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Analyzing the New Australia, U.K., U.S. (AUKUS) Security Pact

Foreign Policy Brief #133 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | October 5, 2021

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Photo taken from: United World International

Policy Summary

On September 16, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden, along with U.K. Prime minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime minister Scott Morrison who joined in virtually, announced the creation of a new security partnership or the AUKUS pact, between the three nations that seeks to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. AUKUS includes a plan to increase technology and military capability sharing between the nations. These three already share intelligence through the Five Eyes Alliance, which includes New Zealand and Canada, but the new pact further entrenches the ties between them. Most notably, the pact will also provide nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S. and U.K. to Australia in order to counter Chinese expansion in the region.

China has condemned the pact, calling it extremely irresponsible, and accusing the U.S. of tactics that will incite a new Cold War. Under this deal, Australia will become just the seventh nation in the world to operate nuclear-powered submarines. These subs are much faster, more difficult to detect, able to stay submerged for longer, and theoretically could be armed with nuclear weapons, far beyond what traditional submarines can do. China is unsurprisingly angered at the deal that will see more advanced U.S. aligned weaponry in its hemisphere.

France, one of the U.S. and U.K.’s oldest and closest allies, has also been incensed by the deal. By joining the pact, Australia essentially tore up a $50 billion deal it previously made to purchase 12 submarines from France. The huge monetary loss for France, coupled with being left out of the major global players realpolitik angered Paris enough to recall the French ambassadors from both Australia and the United States. This is the first time since the United States’ inception that the U.S.’s first ally has gone as far as recalling its ambassador. French Foreign Minister Le Drian expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticized both Australia and the U.S. “It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed…This is not done between allies”. 

Australia’s closest neighbor, New Zealand, which has a 30-year-old ban on nuclear-powered vessels entering its water, has tried not to align itself with either the U.S. or China. Thus, the small island nation, though a member of the Five Eyes alliance with the U.S. and Australia, has said it will make no exception for Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines to enter its waters.

Policy Analysis

Though no nation was singled out during the announcement of this security pact, it’s obvious the maligned actor the pact is intending to provide security against is China. The US, which is looking to reclaim its global role after a more isolationist policy from the former president, and now not involved on the ground in Afghanistan, has shifted its attention to the region,  concerned about its slipping into the sphere of China’s growing influence. London also has been seeking to make alliances and deals with other global partners now that it has left the EU. 

Biden had previously stated that contrary to the Trump administration’s America first  handling of strategic foreign policy, he instead plans to work with allies to counter threats and tackle global issues. Still, while attempting to bring some allies closer, the U.S. pushed away another. Paris, having felt slighted, has called the actions of the Biden administration similar to what occurred under the America First era of the previous president. 

Photo taken from: Politico

The deal seeks to counter China’s growing presence in the region. China has had increasing tensions with all three nations, and Australia is very keen to counter China in any way it can. Especially after a recent trade war with China that took a toll on the Australian economy. Though China is Australia’s largest trading partner and the two economies are deeply intertwined, the oceanic nation is more closely aligned with the US. 

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