Policy Brief by Kirupan Krishnarajah.
The Indo-Pacific region, encompassing China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and many other nations, has seen considerable development in the past few decades. Home to over half the world’s population as well as several leading export nations and trading routes, the Indo-Pacific has become an important geopolitical region. But in the last decade, this region has faced its fair share of security concerns; China’s increasing military presence in the South China Sea, North Korea’s nuclear missile program, and growing concerns of piracy, to name a few . Nations with clashing interests also undermine and hinder cooperation within the region, further increasing chances of conflict and security issues.
As such, the importance of keeping this region stable and secure is a top priority – one that is arguably important to the foreign policies of many nations. This priority has caught the attention of several Western countries like the United States. More specifically, the U.S. has developed ties with several nations in the region, though many of these relations are security-based . Adding on, Europe’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific region has grown, with France and the United Kingdom already having a military presence in the area with the U.S. . However, Western powers have been facing pressure to further strengthen and unify their allies within the region to contend with such issues.
What is AUKUS?
In September, a new military pact was announced between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS). While none of the leaders had mentioned if this pact is in response to a particular nation’s actions, all leaders stated that the pact’s purpose is to address the growing security issues in the Indo-Pacific region. The pact aims to combine the latest technologies and military capabilities each country has . Building upon this point, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that the pact would combine the signatories’ technologies, scientists, industries, and defence forces to “deliver a safer and more secure region that ultimately benefits all” . AUKUS joins the many other associations and treaties that have already been established within the region (i.e. ASEAN, the Quad, et cetera). On the other hand, this pact is more military-focused than many existing organizations and alliances.
The pact’s first objective is delivering a nuclear submarine fleet for Australia. While these submarines will not be armed with nuclear weapons, they will run on nuclear reactors as the leaders promised that AUKUS would complete this new project under non-proliferation agreements. Nuclear submarines have many advantages over their conventional counterparts, such as having more stealth due to their ability to run quieter via silent running, not needing to surface as much for refuelling or air and operating at higher speeds . But nuclear submarines are quite expensive to produce, so relatively few nations worldwide have them. This first goal only marks the beginning of the pact; there will be many other initiatives that AUKUS will fulfill under this pact.
Reactions to AUKUS
China: Zhao Lijian stated that “[AUKUS] seriously undermines regional peace and intensifies the arms race” .
North Korea: The regime condemns the pact, stating that it could cause a “nuclear arms race” .
France: The republic was blindsided by the pact, as it already had a deal with Australia to build conventional submarines. They only found out about the pact a few hours before the announcement was made . In response, France recalled its Washington (American) and Canberra (Australian) ambassadors. France and the U.S. did have a meeting shortly after, where both nations were willing to seek an alternative, and the Washington ambassador has returned to their post . Many also wondered why some of the countries apart of the Five Eyes - an intelligence alliance between AUKUS members, Canada, and New Zealand – were left out of this military pact.
Canada: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that “This is a deal for nuclear submarines, which Canada is not currently or anytime soon in the market for” .
New Zealand: As NZ has remained largely nuclear-free, it did not expect itself to be invited to join the pact . Adding on, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that their position “in relation to the prohibition of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters remain unchanged” .
As for other nations in the region, their responses tended to be more positive.
Japan: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga welcomed the creation of the pact, citing that the pact marks an “important role for the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region” .
Taiwan: The vice-president of the republic welcomed the pact on Twitter, stating that the pact serves “as a positive development for democracy, peace, and prosperity in the region” .
Moving Forward with the Pact
While it is too early to say what implications this pact will have, the reactions seen from the
creation of this pact seem to be a mix of surprise and hope. Some believe that this pact will only worsen relations within the Indo-Pacific, leading to another Cold War. While the details of this pact are still being understood, multiple questions arise: will more nations join this pact in the future, and what other initiatives will the signatories fulfill under this pact? Additionally, what will this mean for existing security alliances, and what foreign policy changes does the creation of the pact incur for the nations involved? For many of these questions, only time will tell. Nevertheless, AUKUS serves as a symbol where countries are now “drawing a line” in countering aggression and the rise in threats in the Indo-Pacific in hopes of stabilizing the region for a more secure and peaceful future.
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