs, a town of 32,000 people just 18 kilometres from the base. It has long been supposed that major Australian cities—such as Sydney and Melbourne—wouldn’t be targeted, Dibb says.’
    This warning about the risks for Alice Springs is included in the first of his five policy recommendations to government arising from his recent report on ‘The geopolitical implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.’

  8. Simple really. As the best cadence says:-
    Tell me why, Tell me why, a soldier has to die.
    Does it matter on which side these poor souls may be!
    No, we are all people.


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