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AUKUS: Recalling Legacies of Anglo-Saxonism and Muffling the Voices of Island Nations

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On 15 September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced the trilateral security pact developed under a cloak of secrecy known as AUKUS. Though ‘not about any one country’, according to the White House press secretary, it was immediately interpreted as a means to counter China’s influence in the Pacific and to challenge the growth of its military and nuclear capabilities. The pact, designed to help Australia develop nuclear submarines, has been seen as the next step beyond the existing ANZUS agreement between Australia, New Zealand, and the United States – seemingly now swept aside due to New Zealand’s nuclear ban. The announcement came as a shock to some of AUKUS’s closest allies, notably France.

As French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian put it, France had received a ‘stab in the back’ with the cancellation of its contract to provide Australia with Attack-class submarines – a deal worth a reported A$90 billion. France withdrew ambassadors from the US and Australia and cancelled the scheduled Franco-British defence summit, with the AUKUS pact promising to damage western strategic alliances for years to come. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian further hit back at the pact, stating the AUKUS ‘intensified’ the regional arms race and reflected a ‘Cold War zero-sum mentality’. As the political fallout increases, the AUKUS pact threatens to damage western strategic alliances for years to come.

A History of Anglo-American Strategic Alliance

AUKUS is a new development regarding what is being called the Indo-Pacific region, and marks a new turn in the politics of the Anglosphere. But it also draws on the deep roots of Anglo-American strategic alliances and imperial legacies, which have long worked both to capitalize on and compete with China’s regional influence while sidelining the interests of the nations and peoples of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Oceania themselves.

In 1877, Britain’s presence in the Pacific region was consolidated with the creation of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT), designed to oversee colonial possessions such as Tonga, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands. US aims at overseas domination date as far back as Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state William Henry Seward, who envisioned the Pacific as central to the quest for a US ‘empire’ that could gain control of world markets. Though Seward’s wider goals were never realized during his lifetime, shortly after the end of the Civil War he was responsible for bringing both Alaska and the Midway Islands under US control.

The scale of the events that took place over an eighteen-month period between 1898 and 1899 took Seward’s ideas to the next level, when the US took possession of Hawai‘i, the eastern islands of Samoa, Wake Island, Guam, the Philippines, and in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Cuba. In 1898 President McKinley argued: ‘we need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny’.

The ‘Weary Titan’ and its Heirs

While it might seem that British colonial power, already becoming stretched by the late 1800s, would have seen........

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