AUKUS: UK, US and Australia launch pact to counter China
US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched the AUKUS security partnership in a joint virtual appearance. It will supplement Quad and Asean
In a development termed historic and a game-changer, the US, the UK and Australia on Wednesday announced a trilateral security partnership called AUKUS that will enable Canberra to deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the Indo-Pacific in a major challenge to China and its claims in the region.
US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched the alliance in a joint virtual appearance.
The AUKUS pact will strive over the next 18 months to equip Australia with nuclear propulsion technology, which the United States has shared only with the United Kingdom under a decades-old arrangement put together in the face of the threat from the then Soviet Union.
Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines, when they deploy, will be armed with conventional weapons only and not nuclear weapons, the leaders said.
The leaders also made it clear that the new 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, and that it will compliment these groups and others.
“This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” Joe Biden said. “It’s about connecting America’s existing allies and partners in new ways.”
He added: “The United States will also continue to work with Asean and the Quad … our five treaty allies and other close partners in the Indo-Pacific.”
TRILATERAL SECURITY PARTNERSHIP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, a member of the Quad and other multilateral groups in the region, also sought to convey continued salience of these formations for Australia. “The AUKUS will also enhance our contribution to our growing network of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region: ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand and the US); our Asean friends; our bilateral strategic partners, the Quad; Five Eyes (US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) countries; and, of course, our dear Pacific family.”
None of the three leaders mentioned China and senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters ahead of the announcement insisted “this partnership is not aimed (at) or about any one country; it’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific”.
But the threat emanating from China’s increasingly aggressive territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific and its worldwide ambitions are the reason for this new partnership - to equip, empower and embolden Australia, a fellow traveller and an ally that has been loathe challenging China.
“I think pulling Australia into the shared technology for subs and undersea warfare is a fantastic development! It further multilateralises what were previously different kinds of bilateral or plurilateral arrangements - absolutely essential for the successful balancing of China,” said Ashely Tellis, Tata chair for strategic affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Pease and the dean of Indo-Pacific experts.
Asked if this new partnership created a super security group in the Indo-Pacific, relegating others such as the Quad, to a lesser league, Tellis said that this new arrangement “does not negate the role of the Quad since it is not in any case a military alliance”.
THE QUAD GROUP
The Quad - which is a shortened version of its formal name Quadrilateral Security Dialogue - has been focused thus far on non-security issues in its escalating interactions.
There is a military component to it though, as reflected in the Malabar exercises hosted annually by India. All four countries participated in 2020, with Australia returning to the exercises 14 years after the last time in 2007. Australia had backed out of the Quad around then, putting it in suspended animation.
The Quad was resurrected in 2017 with the return of Australia and it has grown rapidly since, from meetings of officials on the sidelines of Asean to ministers to leaders in a virtual summit in March and now to an in-person summit later this month.
Calling the new partnership a “game-changer” because it brings fresh momentum to two of America’s closest alliances, Michael Kugelman of Wilson Center, a leading American think tank, said, “I don’t think it’s fair to compare this new pact to the Quad. The US alliances with the UK and Australia are much stronger and longstanding than the relationships between Quad members. And let’s be clear: the Quad isn’t an alliance. It’s a grouping of friendly, like-minded states.”
He added: “I see the Quad as a useful complement to the AUKUS. The Quad is focused on counterbalancing China through joint initiatives that revolve around dialogue and non-traditional security cooperation. The AUKUS by contrast provides muscle and military technology firepower. Given that both initiatives are meant, in different ways, to counter China, there are notable strategic benefits for New Delhi.”