Updated: Oct 30, 2022
Image Graphics by Team Geostrata
In September 2021, the former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the presence of Joe Biden and Boris Johnson announced the establishment of an enhanced trilateral, strategic, and security alliance between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom named AUKUS. The main aim of the partnership was to give the alliance a significant presence and assert greater dominance in the eastern Indian Ocean, the southern Pacific, and the South China sea. The alliance will look to counter China’s continuous rise, aggression, and exploitation of South Asian states.
Under this alliance, the member states would work to strengthen the already existing bilateral ties, defense cooperation and also work together in the field of new age technologies such as quantum computing, applied artificial intelligence, cyber technology, and hypersonic and counter hypersonic missiles.
The first major step in this direction is that the United States and the United Kingdom would help Australia develop at least 8 nuclear-powered submarines and will also share the technical know-how. The submarines will be indigenously manufactured within Australia, but due to the lack of defense manufacturing capabilities and the complexities of the nuclear-powered engines, Australia might not be able to receive these submarines until the late 2030s. The biggest advantage enjoyed by these submarines is that they can stay underwater for longer periods allowing them to conduct longer patrols and stealth attacks while the diesel-electric submarines have to resurface regularly to recharge their batteries.
The Fuming Dragon:
While it is not clearly established, the AUKUS is aimed at containing China and countering the growing aggression in international waters especially the south china sea and the Indo-Pacific, Beijing has yet again criticized another regional grouping and accused the United States of destabilizing the region with its multiple coalitions targeting a specific country. China also stated that nuclear submarine cooperation between the UK, the US, and Australia has intensified the arms race and compromised the international non-proliferation efforts.
The spokesperson of the People’s Republic Of China called out the alliance for their cold war mentality and asked the west to stop hijacking the regional security. China and the AUKUS members already had a severe relationship that was further strained with the announcement of the military alliance. China has warned the three countries that this alliance would hurt their own interests and is a shot in their foot. The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party published, “Australian troops are also most likely to be the first batch of western soldiers to waste their lives in the South China Sea.”
China is also concerned that the transfer of weapons-grade nuclear materials to non-nuclear states would set up a dangerous precedent, start up an arms race in the region, and a possible violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Multiple Chinese think tanks have published reports citing Australia’s intention of acquiring nuclear weapons but these reports use selective accounts to present a distorted view to the readers while remaining silent about Beijing’s very own Nuclear expansion. Australia has outrightly dismissed any such claims and has reiterated its support for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But China will continue its attack on AUKUS using various platforms in the future to push its powerful narrative.
Why Is France Angry?
Back in 2016, Australia and France signed a defense contract worth $35 billion at the time of the announcement in which France agreed to supply 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines to Canberra. But Australia was dejected due to continuous delays by the French counterpart. With the announcement of AUKUS and in the bid to receive at least 8 nuclear-powered submarines, Australia canceled the contract given to the French defense manufacturer Naval Group resulting in a huge loss of foreign investment and employment opportunities for Paris. The project was going to employ more than 4000 people over the period of six years within Naval Group and its 200 subcontractors.
France was livid with this deal and described it as a stab in the back. To convey their displeasure and anger, Paris also recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington DC. The French foreign minister Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian openly expressed his views on the topic and said,'' This is not done between alliances. It’s a stab in the back”. He also called out Washington saying, "This brutal and unilateral decision resembles a lot of what Trump was doing. The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret." France was also not happy with the US decision of not informing France of such an alliance targeted toward the Indo-Pacific where France enjoys a tremendous influence. Although President Macron did not comment on the issue, it was reported that he was “furious” about the turn of events.
Image Credits: Bloomberg
Arnaud Danjean, a very senior member of the European Parliament tweeted, "Considering how they behave with a European ally that was the most committed to build a lasting, strategic partnership in Indo-Pacific, Australians can expect more than a delay in concluding the Free Trade Agreement with EU!"
