New Delhi: Eyeing a major deterrence plan against China, the United States and the United Kingdom have decided to support Australia in pursuing nuclear-powered submarines under a new enhanced trilateral security partnership named AUKUS.
Under this partnership, Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide. Over the next 18 months, the three countries will have consultations over the design, technology transfer, production timelines and training modules, among others.
With this “alliance” of sorts between these three countries, India, an ally of all of them as part of the Indo-Pacific construct, is also expected to gain “major leverage”, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
India is part of the Quad framework that has the US and Australia also in it, with Japan being the fourth member of that grouping. The Quad is soon going to have an in-person meeting of leaders in Washington, for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting the US, sources added.
India and Australia recently held their first round of 2+2 dialogue in an effort to deepen their defence and strategic ties. In 2020, India and Australia had signed a defence pact — the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement. Besides, India is going to participate in Australia’s biggest wargame, Talisman Sabre, in 2023. The US is already part of it.
Before the announcement on AUKUS, Morrison held a telephonic conversation with Indian PM Narendra Modi Wednesday.
Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, Director, Centre for Security, Strategy & Technology at the Observer Research Foundation, explained the significance of AUKUS for India.
“Australia is now definitely willing to play a larger role in this region, which I think is good for India as an ally… The more your partners gain strength, the better it is for you. India will also grow into that. After all, we are all like-minded countries and it is better that our partners build their capabilities,” Rajagopalan said.
“Beijing should be concerned. This will make the region a lot more competitive in coming times.”
Derek J. Grossman, senior defence analyst at RAND Corporation, told ThePrint that New Delhi will have “little to complain” in terms of supplying nuclear technology to Australia, because of the existing US-India civilian nuclear deal.
“I’ve also heard from senior Biden administration officials that in their call to India to explain AUKUS, Indian officials were quite pleased with the news … Fundamentally, I don’t think AUKUS changes much in the Indian Ocean or broader Indo-Pacific. It simply hardens current positions,” he said.
“As for India, I think AUKUS is actually a good thing because it keeps Beijing distracted in the maritime domain and on its eastern flank and less focused on the land dispute to its west,” he added.
How AUKUS will affect landscape
Laying out his vision for the new partnership, Australian PM Scott Morrison said: “Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific. This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures.
“AUKUS will also enhance our contribution to our growing network of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region: ANZUS; our ASEAN friends; our bilateral strategic partners, the Quad; Five Eyes countries; and, of course, our dear Pacific family.”
US President Joe Biden also said America will continue to work with ASEAN and the Quad, “as was stated earlier; our five treaty allies and other close partners in the Indo-Pacific; as well as allies and partners in Europe and around the world to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, and build a future of peace, opportunity for all the people of the region”.
The AUKUS, Biden said, will address “the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve. Because the future of each of our nations — and indeed the world — depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead”.
According to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “Only a handful of countries possess nuclear-powered submarines, and it is a momentous decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability and, perhaps, equally momentous, for any other state to come to its aid.”
China slams AUKUS
Thursday’s announcement of AUKUS has drawn sharp criticism from China, which believes this will only increase the arms race in this part of the world.
Slamming the three countries, Beijing said they should “shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice”, and that this “irresponsible” move will intensify the arms race and that this partnership will be “damaging regional peace and stability”, and that neighbours of Australia should question its sincerity.
Once the fleet is ready, Australia will be able to “significantly challenge” China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, thereby asserting its authority in the region and keeping sea lanes open, the sources said.
The US had last shared the nuclear propulsion technology with an ally in 1958 in a similar agreement with the UK, the New York Times said, quoting Biden administration officials.
France calls it ‘stab in the back’
The pact, interestingly, has upset France — a key partner in the Indo-Pacific construct — as it failed to secure a 50-billion-euro deal with Australia for building 12 Attack-class submarines.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the AUKUS was a “stab in the back”.
France also said it will “need clarifications” since this was an inter-governmental deal that was signed with Australia in 2019.
“This brutal, unilateral, unpredictable decision looks very much like what Mr Trump used to do… Allies don’t do this to each other… It’s rather insufferable,” Le Drian said.
However, the Australian government said in a media statement: “The pursuit of nuclear-powered submarine technology means that Australia will no longer proceed with the Attack-class conventional submarine programme with Naval Group (of France).”
The statement also read: “Accelerating changes to regional security make conventional submarines unsuited to our operational needs in the decades ahead.”
Grossman added, “AUKUS is the latest manifestation of like-minded democratic countries working together to counter China, even if in this particular case, one of them, France, was frozen out. AUKUS is likely to harden Beijing’s views that democratic countries are out to get China and simply contain its economic and military rise.”
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)