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The big deal behind the ruckus over AUKUS

  • IASbaba
  • September 22, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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INTERNATIONAL/ SECURITY

  • GS-2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate. 
  • GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

The big deal behind the ruckus over AUKUS

Context: There has been strengthening of security dialogues and structures, though diferent in scope & activity but converge on the core issue of maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

  • In April 2021, France, which has historically been an Indo-Pacific power with territories and bases across the region, participated in a multi-nation naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal with the four Quad nations (the U.S., Japan, Australia and India).
  • Recently, UK’s flagship aircraft carrier -HMS Queen Elizabeth – arrived in Japan after exercising with India, Malaysia and Singapore and traversing the disputed waters of the South China Sea. 
  • Exercise Malabar 2021, held in the Western Pacific from August 26-29, 2021, brought together, for the second year, the navies of U.S., Japan, Australian and India.
  • In the last week of September, there will be the first in-person Quad Leaders Summit (USA, India, Japan, Australia) to be hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington.
  • On September 15, the heads of government of Australia, the UK and US announced the formation of a trilateral security pact, to be known as AUKUS.

Key aspects of AUKUS

  • The AUKUS pact will be providing Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines (i.e. submarines run by nuclear power).
    • It will mean at least eight nuclear powered submarines are built in Australia, and will be the first time the UK and US have shared nuclear capabilities with another nation.
    • These submarines will potentially be fully equipped with advanced U.S. weapons such as the Mark-48 torpedoes, the Harpoon anti-ship missiles and the Tomahawk cruise missiles. 
  • The US and Britain would also share, with Australia, intelligence and advanced technologies in areas like artificial intelligence, cyber-warfare, quantum computing etc.

Significance of AUKUS

  • Australia is set to play a more robust role in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Australia will now have a more meaningful naval deterrence of its own to protect its sovereign interests.
  • The AUKUS pact is also an assertion of the relevance of the U.S.-Australia Security Treaty.
  • The AUKUS submarine deal, that enhances capabilities of Australian Navy, is an example of strategic defence collaboration, and a game-changer in the maritime security architecture of the Indo-Pacific.
  • The trilateral security partnership shows that Australia now assess China through the strategic lens, overcoming its earlier purely economic considerations with China.
  • AUKUS provides a fresh opportunity to the United Kingdom to reinsert itself more directly into the Indo-Pacific. 
    • UK is already a member of the Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence-sharing alliance built on Anglo-Saxon solidarity (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.).
  • Australia’s nuclear submarines would help create a new balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, especially in tandem with the U.S. and the U.K. 

Limitations

  • China has strongly criticised AUKUS and the submarine deal as promoting instability and stoking an arms race in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Angry France: Since 2016 France has been in negotiations with Australia to build a fleet of 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines ($90bn deal). The announcement of AUKUS has seen Australia cancel its contract with France resulting in the loss of investment and job opportunities for France. 
    • France says it feels “betrayed” and took the unprecedented step of withdrawing its US ambassadors
  • The Quad is not a security arrangement though there is a widespread feeling that without stronger security underpinnings it would play a limited role in dealing with the real challenge of China’s militarisation.
  • 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.

Conclusion

  • France is an important part of the regional security calculus. The setback may incentivise France to focus afresh on partners such as India.
  • While preparing to fight its own battles, India will need to seek external balancing. If realpolitik so demands, it has to strike new partnerships — wherever there is convergence of interests.

Connecting the dots:

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