NT’s Pine Gap facility could play role in accidental nuclear exchange between US and China as tension rise

HEIGHTENED US-China tensions have increased the risk of an accidental nuclear exchange between the two superpowers — and whether or not the Northern Territory’s Pine Gap surveillance base is playing a role in hyping this up needs to be looked at.

Though the current US-China tensions has fewer nuclear risks than the Cold War-era US-Soviet relationship, the standing dynamics shouldn’t be ignored, according to new a research paper from the United States Studies Centre, based out of the University of Sydney.

As the US and China entered into a period of “intense strategic competition” the risk of accidental nuclear warfare between the two had grown.

Warning Australian politicians to be attentive, Dr Cunningham said Canberra needed to determine whether the country was inadvertently contributing to heightening nuclear risks through joint intelligence facilities on Australian soil.

This includes the Northern Territory’s Pine Gap, a joint US-Australia run station about 18 km out of Alice Springs which houses a US satellite surveillance base and Australian Earth station, and set up in the late 60s in the throes of the Cold War.

Australia’s strategy, Dr Cunningham argued, should be based on three national security interests: avoiding nuclear threats or nuclear use in a future conflict, ensuring that Chinese military actions are adequately countered at the conventional level and preserving the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

No plans for Darwin port

It’s history now that the then-US president Barack Obama was shocked in 2015 to read that the Northern Territory’s Country Liberal Party government had awarded a Chinese company — with alleged links to the People’s Liberation Army — a 99-year lease over the Port of Darwin, in a $506m deal.

The ABC reported in June 2019, citing “multiple officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity”, that “secret planning” had begun for a new port facility just outside Darwin, which could eventually help US Marines operate more readily in the Indo-Pacific.

In July this year, a Northern Territory government report on developing Gunn Point, just west of Glyde Point, contained a tantalising reference to a possible port.

However, the report’s author — the NT Planning Commission — stated on its website that “there are no current plans for Defence infrastructure within the Gunn Point Peninsula”.

so I guess that means there may be Defence infrastructure within the Gunn Point Peninsula?

Thousands of US troops will shift to Asia-Pacific to guard against China

Facing what a Trump administration official recently called "the most significant geopolitical challenge since the end of the Cold War" in the Indo-Pacific theater, the U.S. military will embark on a realignment of its global posture.

Several thousand of the troops currently posted in Germany are expected to redeploy to American bases in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and Australia.

The 9,500 who are leaving will be reassigned elsewhere in Europe, redeployed to the Indo-Pacific region, or sent back to bases in the U.S.

Australia cancels Darwin wharf and air-to-air refuellers under $270bn defence overhaul

The Australian government has cancelled a number of defence projects – including a “roll-on, roll-off wharf” in Darwin and new air-to-air refuellers – as it sharpens the military’s focus on deterring threats in an increasingly uncertain Indo-Pacific region.

The force structure plan reveals the government is dumping several proposals that were included in the 2016 white paper but “are no longer required”.

These include a roll-on, roll-off wharf in Darwin to load heavy vehicles and cargo on to Australia’s two Canberra-class amphibious ships.

It has also scrapped the “northern advanced joint training area” – a proposal for a site for large-scale, joint and combined amphibious training exercises and a potential rail link to RAAF Base Tindal, near Katherine in the Northern Territory, to transport explosive ordnance and bulk fuel.

But the government says it will still meet a pledge to invest $8bn in northern Australia over 10 years.

The US military has big plans for Australia — and that might be a big problem for China

The US military is considering investing more than $211 million into construction in Darwin, Australia, according to the Senate's version of the annual defense legislation.

What that money will build is unknown. The Marine and Navy officials Marine Corps Times reached out to have yet to provide a statement.

Australian outlet ABC News reported that secret planning is underway to develop a new commercial port just outside of Darwin that could eventually be developed to house Australia's landing helicopter dock ships or the US amphibious assault ships that ferry Marines around the globe.

While Australia is one of America's most important military allies in the Pacific, the military construction could cause diplomatic headaches for Australia and sour its relationship with China, which over the years has become more economically intertwined.

"...even our best allies, the Australians, they're with us from a military perspective, but economically they're tied to China," Maj. Gen. Daniel Yoo, the commander of the Marine Raiders, told Marine Corps Times in an interview during a May special operations conference in Tampa, Florida.

"And so they have a problem internal to their own country as far as there's some that feel they should be closer to China, because their economic health is dependent upon it."

Congress may review the Corps' plan to redistribute its forces across the Pacific.