AUKUS: Countering Growing Threats in the Indo-Pacific

Policy Brief by Kirupan Krishnarajah.

Joe Biden, standing at a podium, faces a TV screen with Scott Morrison on his left. Boris Johnson is on a screen to his right.
President Joe Biden (center) announced a new pact with Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States alongside Prime Minster Scott Morrison (left) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right). Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Background

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 [1]. 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 [2]. 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. [3]. 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 [4]. 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” [5]. 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 [6]. 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” [7].

North Korea: The regime condemns the pact, stating that it could cause a “nuclear arms race” [8].

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 [9]. 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 [10]. 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” [11].

New Zealand: As NZ has remained largely nuclear-free, it did not expect itself to be invited to join the pact [12]. Adding on, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that their position “in relation to the prohibition of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters remain unchanged” [13].


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” [14].

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” [15].


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.

 

Bibliography


1. Bajpai, Arunoday. "Geopolitics and Geoeconomics in Europe and Asia." International Political Science Association. n.d. https://www.ipsa.org/wc/panel/geopolitics-and-geoeconomics-europe-and-asia.


2. Haass, Richard. "U.S. Policy Toward the Indo-Pacific: The Case for a Comprehensive Approach." Council on Foreign Relations. March 19, 2021. https://www.cfr.org/report/us-policy-toward-indo-pacific-case-comprehensive-approach.


3. Rising, David. "Tensions Grow As US, Allies Deepen Indo-Pacific Involvement." AP News. September 23, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/united-nations-general-assembly-joe-biden-australia-beijing-europe-3fcbf65b68f005316bc92c34a297fabe.


4. "Remarks by President Biden, Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, and Prime Minister Johnson of the United Kingdom Announcing the Creation of AUKUS." The White House. September 15, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/09/15/remarks-by-president-biden-prime-minister-morrison-of-australia-and-prime-minister-johnson-of-the-united-kingdom-announcing-the-creation-of-aukus.


5. Ibid.


6. Mitchell, AJ. "How Nuclear-Powered Submarines Actually Work." Business Insider. September 22, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/nuclear-scientist-explains-how-nuclear-powered-submarines-work-2021-9.


7. "Aukus: UK, US and Australia Launch Pact to Counter China." BBC News. September 16, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-58564837.


8. "Aukus Could Trigger a 'Nuclear Arms Race', Says North Korea." BBC News. September 20, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58621056.


9. "Aukus Pact: France and US Seek to Mend Rift." BBC News. September 23, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58659627.


10. Ibid.


11. Connolly, Amanda. "Was Canada Invited to Join AUKUS? Officials Mum but Stress No Interest in Subs." Global News. September 16, 2021. https://globalnews.ca/news/8196164/aukus-defence-deal-canada-china-relations/.


12. McClure, Tess. "Aukus Submarines Banned from New Zealand As Pact Exposes Divide with Western Allies." The Guardian. September 16, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/16/aukus-submarines-banned-as-pact-exposes-divide-between-new-zealand-and-western-allies.


13. Ibid.


14. Brunnstrom, David. "At Quad, Japan's Suga Welcomed Australia Submarine Partnership." Reuters. September 24, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/quad-japans-suga-welcomed-australia-submarine-partnership-2021-09-25/.


15. Ching-te, Lai. Twitter. September 16, 2021. https://twitter.com/chingtelai/status/1438483967871647754.