Nuked by Andrew Fowler

Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

According to  a recent poll, 48% of Australians believe that AUKUS will keep us more secure from China. AUKUS being the trilateral security arrangement with the US and UK. The arrangement was forged in secret and no detail has been made public, so for that 48%, it is an act of faith.

What we know is that Australia’s ageing Collins class submarines will need replacement over the next decade.  In 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presided over Australia’s biggest ever defence contract – $50 billion worth of diesel-powered submarines from France. Just five years later, with construction imminent, Turnbull was deposed by Scott Morrison, who summarily cancelled the contract and announced a deal to purchase nuclear submarines as part of AUKUS at a revised cost of $368 billion.

Andrew Fowler’s latest book is an analysis of how AUKUS came about and what it might mean for Australia’s security. He doesn’t pull any punches from the outset – the cover calls it a fiasco. The book is an account of the recent history of the submarine acquisition, which covers three successive Liberal prime ministers. Each one had a different favourite to supply them – Japan, France or the United States.

The intervention of politics and power on what should have been a largely military procurement process had profound impacts on the outcome. The jury is still out on whether this will ultimately be detrimental to Australia’s ability to defend itself.

The extent to which the normal process was subverted by politics, was eventually admitted by the military: … Morrison had come up with the idea for AUKUS, but no reason for its existence had been identified The Defence Department had not only been party to deceiving the French, it had connived with the Morrison government to breach the basic rules of process necessary for the defence of Australia [p160].

Andrew Fowler leaves little doubt that an approach to national defence based on self-promotion is undesirable. When Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison both claimed to have grand plans for global alliances: It should not be a surprise that two of the greatest fabricators leading major countries in the Western world both asserted branding rights of such a  debacle [p10]. It was a triumph of marketing when the Australian media barely blinked at a deal costing an extra $300 billion and delaying delivery by a decade.

The level of incompetence in the government of Australia was breathtaking, as were the repercussions. The United States would be calling all the shots on what kind of submarines would be sold to Australia, how old they would be, how many there would be, when they would be delivered, and even if they would be sold at all [p122]. A large question raised by US involvement is whether this has echoes of the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.  We now know that the US supported the overthrow of an elected government that was perceived as not being sufficiently supportive of US policies in the Asia-Pacific [p106].

Perhaps the most telling comment is that the Australian people, who will pay for this decision over decades,  may never know if it was the right one: With the major parties in lockstep on AUKUS, the most complex and expensive spend in Australian military history would never be publicly investigated [p158].

 Nuked is a major contribution to understanding how an anti-nuclear country came to purchase nuclear submarines and  why they were re-named “Attack” class. We do not know where they will be deployed, but according to Andrew, the reason for such long-range vessels is the ability to support a US attack on China. In the absence of any real debate or media scrutiny of a secretive decision,  this book is a welcome counterpoint that highlights the potential risks of putting political ego before strategic planning.

Andrew Fowler is an award-winning investigative journalist and a former reporter for the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent and Four Corners programs. Fowler began his journalism career in the early 1970s, covering the IRA bombing campaign for the London Evening News. He has been the chief of staff and acting foreign editor of The Australian newspaper. He wrote The Most Dangerous Man in the World, the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in 2011, which was updated in 2012 and 2020. Fowler first interviewed Assange for Foreign Correspondent in 2010, for which the program won the New York Festival Gold Medal. His two other books are The War on Journalism (Random House, 2015) and Shooting the Messenger: Criminalising Journalism (Routledge, 2017). Fowler is a winner of the United Nations Peace Prize, has lectured on journalism at universities in Australia and the UK, and has contributed to various academic papers.


(July 2024)

by Andrew Fowler


ISBN: 978 052288 031 1

$35.99 (Paperback); 224pp


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