Leaders of the US, Britain and Australia held a press conference on Monday at San Diego Naval Base, United States (Picture: Simon Walker/Number 10 Flickr)

The leaders of the US, Britain and Australia this week plunged the Asia-Pacific region into a new and deadly arms race with China. Western leaders announced a plan that will see Australia buy its first nuclear-powered submarines.

That will make the country one of only seven in the world with such deadly military technology. The submarine agreement is part of what is known as the Aukus pact—a name derived from Australia, the UK and the US.

Under the deal, Australia will buy three US nuclear submarines with the option to buy another two. The attack vessels will be ready for service by 2030. It is Australia’s biggest-ever defence project and is set to cost an astonishing £300 billion.

Nuclear submarines are able to stay submerged for far longer than older diesel-driven vessels, and are therefore harder to detect. That forces the “enemy” to invest in ever more expensive military hardware in response.

The new Aukus deal will also allow US and British submarines to establish a “rotational presence” at a naval base near Perth. This is part of a plan to create a new force to patrol the region. The move comes despite Australia’s claim to be a “non-nuclear nation” and there being a ban on foreign bases on Australian soil.

But Labor prime minister Anthony Albanese could not be happier with the rush to turn the region nuclear. He heralded the deal as a “new dawn for Australia’s defence policy”. And the right wing opposition Liberal Party said it would be “willing to help the government find funding for the subs”.

Not to be outdone, Britain’s arms dealers have got a piece of the action too. Australia will build its own nuclear submarines according to a British plan, and use deadly technology shipped from arms manufacturers here. These are expected to enter service in the early 2040s.

The GMB union wrongly hailed Aukus as a “historic opportunity to boost UK defence manufacturing”—and urged the Tory government to go further to “fully grasp the opportunities”. The GMB, Unite and other unions backed a reactionary motion calling for more military spending at the last TUC union federation conference.

Unions should fight to defend jobs, pay and conditions and for a just transition for defence workers. Their skills should be used in socially-useful sectors—such as renewable energy—not building instruments of death and destruction. But that won’t happen by union leaders lining up banging the Tory government’s flag-waving and warmongering.

Aukus is also planning to bring hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence weapons and cyber warfare to the region.

The dangerous moves are part of the West’s ratcheting up of tensions with China—and specifically, sabre rattling over the future status of Taiwan. In recent months, Joe Biden and his aides have announced they’ll help Japan militarise after decades where arms expenditure was lower than the average for advanced nations.

The US also says it will deploy troops and equipment at more non-US military bases in the Philippines. One China analyst in Australia said the deal was an “expensive mistake”, another said it would be a “time bomb for peace” in the region.

China will likely respond to the West with a huge increase in its own arms expenditure. And, it may push the state into providing the Russians with more military hardware for their war against the West in Ukraine.

After Biden announced the deal, Chinese president Xi Jinping said, “We must fully promote the modernisation of national defence and the armed forces.” And he said China must “build the people’s armed forces into a great wall of steel that effectively safeguards national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

That’s clearly a message to Aukus, but also to workers in China too. It tells them to be ready to make more sacrifices for the military.

The US was keen to announce the deal by insisting that the West was not arming Australia with nuclear weapons. But Biden knows that his move will surely make the Asia-Pacific—and indeed the whole world—a far more dangerous place.

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