Australia, UK, and the US are setting up a trilateral military pact – the AUKUS pact – as announced by the US and UK leadership on 15th September 2021. The main rationale of the partnership is to counter China, but the pact has raised many suspicions among other allies of the US bloc as this deal poses a threat to Australia’s $66 billion contracts with France which include the delivery of diesel-powered submarines to Australia.
India, a major ally of the US in the South Asian region, has also been excluded from the deal. Thus, it would not be wrong to construe that this pact holds seminal eminence as it has created major fissures among the Western bloc allies. France has blamed the US and UK for backstabbing it and labeled the deal as a serious crisis.
The reason for France’s outrage is that if the deal had not been signed, the French defense industry would have gained a lot of profit. This portends that the economic concerns can pit even the closest allies against each other. As per some experts, this deal could prove risky for Australia as it will pit it against China directly.
On the other hand, many other countries have also condemned this pact and have accused that this deal would spark a novel arms race in the region. This deal also depicts that despite President Biden’s statement of the US’s days of foreign nation-building projects being over, the global superpower has not lost its appetite for adventurism as a global policeman and will continue to pursue Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy.
AUKUS Pact: What Does It Involve?
AUKUS is a trilateral security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It involves the sharing of technology and information in multiple spheres including quantum technology and intelligence along with the acquisition of cruise missiles. The most crucial part of the deal is sharing of technology to build nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.
The US president Joe Biden, the Prime Minister of UK Boris Johnson, and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison announced the initiative jointly in a virtual video conference. They called it a seminal step in their old alliance. In a joint statement, they have corroborated that the three countries desire to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and that they share the values of freedom and democracy.
The Australian Premier, Scott Morrison, stated that the teams of the 3 countries would work jointly over the coming eighteen months to draw up a joint plan for assembling the novel Australian nuclear-powered submarine fleet which would be constructed in Adelaide. Currently, only six countries in the world hold the technology of the submarines which are propelled by nuclear reactors and after this agreement, and Australia will become the seventh country in the world to have such technology.
It is necessary to mention here that the submarines will only be powered by nuclear reactors and will not be nuclear-armed. What makes them peculiar from the conventional submarines is that they are much stealthier than the latter ones. Their easy mobility, quiet operations, and stealth technology make them unique. The lack of nuclear structure in Australia will cause this project to cost a lot of time.
What Made France Angry?
France has been an important player in NATO since 2009 when it restored its military contribution to the organization which was suspended by De Gaulle in 1966. France has always been ambitious to be an important power in the world but has never been able to achieve its goals after the Suez Canal crisis.
The recent deal between the US, UK, and Australia has antagonized France as has been concluded at the cost of the Australian-French pact through which France was supposed to provide conventional diesel-powered submarines to Australia. This deal would have earned behemoth profits to the French defense industry but now the US and UK’s military-industrial complex will gain the profits by manufacturing nuclear-powered subs for Australia.
This new deal has resulted in the loss of $37 billion for France. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Foreign Minister of France, has labeled this deal as a stab in the back. He has also accused the three countries of “duplicity”. As per reports, France was informed only hours before the public announcement of the AUKUS pact. In reaction to this situation, France has recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
This has been the first time in history that the French ambassador has been recalled from Washington. This move shows the magnitude of France’s pique over this pact and the seriousness of the crisis between France and the US. The Foreign Minister of France stated that the country had recalled its ambassadors to re-evaluate the situation.
French Minister to Canberra, Jean-Pierre Thebault termed Australia’s decision of scrapping the French-Austrian deal unilaterally as a “huge mistake”. All this scenario demonstrates how the financial interests can turn allies against each other. This situation also shows that France can never achieve its global ambitions as it is too small to make any significant difference in the war of major global powers.
China builds as many ships as there are in the entire French fleet every four years. So, it is not difficult to decipher that Australia had no other option than to strike a deal with the superpower and come under its umbrella instead of sticking with the French-Australian pact. The US has engaged over the developing crisis between the NATO allies.
France has also agreed to send back its ambassador to the United States. The top leadership of the two countries have agreed to commence a process of in-depth consultations to create the conditions for ensuring confidentiality. The meeting between the officials of the two countries is expected at the end of the next month in Europe.
Future of Sino-Australian Relations
A relationship that will surely change in the aftermath of the AUKUS pact is the relationship between China and Australia. They have always enjoyed strong trade relations in the past with a myriad of Chinese students opting to study in Australia. The relationship between the two countries deteriorated for the first time when Australia supported a global probe into the origins of the Covid-19 virus.
The AUKUS pact is undoubtedly a major transition in the relationship between the two countries. It has pitted the two countries against each other. Although none of the parties of the AUKUS pact mentioned China particularly in their joint statement, it is clear that the main rationale of the pact is to counter the smooth rise of China on the global scale in general and in the South China Sea in particular.
