|Australian, American and Chinese soldiers training together in the Northern Territory, in early May 2015|
It could never happen again, we are told, Australians would never tolerate such large deployments, and the subsequent death tolls.
And yet, the chances of Australia being drawn into a full-blown conflict between China and the United States may have never been higher.
At least, that's the message some are trying to get out. It's not so much a warning, as a 'Well, You Better Get Used To This New Reality' PR campaign. Is the public already being softened up for another World War? One that would draw in Australia?
The source was anonymous. But the mouthpiece has a measure of credibility. High profile military analyst and former US Naval War College lecturer John Schindler tweeted last week: “Said a senior NATO (non-US) GOFO to me today: ‘We’ll probably be at war this summer. If we’re lucky it won’t be nuclear.’ Let that sink in.”
The warning comes as Europe engages in some of its biggest ever war games — right on Russia’s front door. It’s a deliberate ploy, intended to remind Moscow of the consequences of its duplicitous invasion of Ukraine.
Half a world away, the “w” word was mentioned again yesterday. This time in an editorial by a Chinese state controlled paper. Said the Global Times: “If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea.”
It came as China’s government effectively declared a “no fly zone” over the disputed waterway after warning the US over its “provocative” aerial reconnaissance of several islands.
China is maintaining its stance that its aggressive construction work on disputed islands in South-East Asia is no different to building highways or public facilities anywhere else on the mainland. Such is its determination that these disputed territories are its own.
Combined, the increasingly threatening talk is causing many to take notice: High-profile US Billionaire investor George Soros told the World Bank last week: “If there is conflict between China and a military ally of the United States, like Japan, then it is not an exaggeration to say that we are on the threshold of a third world war."
Last month, a number of Baltic State defence ministers issued a statement condemning Russia’s activities, once again declaring its old Cold War enemy their “biggest threat to security”.
Russia retaliated by highlighting the deepening relationship between neutral Finland and Sweden with NATO was a “special concern”.
Some 18 warships and submarines took part in the oddly named exercise, “Dynamic Mongoose”. It involved 10 NATO members and the otherwise neutral Sweden.
It came just weeks after NATO members — including Britain — sent tanks and troops to conduct live-fire exercises with Estonia: Once again an act designed to send a signal to Russia — keep your hands off the Baltic States. The tiny Baltic state separated from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
This week saw the launch of a third major NATO military exercise: Combat jets from the US, UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands have gathered in Finland, Norway and Sweden for extensive Arctic combat drills over 12 days.That country is, of course, the United States. And Australia is the United States most loyal military ally. If the US starts a war with China, Australia starts a war with China.
Russia has not been idle in its response. It has teamed up with ally China to conduct war-games in the Mediterranean Sea. The 10-day operation ended last week after the two world powers boldly displayed their warship muscle in the equivalent of Western Europe’s backyard ‘swimming pool’.
Yesterday, Chinese officials responded to US military overflights and a probing visit by one of its warships.
“For a long time, the US military has been conducting close-in surveillance of China and the Chinese military has been making such necessary, legal and professional response — why did this story suddenly pop up in the past weeks?” Senior Colonel Yang Yujun commented yesterday.
“Has the South China Sea shrunk?”
“Some people have been intentionally and repeatedly hyping this topic. Their purpose is to smear the Chinese military and dramatise regional tensions. And I’m not ruling it out that this is being done to find an excuse for certain country to take actions in the future.”
Don't expect any fightback from PM Tony Abbott, or most of the Australian Parliament if it comes down to that. Abbott would revel in the media opportunities of such a vast and deadly conflict.