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US reveals plans to put nukes in your neighbourhood

The US would redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Asia-Pacific and ask regional allies to host nuclear weapons in plans added to the draft Pentagon budget.

Nuclear weapons would be positioned on US and voluntary allied bases as a deterrent against North Korea, Iran and reassure allies against any belligerent or rogue nation in the Asia-Pacific.

The request from the House Armed Services Committee was added to the 2013 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) yesterday and is expected to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives next week.

If the measure survives in the final version of the NDAA, and is not vetoed by President Barack Obama, then formal plans and costings will drafted by the Pentagon for consideration after the 2012 election.

The measure does not address whether Australia would be asked to host nuclear weapons or allow vessels with nuclear weapons to dock. PACOM, the US Pacific command, has placed great importance on the new US Marine training facility in Darwin, and all regional bilateral agreements will be examined as part of the initial report.

Representative Trent Franks says the measure “does not force our nuclear weapons on anyone. It just asks if our alliances would be strengthened with the use of nuclear weapons in the region. If China is concerned about our presence in the region it is very simple they can stop supporting North Korea and get tough on the Kim Jong-un administration.

They [China] are not just financing North Korea, they’re directly supporting North Korea’s nuclear program. Consequently it has come time for us as a nation to look to our deterrent and look to our allies to make sure we’re doing everything necessary to defend ourselves against any future belligerence or future threats from North Korea.”

The Democrat minority unsuccessfully tried to press for nuclear reduction. Representative Adam Smith said the US already had a robust presence in the Pacific. “Putting into legislation the notion that it would be helpful to the region to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Asian region is just completely wrong,” he said. “If anything that will ramp up the temperature and create a greater likelihood of problems in the region not less.”

It has been 21 years since the US last deployed tactical nuclear weapons to Asia, a long-time HASC staff member told Crikey.

The US Navy already has “fearsome” Ohio-class submarines on permanent patrol in the Pacific as well as cruisers and destroyers with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System protecting the US west coast.

A similar missile defence shield for the US east coast is funded in the draft NDAA, ostensibly in case of a nuclear threat from Iran. Those plans were mocked in the US media earlier this week as the rebirth of the unsuccessful Star Wars program.

War drum rhetoric was ramped up in recent months with debate dominated by the Republican presidential nomination process. Former candidate Rick Santorum made pre-emptive strikes against Iran a key part of his campaign platform. Likely nominee Mitt Romney said Obama’s diplomacy had “emboldened” North Korea and he has expressed concern about China’s military. Almost all candidates, except Ron Paul, sought to increase national defence spending.

Republican legislators have adopted the similar concerns. Despite an automatic $500 billion cut to the Pentagon budget scheduled to take effect at the beginning of 2013 unless savings targets are met, the House version of the draft NDAA instead increases military spending.

This version of the NDAA also includes spending on new warfare technology like pain rays and active denial systems designed for use against civilian populations. Social issues were also touched on, with Republicans banning gay troops from marrying on base facilities and protecting anti-gay religious speech in the military workplace.

The annual NDAA has played a key role in the brinksmanship politics in Congress in recent years, and is likely to feature heavily in the presidential campaign.

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  • 1
    Posted Friday, 11 May 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The United States should not get any encouragement from Australia - for our sakes, and for theirs.

  • 2
    Malcolm Davis
    Posted Friday, 11 May 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    The US Military does not deploy tactical nuclear weapons on its ships or submarines anymore. They maintain a small stockpile in NATO countries to reinforce Extended Deterrence for NATO states, and they have disassembled warheads in stockpile in the US from Tomahawk cruise missiles.

    I think its extremely unlikely that the US would approach Canberra to deploy tactical nukes. What would be the point? Nuclear war at sea is no longer necessary given advances in conventional antiship missiles, and it seems that short of the North Koreans invading South Korea, the US will not get involved in another land war in Asia. Even in that contingency, there would be no need for tactical nuclear weapons. The US strategic nuclear deterrent would provide Extended Nuclear Deterrence to South Korea and Japan (as well as Australia), but I don’t see the Obama Administration - focused on the elimination of all nuclear weapons - agreeing to re-introduce tactical nuclear weapons into the field. Its not even a strong consideration for Middle Eastern states facing the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran.

