Nuclear Submarines

By Rev Dr Chris Walker


The Australian government has made a surprise announcement that we are joining an alliance with the USA and the UK and will spend over 90 billion dollars on nuclear submarines. The reason for this we are told is the threat of China. I am appalled by this decision for a number of reasons which I will outline and will also raise several questions.

Australia in my view has unfortunately always followed the military policies of the UK and the USA. In the last sixty years this has resulted in joining in the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  All of these were unjust wars that resulted in the death of thousands of people and the devastation of the land. They achieved almost nothing positive. What was positive was the humanitarian assistance. The Vietnamese finally won the war in their country and the Taliban finally won in Afghanistan. Australia now has trading relations with Vietnam and a Vietnamese community in our multicultural country. We should now develop a new relationship with Afghanistan. Building positive relationships with other countries is the way forward even if we do not like their form of government.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner. I do not see the point in antagonising them by regarding them as an enemy. Why do we need to have a military alliance beyond those we already have and in particular why do we need to align ourselves with the US military so fully? Just because the USA sees China as a superpower to rival the USA as a superpower does not require us to join the US in this military power play. Australia would do much better to take a more independent stance like New Zealand which does not allow nuclear warships into New Zealand. Not only China but other nations in our region such as Indonesia and Malaysia do not like the action we have taken.

We have reneged on our contract with France to build non-nuclear submarines. In doing so we have antagonised France who have expressed their annoyance in word and deed by recalling their ambassadors to Australia and the USA. While I did not agree with the decision to build submarines in the first place, to renege on the contract with France and to build nuclear submarines is even worse. By building nuclear submarines we have suddenly decided that nuclear energy is acceptable and will have to take on all that involves such as dealing with nuclear waste. Other nations are now moving away from nuclear energy as a consequence of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 which was the most severe nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. These disasters highlighted the risks of nuclear energy. The land nearby will take many years before it can be used again. The radiation effects on the people will be evident for generations. So why do we need nuclear powered submarines?

Nations have responsibilities for their own people and also to the international community. At present the two most pressing issues are the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change resulting in global warming. We have been living with the pandemic with lockdowns and restrictions and the only way forward is via vaccinations. Vaccinations were developed in record time. Richer nations are rapidly getting their people vaccinated. Unfortunately, poorer nations have been less able to obtain vaccines. Yet there is the need for all people everywhere to become vaccinated if we are to overcome the pandemic and be able to live and travel freely and safely again. The United Nations has called for vaccinations to be provided to poorer nations but richer nations have been slow to respond. The world’s nations spend huge amounts on the military. The goodwill of providing vaccinations across the world would foster peace and be a very positive use of finances. Australia at present has a low rate of international aid yet we can budget billions for nuclear submarines which will probably cost not 90 billion but over 100 billion dollars.

Climate change is the second issue. The effects of global warming are already evident with more severe storms and floods, fires and droughts. Climate change can only be tackled internationally with the nations of the world agreeing to reduce green-house emissions and move to cleaner and sustainable forms of energy. This is urgent. Significant action needs to be taken by 2030 not 2050. Unless current trends are reversed the world will become a more dangerous and less hospitable place.  The poorer nations will be the most affected. Again, we have the finances, especially if military spending is reduced, and more provided to changing the way we are currently functioning.

Defence is the justification given for military spending and for the decision to build nuclear submarines. But is spending billions on nuclear submarines really the best way to enhance peace and security? In my view the attitude that we regard China as an enemy is not helpful. If we want to have a more secure future a better way is to foster positive relationships with China and our other neighbours. We can show we are a good neighbour by using some of our wealth to help other nations get vaccines. We can show we are interested in more than our own economic well-being by taking stronger action on climate change and not opening more coal mines for example.

Do we need the military might of the US to protect us?  Do we need to spend billions on nuclear submarines to be part of the US military system and roam the seas in order to threaten others? That is not my Christian view of how to live. Jesus called us to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves. He even said we should love our enemies. I take that seriously and want to see it practiced not only in my own life but even in the life of my nation.