Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have rejected the idea of hosting US missiles in Australia following the weekend’s AUSMIN talks as the government confirmed that it is in negotiations to access the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Media reports earlier in the week suggested the US is considering deploying mid-range missiles in the Indo-Pacific after formally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia, originally signed during the Cold War.
Whilst the treaty served to de-escalate tensions between the US and the Soviet Union, the exclusion of China meant the country has been free to develop theatre nuclear capabilities and precision strike systems.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds told ABC Radio she raised the issue with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Sunday, revealing that the US had not made a formal request.
“I did discuss that yesterday with Secretary Esper, and he confirmed that there was no ask of Australia and that none was expected,” Minister Reynolds said. “I asked him directly, was there any expectation of a request? And he said to me no.”
PM Morrison then told reporters in Brisbane that he would ‘rule a line’ under the idea.
Separately, Minister Reynolds and Energy Minister Angus Taylor also confirmed that the Commonwealth is negotiating with the US for access to its strategic fuel stores as part of a strategy to off-set Australia’s critically low reserves.
The US has 700 days’ worth of fuel stored in caverns in Texas and Louisiana. Australia currently has around 21 days of diesel fuel, which has dipped to as low as 12 days in recent years, and imports 90 per cent of other liquid fuels. It is required to store 90 days of fuel under an agreement with the International Energy Agency.
"The government has undertaken this new initiative since the election to ensure that we continue to deliver increased security for Australians," Taylor told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Access through a contractual arrangement would greatly boost our stocks and flexibility of supply.”
A fuel security review is due by the end of the year.
ADM Comment: It is unclear how fuel stored in a cave in Texas would reduce Australia’s vulnerability to maritime supply disruptions given that it would still need to be shipped and refined here, a process that would likely take longer than 21 days. The ADF would come to a standstill before the fuel was available for use.
Minister Taylor also said that the government is trying to change the treaty so that fuel already on its way to Australia counts toward the 90-day requirement. Yet ships at sea remain vulnerable to disruption: successfully redefining ‘fuel reserves’ will be little comfort when F-35s are sitting motionless on a flight-line because the fuel they need is either in a North American cave or somewhere in the Indian Ocean.