    In any case, the Americans are not stupid. They know it would be political suicide for any Australian government to agree to the deployment of US nuclear forces on Australian soil, and the request will not be made. Australia is too much of an important strategic ally to treat with such disdain.

    This is an atomic storm in a tea cup!

    Dr. Malcolm Davis
    Gold Coast, Australia

  • 3
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Friday, 11 May 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Malcolm Davis, your penultimate paragraph contained three sentences and three seriously contestable assertions. Seventy years ago it was said of Americans that they were “overpaid, over sexed and over here”, an easily repeatable combination that might show them up to be, in Australian eyes, 1) stupid, 2) purveyors of political suicide, and 3) easily able to treat an ally with disdain.
    Mind you, if Australia allows the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to be developed as a top secret American airbase off-limits even to Australians, you’d have to wonder if there is any limit to our grovel.

  • 4
    Malcolm Davis
    Posted Friday, 11 May 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Hugh, traditional Australian attitudes to the US aside, I can assure you that though many US politicians are in fact ‘stupid’ the professional national security community in Washington are highly professional and intelligent people. We talk with them all the time within government and there is a strong debate on this issues at all level. They know full well that the Australian people would not accept tactical nukes on our soil, nor would they accept them on US ships in our ports (accepting that during the Cold War the US Navy never confirmed nor denied that their ships had tactical nuclear weapons on board as a matter of policy, and we went along with that stance).

    The US values us highly as a key ally, especially now in a far more uncertain and unpredictable security environment that is beginning to unfold. They are also aware that there is a degree of fragility in the alliance that could easily fracture it. Our trade relations with China is just one pressure on the US-Australia strategic relationship and to ignore Australian interests would run the risk of driving a future Australian government into a closer relationship with Beijing - something the US is keen to avoid.

    So the nuclear question - if it were to arise - will be handled with kid gloves, and our needs and interests will certainly not be ignored. In any case, even if the US were to ever consider re-introducing tactical nuclear weapons into the region, which I think is highly unlikely, they are much more likely to be deployed in Hawaii rather than on foreign territory - no matter what some Republican congressmen would like.

    The US are realists - they will do what is in their interests, and its not in their interests to alienate a key strategic ally.

    Malcolm

  • 5
    Bohemian
    Posted Friday, 11 May 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    As a deterrent to recalcitrant regional allies more likely.

  • 6
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Friday, 11 May 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Have the Americans indicated to the Australian Government who our current enemies are?

  • 7
    Harley Dennett
    Posted Friday, 11 May 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Malcolm, I think willful stunts like this by the Republican legislators show they’re perfectly willing to alienate strategic allies in an election year.

    The adults should put a stop to this after the election, but it does show how little US legislators know about Australian values despite the many reciprocal goodwill visits and military ties under the banner of ANZUS.

    If it sounds bad for us, think how Japan would feel.

  • 8
    Malcolm Davis
    Posted Saturday, 12 May 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    Harley,

    Agree with your points. I think the US political leadership - particularly some in Congress - have very different agendas to the national security community - the key decision makers in DoD, State, etc. I really don’t see this going very far, and I seriously doubt that Obama will support any resolution that would go forward seeking to reintroduce tactical nukes back into Asia. Such a move would not only undermine his credibility in terms of nuclear disarmament, but also run counter to US security interests because it would justify other states like China, Russia and North Korea expanding their nuclear capabilities (not that anyone can influence North Korea to not expand its capabilities).