This pact does not only demonstrate that Australia is now in league with the US bloc but also depicts that Australia is now ready to play an active role in the strategic affairs of Asia. The recent plan of Australia for the return of foreign students excluding Chinese students also depicts the devastating relations between the two countries.
Although Australia seems to be very confident about the deal, many experts, like Sam Roggeveen, maintain that the country’s tilt towards the US could prove a ‘risky bet’ for it, given that the pace of China’s growth in the last 20 to 30 years is much greater than the US. This is because the acquisition of nuclear-powered subs will not make Australia powerful enough to deal with China on its own.
It would only raise the prospects of a conflict between China and Australia in the South China Sea, and in the Taiwan Strait. This trilateral agreement has bound Australia to side with the United States in case of a war or a conflict between the latter and China in the South China Sea. It will be naïve to think that this deal could change the regional power equilibrium. China itself holds 12 nuclear-powered submarines.
The Chinese embassy in Washington asked the governments involved in the pact to shun their ideological prejudice and Cold War mentality. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, called the deal “extremely responsible” and stated that Australia was a party to NPT and the Nuclear Weapon free zone in the Southern Pacific.
The conflict between China and Australia will impinge the Australian interests the most as it is getting involved in a war in which it had no direct stakes at all. Australia will now not only have to deal with China as an enemy but the expectations and demands of the US will also increase.
The developing situation might be seen as a positive one in Australia but in the long run, it will prove inimical to interests as the rise of China is now inevitable and the US is now a power in decline. One thing that the West must worry about is that Australia could misuse nuclear material to build nuclear weapons as Iran had done in the past.
Reaction from Asia
Asia is now at the heart of global politics due to its geostrategic location as it is home to many natural resources. The region plays an important role in running the industry of the whole world as most of the world’s oil is produced in Saudi Arabia and Middle Eastern countries which pass through the Indian Ocean and then reach other parts of the world.
China is a key player in the Asian region. Its influence and power are increasing in the whole region in an unprecedented way. On the other hand, the US is also investing significantly in regional countries like India, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines. All these countries could benefit from this deal as they would have another ally in the region to counter China with the assistance of the US and UK.
As per the Foreign Policy magazine, India has welcomed the AUKUS pact as a China deterrent. It states that according to India’s perspective, the new alliance indicates a strong resolve in Washington to counter the growing security threat of China regionally as well as globally. Maybe there was a desire in India to be included in the AUKUS alliance but the US has ruled out the possibility, stating that it holds no plans to add India and Japan to this novel coalition.
On the other hand, the countries which have cordial relations with China view this alliance as a threat to the peace of the world. In response to the AUKUS agreement, Malaysia has raised its concern stating that the pact would provoke other countries to take more aggressive measures in the region, especially in the South China Sea. Malaysian Premier also added that this agreement could prove a catalyst for a nuclear arms race in the Indo-Pacific region.
The reaction of Indonesia was not much different. It showed deep concerns about the continuing arms race and power projection in the region. North Korea has also condemned this pact saying that it would augment a nuclear arms race. Vietnam showed an ambiguous reaction to the AUKUS pact, stating the development and use of nuclear energy must be merely for economic development and peaceful purposes.
Impact on ASEAN, QUAD, and NATO
The AUKUS agreement was announced only after weeks of the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The timing of this pact holds too much eminence as it came forth when the whole world was showing concerns about the role of the US in the stability of the region.
The formation of this alliance confirms that the Biden administration will follow the footsteps of its ancestor to act as a global policeman and will keep meddling in the affairs of the foreign countries. Although it is crucial for the US to keep its identity as a superpower, this development could prove against the interests of common Americans as their money will still be invested in foreign adventures.
This pact has raised concerns in many parts of the world. ASEAN is one of the organizations which could have direct reverberations of this pact. The ASEAN countries have shown diverse reactions to this pact. While countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have raised their concerns over AUKUS, other ASEAN countries like Singapore have welcomed this pact stating that it would contribute to the stability of the region.
The US and Australian ministers have issued a joint statement to affirm their commitment to the ASEAN-led architecture to counter the concerns of the ASEAN countries. As far as QUAD is concerned, the Indian Foreign Secretory stated that AUKUS will neither impact the functioning of QUAD nor is it relevant. Some believe that this is not true and the creation of AUKUS will diminish the role of QUAD.
If we see at the rationale of both alliances, their main objectives almost turn out to be the same. Thus, it could be stated that AUKUS could be complementary to QUAD but if it proved more effective than the latter then the role of QUAD would minimize in the future. The organization which had seen the most agitation after the creation of AUKUS was NATO. The European leaders have strictly condemned this new alliance.
The unilateral cancellation of Australia’s agreement with France is one of the major reasons for these concerns. As a result of this new alliance, the world is seeing great tension between the two NATO allies – the US and France. Although there are very minimal chances, this novel alliance can push France towards its old ally Russia. If the concerns of European countries are not addressed timely, NATO will come out to be the most damaged organization as a result of this agreement.
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