AUKUS Security Alliance – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

A week before the meeting of Quad leaders in Washington DC, the US administration announced a new trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific, between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. (AUKUS). As part of this, Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines with help from the U.K. and the US within 18 months.

There is no explicit mention of China in any of the AUKUS announcements. Despite that, the announcement of the grouping is significant as the Indo-Pacific is fast emerging as the theatre of geopolitical rivalry, with China staking claim over the whole of the South China Sea. In this article, let us understand the new AUKUS group and its significance and challenges.

What are the key features of AUKUS Security Alliance?
Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines

The first major initiative of AUKUS would be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet to Australia over the next 18 months.

Under the AUKUS partnership, The UK and the US will help Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. The nuclear-powered submarines will be built in Adelaide, Australia. This is significant as the USA sharing the technology for nuclear submarines. This has happened only once in 70 years, when it shared the technology with the UK in 1958.

The submarines will not be nuclear-armed submarines. Instead, these are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors.

Only a handful of countries possess nuclear-powered submarines. These include the US, the UK, France, Russia, China and India. With the AUKUS partnership, Australia will also join these elite countries. Further, Australia will also be the only country to have such submarines without having a civilian nuclear power industry.

Note: Australia is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) which bans it from acquiring or deploying nuclear weapons. So, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability under the partnership.

Focus on Indo-Pacific

The AUKUS security grouping will focus on advancing strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Other multi-sectoral cooperation

The AUKUS partnership will also involve a new architecture of meetings and engagements between the three countries. Further, they also cooperate across emerging technologies such as applied AI, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities, etc.

Further, the partnership will work along with other partners in the region, such as the Quad and ASEAN.

Other key features of AUKUS Security Alliance

This trilateral grouping is security-focused. An official said that the AUKUS is not aimed [at] or about any one country, it’s about advancing strategic interests of the AUKUS Countries and upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

What is the significance of the AUKUS Security Alliance?

Nuclear-powered submarines: Under the AUKUS alliance, the US and UK are willing to export nuclear technology to a non-nuclear powered nation.

Conventional Submarines need to come to the surface to recharge their batteries. On the other hand, Nuclear powered submarines need not come to the surface to recharge their batteries.

Further, Nuclear-powered submarines are able to move faster underwater than conventional submarines. So, these will augment the defence capabilities of Australia. With AUKUS, Australia is accessing nuclear submarines for the first time, so, this will amp up the defence quotient in the Indo-Pacific.

Compliment the efforts of QUAD in Indo-Pacific: According to Arzan Tarapore, a South Asia security expert, “If the new partnership lives up to its promise, it could be a “game-changer” for the region”. He also mentions, “Alongside India’s stated intent to acquire more nuclear-powered submarines, the AUKUS will amount to a step-change increase in the Quad’s undersea and anti-submarine warfare capabilities“.

The Quad is not a security grouping, so the AUKUS brings a security adjunct to the Quad. For the present, the Quad and AUKUS will move on parallel tracks, with the possibility that in future, the two could merge.

Read more: Quad Summit and its relevance – Explained, Pointwise

Countering China in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the South China Sea: The nuclear-powered submarines will give Australia naval heft in the Pacific, where China has been particularly aggressive. With nuclear-powered submarines, the Royal Australian Navy now has the capability to go into the South China Sea to protect its assets and conduct patrols.

Compliment other regional groupings in Indo-Pacific: Apart from complimenting the QUAD, the AUKUS will also compliment the other security alliances in the Indo-Pacific. These include the ANZUS and Five Eyes alliance.

Note:

Five Eyes: Along with Canada and New Zealand, the AUKUS countries already share extensive intelligence through the Five Eyes alliance.

ANZUS: Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS or ANZUS Treaty) is the 1951 collective security non-binding agreement between Australia and New Zealand to cooperate on military matters in the Pacific Ocean region.

Why China has raised its concerns regarding the AUKUS Security Alliance?

China is more rattled by AUKUS than by Quad and other arrangements in Indo-Pacific because of the following reasons,

Firstly, AUKUS is aimed at protecting the partners’ strategic interests in a region that spans two oceans and 38 countries.