Australia rejected these claims and said that Paris was made aware of the contract much before its public announcement. The former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said that he expressed his apprehensions about the conventional submarines in lieu of rising security threats in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans as well as continuous delays by the Naval Group to the French President Emanuel Macron in June 2021. He further added that the decision was made keeping in mind Australia's national interests and national security.
Peter Dutton, former minister of Defense within the Australian administration also made it clear that Australia did consider buying nuclear submarines from France but ditched it for the United States and the United Kingdom.
This was because US technology is far more superior and developed. The United States uses weapons-grade and highly enriched uranium to power these submarines and the reactor last for the expected lifetime of the submarines. But French submarines use low enriched uranium and the reactors have to be replaced every 10 years which is difficult for Australia considering its ban on nuclear energy.
Australia has now announced a compensation of $584 million in addition to the $2.4 billion already spent on the program to the French Naval Group for scrapping the contract worth $90 billion today. The new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also stated his intentions of visiting France as soon as possible to reset the relationship between the two countries strained by the announcement of the AUKUS agreement.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also came in defense of the deal and said it was sensible and necessary keeping in mind global security and the new world order.The US secretary of State, Mr. Anthony Blinken, called France its vital partner in the Indo-Pacific and wished to continue their joint strategic operations in the Indo-Pacific.
The Impact On QUAD:
There are two conflicting views at play here. While some believe that AUKUS would strengthen Australia's defense which is a QUAD member and help the QUAD nations present a much stronger united front to the ever-expanding Chinese navy. QUAD has regularly rejected the claim of being a military alliance but with AUKUS in place now, QUAD could continue its working as a strategic alliance without aggravating the People’s Republic Of China. AUKUS would help QUAD maintain an open Indo-Pacific, search for creative solutions to regional problems and contain the Chinese dragon by bringing another important democratic power Britain into the region.
While others believe that AUKUS is detrimental to QUAD and would reduce its significance over time as QUAD is not a military alliance and still lacks a proper framework for cooperation. Others believe that it is an arrangement that would complement QUAD and increase the number of stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific which is essential to maintain an open Indo-Pacific.
AUKUS and India:
The Australian ambassador to India made it clear that New Delhi was already aware of the trilateral security arrangement between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. India did not criticize the new military alliance. But maintained its silence on the new grouping focussing on the Indo-Pacific, unlike other Quad members who openly voiced their support for AUKUS. India was initially apprehensive of this alliance. It felt that another regional grouping targeted toward the People’s Republic Of China might trigger Beijing to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. That will threaten India’s maritime security and would bring more pressure on the Indian Navy. India is also worried about the increasing number of Nuclear powered submarines in the eastern Indian Ocean as it would corrode Indian influence and authority within the region.
Others believe that AUKUS is a perfect way for India to pressurize and counter China without being a part of a military and security alliance as the alliance consists of India’s close strategic partners. This would help New Delhi bring a more stable balance of power into the Indo-Pacific.
This also allows India to focus more on its developmental prospects and counter China and Pakistan on the northern front while being sure that any challenges in the Indian Ocean will be swiftly checked and countered.
The Road Ahead:
AUKUS is facing stiff opposition from a lot of countries including China, Malaysia, North Korea, and many more. China has launched an aggressive campaign against AUKUS and Australia's bid to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. While the transfer of weapons-grade Uranium is not a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the US decision to transfer the nuclear technology to Australia is under scrutiny even after assurance from both the US and Australia that it will be strictly used to power the submarines.
Indonesia has repeatedly expressed its unease regarding the transfer of Nuclear technology stating that it will seriously impact the non-proliferation regime and would have detrimental humanitarian and environmental consequences. Jakarta has warned the United Nations regarding the loophole in the Non-Proliferation treaty, the transfer of Nuclear technology for Naval propulsion, that could lead to Nuclear Proliferation.
The problem with such a transfer is that it encourages powers such as China and Russia to do the same for other countries to develop strong military alliances. China and Russia are also conducting military exercises with countries such as Iraq and North Korea and the transfer of technology to enrich Uranium to these kinds of countries that have zero regards for democratic values and human rights would pose a serious threat to global security.
BY ANSH TYAGI