The AUKUS partnership for Canberra, London, and Washington is about promoting deterrence and stability in the Indo-Pacific. For China, AUKUS, along with the Quadrilateral forum or the Quad, is one of the dangerous “small cliques” that the US is building in Asia. China has warned Canberra that Australia is making an “expensive mistake” that will “plant a time bomb” in the region.
The future of this partnership will involve Canberra, London and Washington to overcome several technical and policy issues in implementing the AUKUS road map. The current estimated cost of the project will be around $250 billion. It will be nearly three decades before an Australian-built nuclear submarine will enter service.
This multi-decadal plan will trigger multiple strategic consequences:
- AUKUS is in essence about transforming Australia’s strategic capabilities and making it a powerful factor in shaping the Indo-Pacific regional security environment. AUKUS will see a deeper partnership between the US, UK, and Australia in developing a range of underwater technologies to cope with the dramatic expansion of Chinese naval capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.
- The UK is the lynchpin in the AUKUS, with its critical role in designing and developing a new class of nuclear-powered submarines by including cutting-edge US technologies to Britain’s domestic nuclear capabilities and the Australian demand. AUKUS will begin to change that by reinforcing London’s renewed claim for a long-term role in Indo-Pacific security.
- AUKUS has reinvigorated the idea of an “Anglosphere” that speaks of the enduring geopolitical bonds between the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. India, which had difficult ties with the Anglosphere in the past, is now seeing a rapid expansion of its ties with the English-speaking world.
FUNCTIONAL CHALLENGES THAT AUKUS WILL FACE
- It is for the U.S. to build nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) for Australia but the U.S. policymakers seem sceptical about the option.
- Even if Australia acquires a submarine the integration with the onboard combat system would be difficult due to differences between the current Australian and American fleets.
- Canberra could announce a modified version or new design i.e. a completely new AUKUS-class design to be acquired by all three countries but again the biggest of challenges which Australia has to figure out how to get around U.S. export controls. As the U.S.’s stringent export control and protocol regime could jeopardise the technology transfer agreement.
- Nuclear technology is difficult under the international system. For Australia to operate nuclear-powered submarines with high-enriched uranium (HEU) fuelled reactors, it will have to exploit a loophole that allows non-nuclear weapon countries to withdraw the fissile material required for submarine reactors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)-monitored stockpile.
- For India Acquiring nuclear propulsion technology is likely to be complicated as India is not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
ABOUT AUKUS USA, UK and Australia have formed a security partnership in Indo–Pacific with an aim to counter Chinese aggression. This group has been created in addition to already existing collaborations like QUAD, 5 eyes alliance etc. In this backdrop let us understand the various dimensions of AUKUS and its implications on the geo-politics of Indo- Pacific.
BENEFITS OF AUKUS FOR INDIA
- Strengthens India-Australia relations
• Aims at improving defence capabilities of Australia which is a strategic partner of India.
• India & Australia recently held their first round of 2+2 dialogue to deepen their defence & strategic ties.
India can now see a dramatic upgradation of those Australian capabilities in the coming years. This should also open the door for greater S&T cooperation between India and Australia which should eventually expand to cover sensitive strategic areas.
2. Augments Quads capability
- Augment capacity of Quad of which both US and Australia are members.
- This is a first of its kind defence initiative of the US in the Indo – Pacific since Quad has not clearly outlined its defence motives clearly.
- AUKUS is beneficial for India because it reflects continued & intensifying US-Australian concerns about China.
- Bolster both Australian and American ability to deter China or to respond in the event of a crisis. Thus, supplements Quad’s efforts.
3. Clarifies role of Big Powers in Indo – Pacific
- Indian policymakers have gone from worrying about too much US presence and interest in Indian Ocean to worrying about Washington paying too little attention to this region. AUKUS could ease this concern.
- AUKUS conveys the U.K.’s seriousness about its tilt to the Indo-Pacific and signals a change in UK’s assessment of China.
- AUKUS rollout gives India an opportunity to boost diplomatic, defence & trade ties, particularly with France. France will probably double down on its efforts to secure arms deals with India—for commercial and political economic reasons and maybe even to get one over on the U.S.
- France’s reaction to AUKUS could make it more willing and able to help India attain nuclear-powered submarines in addition to or in place of Russia.
Thus it can be concluded that India has now a rare opportunity to develop a unique set of arrangements of its own with Washington and its allies that will strengthen India’s comprehensive national power as well as enhance its contribution to regional peace and security.
CHALLENGES FROM AUKUS FOR INDIA
- Tussle between AUKUS nations & France discourages consensus on larger issue of rise of China.
- France’s discontent feeds China’s narrative about U.S. unreliability.
- Despite India’s increasing collaboration with US, India did not get the offer that US has offered to Australia under AUKUS.
- Creation of AUKUS signals a dilution of USA’s interest in India, in its Indo – Pacific strategy.
- Shrinks potential space available for Quad, and India, to play a serious role in region’s security architecture.