What is AUKUS?
AUKUS is a military pact created by the U.S., the U.K., and Australia to share important technology for the use of nuclear-powered submarines, national defense, and other pressing matters. Established on September 15, 2021, AUKUS quickly became a significant news story within international affairs for three main reasons.
Firstly, the partnership’s focus on shared technology would increase Australia’s capability to intervene and patrol the Indo-Pacific region. In turn, this signaled Australia’s decision to prioritize the U.S. over China in hopes of developing closer ties with an important partner. As Australia often works with the EU on security, it is noteworthy that the nation has taken a significant step away from Europe and China by agreeing to join AUKUS.
Secondly, this deal means that the French-designed submarines intended for purchase by Australia will no longer be necessary because of AUKUS’ purpose of sharing defense technology. Consequently, France will lose out on a significant amount of money and the opportunity to work with a country in the Indo-Pacific region to protect secured interests of trade between Europe and Asia through that body of water.
Finally, AUKUS stood out as being part of the same “America-first” policies Biden has implemented that ignore the interests of European leaders.
Current Trends in Nuclear Technology
Currently, only six countries are able to operate and maintain nuclear-powered submarines. Of those countries, only the U.S. and the U.K. are in NATO. NATO is a military security organization formed following World War 2 to allow the U.S and its predominantly European allies to secure interests and ensure the security of its members. By acting outside of NATO to start AUKUS, these three countries are sidestepping European influence and are working to strengthen security in the long term, as the submarines will not likely be available until the 2040s.
Along with the submarine agreement, AUKUS is meant to maintain order in the Indo-Pacific region when it comes to managing security and trade. By ensuring the security of the countries trading in that region, it creates an incentive to determine who maintains security and could keep out those not on good terms with countries patrolling the region with their navies. For instance, Australia can use these nuclear submarines to patrol the area where it could not do so before. In addition, Australia’s participation in AUKUS is evidence that it intends to side with the U.S. on any disputes within the Indo-Pacific region.
Despite being a potentially good starting point for securing strategic resources and support between these three allies, AUKUS is not without faults. For example, not including a greater network of aligned nations may create distrust amongst leaders outside of the pact, which could be an issue if any further disputes arise that require the coordination of allies. It also intensifies diplomatic tension with China, as other countries may also begin to seek to protect interests through military means instead of through trade deals or peace agreements. Recently, China has been increasing the number of naval units throughout shared waters in places like the South China Sea, which may make an increase in naval submarines supplied through AUKUS more likely to build tension within the region.
Reactions to AUKUS in Europe
France is hit particularly hard by the new AUKUS agreement. To start, the nation is unique in that it still has many territories inhabited by 1.5 million citizens within the Indo-Pacific region. The territories all have representatives that go to the French parliament, so there are developed connections between France and its territories. France’s overseas territories in the region have been contested by other countries in the Indo-Pacific area, which is why France seeks partnerships with other countries in order to have support for its claims in the region. With the cancellation of the French-Australian deal for electric-diesel submarines, France loses an opportunity to sustain its presence in the region. In 2018, it was the first EU member to lay out its strategic plan for the Indo-Pacific region, which also led to the EU creating an “EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” in 2021. This is part of French President Macron’s policy approach, which calls for the reduction of strategic dependence on the U.S., especially given the decrease in trust between trans-Atlantic partners during Trump’s presidency.
Other European nations have had mixed reactions towards the deal, with EU officials surprised and even considering slowing a trade deal with Australia in solidarity with France. In retaliation to the canceled submarine deal, France withdrew its ambassadors to Australia and the U.S. and has yet to restore them. For the EU, AUKUS was unanticipated given that it was introduced at a time when President Biden is trying to reinstall trust with EU allies. AUKUS is a sign that the U.S. is firmly concerned about its own interests rather than those across the Atlantic.
The EU also takes a softer stance from the U.S. when it comes to relations with China, considering it more as a trade partner rather than a competitor for world power. While AUKUS does not significantly change the EU’s relationship with China, it puts the EU between two major powers – the US and China – who have shown their willingness to increase their defensive strategies to protect their interests.
For China, the AUKUS deal is another example of countries working together to prohibit it from continuing its expanding influence throughout the region. By exclaiming similar outrage to European countries like France, China could work to drive the wedge between the EU and the U.S. China’s chief official for foreign affairs immediately commented that the pact “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race.” As China has flexed its diplomatic, economic, and military muscles for the last few years, AUKUS is the first serious joint action against the country’s perceived transgressions in the South China Sea and further into the Indo-Pacific region. What remains to be seen is whether China will retaliate and escalate the situation even more. As the European Union has grown warier of China over the last year, it may provide a soft reset in relations between the two.
For the future of the region and international politics, it is best to hope that the decisions brought about by AUKUS do not escalate. AUKUS presumes that more order maintained by Australia is necessary, however by not involving important actors and allies in the area, it creates unnecessary hostility with the inclusion of said technology.