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Escalation of nuclear tensions between USA and China as a result of the AUKUS deal


by Jamil RaglandNovember 10, 2021,  Wh
at do Groton, Connecticut, and Adelaide, Australia, have in common? Soon, both will be home to one of the United States’ most guarded secrets: nuclear submarine technology.

In mid-September, the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia announced the AUKUS trilateral security partnership (the acronym AUKUS is the combination of the abbreviation for each nation). The key feature of this new security partnership is that the United States will share its knowledge and capabilities in building nuclear-powered submarines with the Australian government. This is a major move, as the US has only shared this technology with Great Britain, the other member of AUKUS.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed that these would only be nuclear-powered submarines, not nuclear armed. Yet as the leaders of the AUKUS nations described their intent to “preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” all eyes turned to China, the nation which went unmentioned in the remarks, yet who was clearly the focus of the new partnership.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian responded by saying that the security partnership was “extremely irresponsible.” He went on to say that the nuclear submarine cooperation among AUKUS “has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race, and undermined international non-proliferation efforts.” 

Yet China itself tested a new kind of missile in August which ups the ante in terms of weaponry. Known as a hypersonic missile, this weapon is designed to evade US missile defense systems that were built to shoot down old-style ballistic missiles that follow a predictable trajectory after launch. The new Chinese missile enters the atmosphere from a lower point and is maneuverable, which makes intercepting them much more difficult. And the missile is capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

It seems that 50 years of living with “mutually assured destruction” as an actual policy during the US-Soviet Cold War has taught the leaders of the largest nations in the world nothing about the dangers of nuclear posturing. After near accidents and close calls such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought both nations to the brink of war, it appeared that maybe a lesson had been learned. Real progress was made between the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States in reducing nuclear stockpiles. At the global peak, there were more than 70,000 nuclear weapons around the world; that number is now down to about 13,000.

But this progress is threatened by the foolhardy arms race the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned about, even as his nation was participating in it. We now have US military personnel bragging about the “exquisite timing” with which they can now detonate nuclear weapons to maximize their horrifying destructive capabilities. This is almost certainly a response to China’s new hypersonic missile. And up the ladder of escalation we go.

I’m too young to have experienced bomb drills during the height of the Cold War, but I had teachers who did. My eighth-grade history teacher was obsessed with impressing upon us the power of nuclear weapons; he described in detail the blast radius of a 50-megaton thermonuclear bomb. He showed us the movie The Day After, which showed the after-effects of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia.

He told us that even though we didn’t live near the nuclear silos like the families in the movies, we still weren’t safe. Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, and of course the naval base at Groton, would put Connecticut on the front lines of a nuclear conflict. I had nightmares for weeks about my impending vaporization.

But ultimately, I realized I was worried about nothing. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and Russia and the United States, while not exactly friends, weren’t exactly enemies either. We were living in what policymakers and writers called the “unipolar moment,” where the United States stood unchallenged in the world. The potential for nuclear war was confined to the movies, no matter how real they seemed.

Now though, what seemed like fantasy is creeping back into the realm of the possible. New weapons, partnerships, and acronyms can’t mask the feeling of historical déjà vu that we’re experiencing now. We even have an island nation to serve as a potential flashpoint for Armageddon – Taiwan in this case, not Cuba. Unless our leaders head off potential conflict and find a peaceful way to coexist, we may have to live with a day after that none of us want.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at

November 11, 2021 - Posted by | politics international, weapons and war

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