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Don’t Underestimate the AUKUS Rift With France

1 26 5
23.09.2021

Last week’s surprise joint announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of a new military and technology pact among their three countries—AUKUS—dropped like a bombshell in capitals around the world. The genesis of the agreement was Australia’s requirement for a submarine that can handle the increasing reach and size of the Chinese Navy through the South China Sea into the Coral Sea and other waters off Australia. Canberra’s problem was that a French design for a new Royal Australian Navy submarine would have had difficulty meeting this requirement, procurement was not proceeding smoothly, and at the same time the threat was growing rapidly.

The solution is bold. The United States and Britain will share their highly sensitive nuclear propulsion technology with Australia to ensure that its navy has the capability to shore up deterrence in its part of the increasingly contested Indo-Pacific. The geopolitical payoff is big for Biden in the Indo-Pacific, where he needed momentum after the problematic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Japan, India, Vietnam, and other maritime states in the region are pleased with the development and have expressed support for AUKUS either publicly or privately. For Johnson, the pact completes the post-Brexit tilt of “Global Britain” to the Indo-Pacific and puts an end to the naive “golden era” of Sino-British closeness begun by Prime Minister David Cameron. AUKUS further enhances all three countries’ geopolitical position with expanded cooperation in areas such as supply-chain security and the development of advanced cybercapabilities.

Of course, bold strategic moves and new alliances have costs. Canada and New Zealand, the two other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing relationship alongside Australia, Britain, and the United States, were unsettled. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morrison that the new nuclear-powered subs would not be welcomed in New Zealand’s waters, though it is not clear how Wellington—long the weakest link among the Five Eyes—would know. In any case, neither Ottawa nor Wellington has requirements for deterrence capabilities in the Pacific comparable to Australia’s. And nothing in AUKUS diminishes the advantages they already receive from their Five Eyes status.

Last week’s surprise joint announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of a new military and technology pact among their three countries—AUKUS—dropped like a bombshell in capitals around the world. The genesis of the agreement was Australia’s requirement for a submarine that can handle the increasing reach and size of the Chinese Navy through the South China Sea into the Coral Sea and other waters off Australia. Canberra’s problem was that a French design for a new Royal Australian Navy........

© Foreign Policy


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