Secondly, it is a message to China that the US could one day do the same for other countries in the region. Sharing of military and critical capabilities like cyber, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. It is a cause of concern for China, as these are the key areas China is dominating at present.

Thirdly, the AUKUS is a security grouping, unlike QUAD, which is a diplomatic grouping. The Quad has neither created a charter nor invested itself with any substance. This is why China dismissed the Quad as a “headline-grabbing idea which will dissipate like sea-foam”. Similarly, the Malabar exercise is not a naval alliance, even though the habit of cooperation is geared to facilitate communication and interoperability in times of need.

Fourthly, The announcement marks a new low in Australia-China relations. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, with two-way trade of nearly US $200 billion. But the relationship has soured over the last few years.

For these reasons only, China called the new AUKUS partnership as “severely damaging regional peace and stability“.

What the AUKUS Security Alliance meant for India?

According to the Indian Observers, the partnership is much beneficial for India. As India has been at the forefront of rallying a broader coalition of countries in the Indo-Pacific. The benefits include,

Upgrade India’s allies in the region: QUAD is meaningless without the necessary capability upgrade for all its members, especially Australia and Japan. This will make India’s partners become more self-confident and assured of their defence capabilities.

The AUKUS and a future American military base on Australian soil will help India’s efforts to protect the Indo-Pacific.

Provide necessary time to India to build naval capabilities:  Further, The AUKUS will buy some valuable time for India to beef up the country’s own naval capabilities.

Improve India’s ambition in International relations: The partnership would allow India to be more ambitious in its foreign policy and defence approach.

What are the challenges associated with the AUKUS Security Alliance?

Promote Nuclear arms race: Chinese Foreign Ministry already mentioned that the new AUKUS grouping will aggravate the arms race and hurt international non-proliferation efforts. This view is also reflected by other South-Asian Countries like North Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Create a Cold-war like scenario: Strategic experts believe that these types of new alliances are similar to the Cold War days, where the entire world was divided into groups. As US-China relations unravelled in recent years, nations in the Indo-Pacific have found it increasingly difficult to navigate between the two superpowers.

For instance, according to a former Australian diplomat, Countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, in particular, may find it “less tenable” to have security ties with the US and also manage relations with China.

Unpredictable behaviour of America in foreign ties: The US not even informed or consulted any other partners in the region, For instance, countries like France, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan were not invited to join this partnership. Recently, the US has clarified that India or Japan would not be added to the AUKUS alliance.

The French government termed this move of the US as a “brutal, unilateral, unpredictable decision”, “Allies don’t do this to each other“. On the other hand, Canada expects the AUKUS should be a CAUKUS with Canada on board.

So C. Raja Mohan is of the view that AUKUS could leave a deep scar on US-EU relations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and weaken the international coalition in the Indo-Pacific.

Questions the credibility of the US and its allies to counter China: Former Australian Prime Minister mentioned, “the US military with all its might could not beat a bunch of Taliban rebels“.  Furthermore, he was of the opinion that this alliance will not threaten China, as “China, not only the biggest state in the world but the occupant and commander of the biggest landmass in Asia“. Further, China is also pursuing the largest military modernisation program.

Trouble the relations with France: For signing this AUKUS partnership, Australia had cancelled the $65 billion worth deal it signed in 2016 with France for building 12 of the world’s largest conventional submarines. Now, France is demanding explanations from all sides and called the initiative a “stab in the back” and recalled its envoys from Australia and the US. Further, a harsh legal battle over the contract appears inevitable.

As France is also having a growing presence in the Indo-Pacific region, it will impact any future cooperation with France in the region. Further, it also impacts the India-Australia-France trilateral for the time being. Recently, France had cancelled a scheduled meeting of the foreign ministers of Australia, France, and India at the UN.

Against the 1984 nuclear-free zone policy of Australia and New Zealand: The announcement of the partnership led to a minor tussle with New Zealand. According to the nuclear-free zone policy, Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed into the New Zealand territorial waters.

Conclusion

India now has a little less to worry about on the maritime front with AUKUS in play. The new alliance would allow the three nations to sharpen their focus on an increasingly complicated part of the world. The AUKUS trilateral will be a huge message to China, and it will move a step closer to balance China in the Indo-Pacific region.

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