AUKUS and the martial academy

March 18, 2024
The US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney wants universities to sign up for AUKUS-related military research. Photo: US Studies Centre March report

Announced in September 2021, AUKUS is an Indo-Pacific military and security partnership between Australia, Britain and the United States.

While the establishment media and anti-AUKUS protest movement have focused attention on the transfer of nuclear submarine technologies to Australia, “AUKUS Pillar Two” has slipped under the radar.

Pillar Two involves interlocking the military and strategic capabilities of the AUKUS partners in a relationship of research, development and production of sophisticated electronic, advanced cyber, robotic, quantum, artificial intelligence and hypersonic technologies.

Australia is particularly important given its rich rare-earth deposits, vital to the future of these military/strategic technologies.

This research and development, involving multi-billions of dollars, is aimed at countering, frustrating and checkmating China as an economic and geopolitical competitor.

Globally, investors have not been lax in getting their act together.

A raft of global venture capitalists joined up in December as the AUKUS Defence Investor Network. It announced the availability of at least US$400 billion for businesses and start-ups, AUKUS-related.

The news set Australian interests drooling.

Indications are that AUKUS lobbyists, influencers and fixers are girding loins to drum up interest among businesses and university leaderships.

The release of the Australian Universities Accord Report in February, with its projected reform of universities over the next 25 years, is seen as potentially useful by AUKUS interests.

Among the Accord’s recommendations is greater government involvement in setting university research priorities.

Sources indicate AUKUS strategists are interested in having their agendas prioritised as reforms roll out.

Military-industrial complex

Ultimately, what seems to be envisaged by the AUKUS proselytising industry is the creation of a military-industrial complex in the Indo-Pacific region with Australia at the centre and universities embedded in its heart.

It is argued this is all to the better of regional and Australian security and for the national economy.

This military-industrial complex got off to a flying start at the beginning of the year with a deal struck between the federal government and US weapons giant Lockheed Martin.

This will allow for the manufacture of Lockheed’s profitable and devastating Ukraine-proven Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS, pronounced “gimmlers”) in the Orchard Hills defence facility on the outskirts of Western Sydney.

Test firing begins in 2025. The deal is worth $37 million and Labor has committed itself to a future investment of $4.1 billion to give the military a sophisticated long-range strike missile capability.

Australia’s clear skies are of strategic importance and generally attractive to the missile industry. 

As to how martial research will become significant in the work of universities, a recent report published by the United States Studies Centre (USSC) provides some insight.

Titled The university sector’s value proposition for AUKUS: Times Higher Education Summit outcomes report, it outlines the results of two major roundtable discussions hosted by the USSC late last year, as part of the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit.

The USSC, a research institute operating from the University of Sydney, was established in 2007 following Prime Minister John Howard’s announcement of a $25 million endowment.

Its aim is to promote the interests of the US and to strengthen the US-Australia partnership.

The foundation finance was the work of the American Australian Association (AAA), which administered the endowment and maintains oversight.

The AAA was established in 1948 by Australian magnate Keith Murdoch. Today it is housed in the Murdoch Centre, New York, named by media magnate Rupert Murdoch in honour of his family.


Last year’s roundtable discussions involved senior leaders of government, business and the universities of the AUKUS partners.

One session involved 40 representatives, jointly chaired by the Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Sydney and Nottingham (Britain). The other was a closed-door meeting, attended by 12 people representing US officialdom and Australian universities.

The focus of the discussions was the role universities could play in adding value to the AUKUS project and how this can be achieved.

Simply, universities need to become involved. But accepting this would involve a lot of work. Discussions noted general suspicion about, and antipathy towards, AUKUS by many people, particularly concerns about nuclear technologies and related issues of safety and nuclear waste disposal. They discussed the need to counter and overcome these concerns.

Similarly, Australian university leaderships have a lot to do convincing the worth of AUKUS and its technological futures to their researchers.

They also need to try to work more collaboratively with each other, to overcome inter-university rivalries and competition.

Australia’s government could do more too, for example by encouraging and financially rewarding universities for engaging in AUKUS work; and encouraging and rewarding AUKUS-related international university research collaborations.

Also urged was federal government involvement in encouraging states to ensure school systems increase the number of students graduating with AUKUS-friendly skills before entering universities.

Such is the roadmap for a future AUKUS role in the university sector, one that will become obvious as university leaderships variously manoeuvre their institutions into martial orbits.

This is all to be done, of course, in the name of Australia’s safety and security.

But as history shows, martial solutions, like AUKUS, to geopolitical competition and tensions generate destabilisation and conflict in the long run.

Sadly too, history shows that martial solutions also make huge profits for those who bankroll and support them along the way.

[Dr Rowan Cahill has worked as a farmhand, teacher, journalist, academic and for the trade union movement as a historian and rank-and-file activist. Most recently he co-authored, with Terry Irving, The Barber who Read History (2021).]

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