    Malcolm

  • 9
    Greg Chapman
    Posted Saturday, 12 May 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    The yanks are already here, Malcolm - without asking any of the civilian population of Australia - let alone Darwin - if we wanted them here. A US marine base ( that Brigadier-G Michael Krause insists is NOT a base) is being mooted now. How do we know whether their ships are nuclear-powered or armed if they won’t tell us? Ask the people of Fremantle how they feel about this issue. Ask the Australian government why we have to have a nuclear waste dump in the NT (apart from the fact that it’s the only Australian state-level jurisdiction that ‘they can’ impose such atrocities on) if it’s not to house American and French nuclear waste. Ask the Australian and US governments why Bradshaw and Delamere training areas in the NT are being expanded ‘in the national interest’ if our budget and the yanks’ budget says that defence expenditure will be dramatically cut. B-G Krause told a public meeting in Darwin recently that Darwin can only support 1,000 US troops - so where will the other 1,500 go? There are too many silences along with the violences. While you appear to have inside knowledge that is supposed to appease us, those of us in the front-line so to speak are being fed on bullshit and kept in the dark.

  • 10
    Malcolm Davis
    Posted Saturday, 12 May 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Greg,

    I think having the US Marines use Australian training facilities is a different order of magnitude to suddenly talking about basing nukes on Australian soil. I certainly have no problem with the notion of US forces training in Australia alongside ADF units - noting that the Australian Government has also discussed the possibility of joint training with China and Indonesia. So its not like there is some secret conspiracy to turn Australia into a fortress state against a rising China.

    In terms of ships being nuclear powered - only their subs are nuclear powered these days, and the US does not place nuclear weapons on board its surface ships or its attack submarines. Nor would they base a ballistic missile submarine (which would have nuclear weapons on board) into Freemantle (once again - no reason to, given that the US Navy boomers operate quite happily out of Bangor, Washington State and will continue to do so).

    I can’t answer your query about nuclear waste dumps. Frankly, I’m not happy with the notion of us taking other countries nuclear waste either.

    I don’t think there is any mystery about the training areas - it is to accommodate not only the ADF’s needs, but also those of our allies, and we do do a lot of training with key allies in various exercises here in Australia throughout the year. To me, that’s not a bad thing, but helps engage with key partners and strengthens our mutual security. Furthermore, as noted above, the Minister of Defence has even suggested China and Indonesia could join Australia and the US on some of these exercises, so once again, its a good example of soft-power promoting diplomatic engagement.

    I guess I do have a different perspective on these issues having spent a fair bit of time dealing with them in my career. I don’t think I’m trying to ‘appease you’ at all - I’m simply stating my perspective, which is to strongly support a continued US-Australian strategic relationship and all that goes with that. In this, I strongly support current government policy.

    But to get back to the original question - I think its a mistake to equate our expansion of military ties with the US through expanding training and forward basing opportunities, with some notion that we’ll see US nuclear weapons on Australian soil. Of course, the future could surprise us - we could get a more conservative Republican President, and competition with China could continue to grow, and so the tactical nuclear question could be back on the agenda. But somehow I doubt it will happen soon. I don’t see a President Romney going down this path, for instance, and I know the US military would fight such a move for many of the reasons I’ve already explained.

    One final point - I think the very concept of ‘Tactical Nuclear Weapons’ are outdated. Tactical implies non-strategic - that is they are weapons to be used at the tactical level of warfare - battles - to achieve strategic goals - prevent defeat. In the Cold War this was defeating a Warsaw Pact invasion of NATO when it was clear NATO conventional forces could not defeat a much larger adversary, under NATO’s gradual escalation doctrine. The world though has changed radically since the mid 1980s. Precision conventional weapons have far greater utility than even the smallest tactical nuclear weapons, and Deterrence remains valid through a combination of the implied threat of strategic nuclear forces and active use of missile defence. I’m not convinced tactical nukes, designed to be employed in a battlefield role, have much utility these days. Why would the US go down that path, when the strategic ‘effect’ can be much more easily be achieved with far less drastic consequences through precision conventional strike capabilities combined with modern deterrence? I just don’t see it happening.

  • 11
    AR
    Posted Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Nice bait-&-switch strategy going on with Darwin non-base. While some will fulminate and others welcome our Alien Overlords, the outcome is irrelevant but will occupy most attention.
    What they really want is the Cocos Islands - no population worth a spit, no publicity and NO OZ oversight.
    Just as the UK deported the (imported) population of Diego Garcia and handed over its territory to the Hegemon, so we will also kow-tow.
    That knocking sound is not a polite request for entry to the brothels of Darwin but politicians’ foreheads on the floor in Canberra.

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