AUKUS is a big deal in Indo-Pacific architecture, and it will complement, not diminish the importance of Quad

FIRST POSTSreemoy Talukdar September 16, 2021 16:57:10 IST

It is obvious that China’s military aggressiveness, bullying of the nations in Indo-Pacific necessitated a response, and the ‘historic’ security alliance is aimed at mitigating the challenges

Close on the heels of a humiliating exit from Afghanistan that has raised questions over America’s commitment towards its allies, the Joe Biden administration on Wednesday announced the formation of a “historic” trilateral security partnership with the UK and Australia that will be rather awkwardly known as ‘AUKUS’.

In a joint televised appearance and later through a joint statement, Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison announced that in order to “deepen diplomatic, security, and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, we are announcing the creation of an enhanced trilateral security partnership called AUKUS”, that, the leaders claimed, “will strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defense interests” through fostering “deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains.”

A key feature of this Indo-Pacific grouping is that as part of the defence agreement, the US and the UK will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia and help Royal Australian Navy possess a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines — making Australia the member of an exclusive club of only six world powers (the US, UK, France, China, India and Russia). The move will vastly enhance Australia’s capabilities as the net security provider in the Indo-Pacific and its ability to counter China. This is also expected to have a bearing on US security commitment towards Taiwan in the event of China resorting to force.

Though Joe Biden, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson — and the officials behind the chalking of this deal — were at pains to point out that this alliance was “not directed towards any country” — no one is buying that excuse.

It is obvious that China’s military aggressiveness, bullying of the nations in Indo-Pacific and virtual taking over of the maritime space in South China Sea necessitated a response, and the alliance — that is being called “the most significant security arrangement between the three nations since World War Two” — is aimed at mitigating the challenges arising out of China’s force posture including rapid naval and air force expansion and expansive territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific.

The AUKUS agreement will also cover the domains of artificial intelligence, cyber, undersea and quantum technologies but it is the nuclear naval reactor bit that has understandably attracted the most attention. Unlike conventional, diesel-powered submarines, nuclear-powered subs have better endurance, are faster, stealthier, can cover greater distances and remain submerged for months.

As a Nikkei Asia report points out, “in a potential conflict with China, many US military planners believe that only a submarine could operate in the Taiwan Strait — China’s 2,000 short-to medium-range missiles could sink every surface ship that entered the waters.” China’s deterrence capability vis-a-vis surface vessels therefore make nuclear-powered subs an essential weapon in armory.

Additionally, Australia announced that it “will rapidly acquire long-range strike capabilities to enhance the ADF’s ability to deliver strike effects across our air, land and maritime domains” and as part of the deal, will acquire US long-range Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, “to be fielded on our Hobart class destroyers, enabling our maritime assets to strike land targets at greater distances, with better precision.”

There are two broad reasons why this is a big deal.



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