Recently a new trilateral security partnership was announced between Australia, the UK, and the USA. This has created ripples in the India-Pacific Region.
France is smarting from the humiliation at being blindsided by the AUKUS pact that it says was drawn behind its back and is furious at being “stabbed in the back”.
AUKUS: A Backgrounder
- This new partnership is known as AUKUS and the major highlight of this arrangement is the sharing of US nuclear submarine technology with Australia.
- The first major initiative of AUKUS would be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia thereby giving it a nuclear heft in the Pacific where China has been particularly aggressive.
- Apart from this AUKUS will also involve the sharing of cyber capabilities and other undersea technologies.
- This alliance is considered to be most significant security arrangement between these three nations.
Ripples created by AUKUS
(A) US shift of focus
- AUKUS is both an acknowledgment of and a concession to the loss of US strategic primacy.
- It gives justification for the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan — to be able to better focus on the strategic rivalry and trade competition with China.
(B) Resentment in the EU and France
- The deal has complicated the relations between France and Australia, and also France and the US. France is upset as it has been kept out of the loop.
- France has even ordered the recall of its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra.
(C) Chinese offensive reception
- China, expectedly, has strongly criticised AUKUS and the submarine deal as promoting instability and stoking an arms race.
(D) Confusion among the SE nations
- The new great power contestation might actually generate much room for the Southeast Asian states to manoeuvre, as they are wooed simultaneously by China, AUKUS, and the Quad.
- They realise that AUKUS is a challenge to the hallowed notion of “ASEAN centrality”, a totemic rhetorical device which seeks to have others acknowledge its relevance.
Why is France offended?
- France takes its role as an Indo-Pacific power seriously in a region.
- One must know that France has 12 time zones. The areas in French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean are mainly responsible for this.
- It maintains four naval bases, stations around 7,000 soldiers and has 1.5 million citizens in island territories such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
- France’s anger also stems from the realization that NATO is now a defunct organization in absence of the glue, USSR, that held it together.
- It is finding it difficult to deal with America’s clear shifting of focus from NATO to Indo-Pacific.
Why such an alliance?
(A) Deteriorating China-AU relations
- Tensions have been high between Australia and an increasingly assertive China, its largest trade partner.
- Australia banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei in 2108 and its PM called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 last year.
- China retaliated by imposing tariffs on or capping Australian exports.
(B) US act of counterbalancing
- China has nuclear-powered submarines, as well as submarines that can launch nuclear missiles.
- The three signatories to the AUKUS deal have made it clear though, that their aim is not to arm the new subs with nuclear weapons.
(C) Bringing Australia at the centrestage of Indo-Pacific
- In the context of the AUKUS agreement, nuclear-powered submarines will give the Royal Australian Navy the capability to go into the South China Sea.
- This is primarily because a nuclear-powered submarine gives a navy the capability to reach far out into the ocean and launch attacks.
- A nuclear-powered submarine offers long distances dives, at a higher speed, without being detected gives a nation the ability to protect its interests far from its shores.
- To go from a diesel-electric fleet to a nuclear fleet is thus a change of strategy, not just of propulsion.
- It provides a way to project power from the shipping lanes which feed the all-important Malacca Strait to the waters off Taiwan.
- Add on the capacity to launch much longer-range missiles—a submarine could deliver missiles to China’s mainland while sitting to the east of the Philippines—and the country has a greatly expanded offensive capacity.
AU: Another US Base
- If Australia’s strategic stance is changed by the deal, so is America’s.
- Since the second world war the US has projected power across the region called as an archipelago of empire.
- There are the island bases from Hawaii in the east to Guam, Okinawa in Japan and, in the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia, leased from Britain without the consent of its natives.
- In Australia, America has now, in effect, a beefed-up continent-sized base for its own operations as well as a reinvigorated ally.
Outcomes of AUKUS
(A) Offensive front against China
- There is no gainsaying the fact that rapid accretion in China’s economic and military capacities, but more particularly its belligerence, has led to a tectonic shift in regional security paradigms.
- Several countries have been obliged to review their defence preparedness in response to China’s rising military power and its adverse impact on regional stability.
(B) India as a bridge in Anglosphere
- The transatlantic fissure has also pointed to something inconceivable—that India could emerge as a potential bridge between different parts of the West.
- Our PM was on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirming India’s strong commitment to the Indo-Pacific partnership with France.
- India’s solidarity with France at a difficult moment is rooted in New Delhi’s conviction that preserving the West’s unity is critical in shaping the strategic future of the Indo-Pacific.
(C) Exposed Chinese double standards
- China has the world’s fastest-growing fleet of sub-surface combatants.
- This includes the Type 093 Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) and the Type 094 nuclear-powered Jin-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).
- Its nuclear submarines are on the prowl in the Indo-Pacific.
- Yet, China denies Australia and others the sovereign right to decide on their defence requirements.
Implications on QUAD
- Not superseding: This alliance does not and will not supersede or outrank existing arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region such as the Quad, which the US and Australia form with India and Japan, and ASEAN.
- Complimentary to QUAD: AUKUS will complement these groups and others.
Opportunities for India
While the Quad and Washington’s Indo-Pacific pivot generate much interest and anxiety, it is easy to forget that the two ideas are, in essence, about India.
- India’s role has enhanced: Balancing China is the challenge confronting the United States, and Washington has recognized that India is an indispensable part of the answer.
- Just another alliance: New Delhi has no reason to complain if Australia, Britain, and the United States raise the military capabilities of their coalition. The submarine deal is an undiluted example of strategic defence collaboration.
- Intimidating China: The introduction of nuclear-powered submarine through AUKUS has a complicating impact on the Chinese maritime calculus. Anything that maintains a balance of power in the region is desirable.
- Focusing inside on land border: AUKUS also leaves India with a less of a headache in securing its maritime flank from Chinese aggression and New Delhi may focus more fully on the threat emanating from the land border with China.
Creating affinity with France (the Submarine giant)
- In fact, instead of constricting India, AUKUS has opened a window of strategic opportunity and a chance for New Delhi to deepen its partnership with France provided it plays the cards well.
- India and France are strongly committed to making the Indo-Pacific an area of cooperation and shared values.
- The setback ‘down under’ may spur France to focus afresh on partners such as India.
- India must strike a balance between continuing imports and implementing the all-important Atmanirbhar Bharat in defence manufacturing.
- France should take AUKUS as a business deal.
- Its momentary reaction at the cancellation of the contract by Australia should soon subside.
- As a major Indo-Pacific power, France is an important part of the regional security calculus.