- Introduce the concept of AUKUS and its need in Indo-Pacific.
- Elaborate on its evolving significance in the security architecture.
- Mention brief reference to Chinese response against AUKUS.
The evolving narrative on the Indo-Pacific region witnessed a major development in 2021 with the formation of AUKUS – a security and defense arrangement b/w Australia, the UK and the US. It is strictly for the Indo-Pacific region, focusing on IT sharing, defense capabilities, and strengthening related industrial bases and supply chains. It also aims to share sensitive nuclear submarine technology with Australia besides strengthening capabilities in key areas like cyber, AI, quantum technologies and undersea domain.
It has been at the center of discourse owing to its potential impact on the emerging geostrategic environment in the Indo-Pacific.
Significance : AUKUS symbolizes Australia and the UK’s strategic choice for long-term security alignment with the US in the Indo-Pacific. US has been keen to elevate the willing middle powers to balance China; Australia-China axis having deteriorated significantly since 2017 and the UK is vying to reposition itself post Brexit, globally and in Indo-Pacific. AUKUS is not a collective security agreement, but it is a non-treaty based informal alliance exhorting security cooperation and mutual military support among participating countries against an assertive China.
Of the multiple alliances in the eastern Indo-Pacific region, AUKUS is oriented towards China challenge as perceived by US. Its two main objectives can be surmised as – (a) maintaining effective Balance of Power with China in Indo-Pacific, and (b) ensuring credible deterrence against China. The US has stressed that PLA is rapidly enhancing its abilities to “fight and win wars” against a “strong enemy”, coerce Taiwan and territorial disputants and project power globally. In line with these assessments, AUKUS is the beginning of a new phase in US’s changing posture in the region. However, the downplaying of AUKUS in the new Indo-Pacific strategy can perhaps be due to concerns raised by some partners, but its evolution will likely continue at a steady pace along the following lines –
- New arrangements/agreements within AUKUS: Formal agreements b/w US, UK and Australia are likely to be finalized in the AUKUS in key areas of defense cooperation as expounded in the joint statements. Through such arrangements, both at strategic & operational levels, AUKUS will be positioned as a credible hard-power against China.
- Complementing Quad: Among the new formal partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, Quad has been the most significant. With US and Australia being members of both groupings, AUKUS will strengthen complementarities b/w them. There will be increased emphasis on the importance of both groupings to address concerns related to Quad’s role due to higher level defense cooperation among AUKUS members.
- Coexistence with other visions and mechanisms: evolution of AUKUS is likely to link with other visions and strategies like that of EU, France, India, while allaying apprehensions. This will be a gradual process. Japan may find it easier to adapt its vision & strategy for Indo-Pacific to the new reality and lend increased support to AUKUS in near-term.
- Sustaining competitive edge with focus on maritime dimension: it may become the framework for new US naval posture with support of Australia and UK, and through revitalized alliance with Japan, South Korea, and Philippines. It is possible that a naval task force for the western Pacific region may be formed under AUKUS with respective member capabilities to provide resources.
- Also, the AUKUS countries are likely to work together to enhance in-theatre capabilities with attendant basing and logistic arrangements.
Chinese response: China derided the AUKUS on expected lines. However, its response has been moderate & pragmatic. China seems to recognize that AUKUS is meant to limit its coercive capabilities.
The formation of AUKUS as an informal security alliance is a major development and its impact on geopolitical environment and security architecture in the eastern Indo-Pacific is likely to be significant. It is a key step to complement formal US alliances in western pacific region. This framework is expected to follow a bottom-up approach. Notably, the emergence of new defense partnerships between Beijing and Moscow, and China’s continued military modernization will impact AUKUS’s evolution. Hence, it is crucial for AUKUS to take measures to deal with the twin challenges of restraining an assertive-coercive China, and preventing the adverse consequences of a potential bipolar competition in the eastern Indo-Pacific.