Hugh White’s piece in the Fairfax media last week on the strategic perils of Australia buying Japanese submarines is long on speculation and short on substance.

Professor White takes a more measured position in his later Interpreter post advising against ‘Option J’, but this reply focuses on the Fairfax piece because it is here that White most clearly (and selectively) lays out the ‘big risks’. But he fails to acknowledge both the significant opportunity costs of rejecting the Japanese bid and the bigger risks to Australian interests this poses. Equally worrying is White’s failure to frame the deal in terms of the major selection criterion for any Australian sub deal: which subs have the capacity to best serve Australia’s defence needs?

Professor White claims that a sub deal with Japan automatically ties us into an alliance with Tokyo. I have not seen the contract the deal would be based on, but am pretty sure it does not include an alliance clause. Contractual obligations aside, I am yet to hear of any Japanese statements remotely suggesting this. The Abe Government clearly is keen to develop a closer security relationship with Australia, and the US is keen to see this happen as a way of ‘cross-bracing’ the alliances it maintains with both countries.

But to claim that Japan sees the sub deal guaranteeing a fully-fledged alliance commitment from Canberra is pure speculation. What Japanese policy makers do see in the sub deal, however, is an opportunity to further strengthen the existing bilateral strategic partnership, which is still a long way short of committing to militarily support Japan in a conflict.

Please click here to read the full “Japanese subs: A once-in-a-generation opportunity” article in The Lowy Interpreter by Griffith Asia Institute Associate Professor Michael Heazle.