AUKUS Security Partnership

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.

Objectives of AUKUS

Aims to ensure that there will be enduring freedom and openness in the Indo-Pacific region.

Salient features

  • Complements several pre-existing similar arrangements for the region, including the Five Eyes intelligence initiative, ASEAN, and the Quad.
  • Proposes to transfer technology to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for Australia within 18 months.
  • Australia will become only the second nation, after the U.K., that the U.S. has ever shared its nuclear submarine technology with.
AUKUS is a military allianceQUAD is not a military alliance; it is a diplomatic alliance
AUKUS specifically will deal with the security and military situation in the Indo-Pacific regionQUAD focuses on the affairs of the whole world
It is a pact to protect the Indo-Pacific from China’s dominance and shield the post-1945 global orderQUAD has an agenda of its own that suits shared interests of all the members.
Both the groups have a common interest in protecting the Indo-Pacific region from China’s dominance over other nations.

Differences between Quad and AUKUS

  • AUKUS is a military alliance, whereas QUAD is not, it is a diplomatic alliance. QUAD discusses diplomatic and global issues along with a security dialogue. AUKUS only focuses on military developments, as significant from their first project, where UK & US are helping Australia to acquire a nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarine fleet. However, QUAD focuses on multilateral issues ranging from economic discussions, security affairs & global affairs. Ex. vaccines, Afghanistan situation etc.
  • AUKUS specifically will deal with security and military situation in Indo-Pacific region, however, QUAD focuses on multifaceted issues, Ex in 2021 meet — they discussed the COVID-19 situation, vaccines, and climate change.
  • AUKUS trilateral military pact to protect Indo-Pacific from China’s dominance and shield post-1945 global order. However, QUAD has an agenda of its own that suits shared interests of all the members.

Similarities between Quad and AUKUS

  • Both groups have a common interest in protecting Indo-Pacific region from China’s dominance. India, Japan and US continue to hold joint naval & military exercises (MALABAR). Thereafter, QUAD was revived with Australia re-joining alliance to counter China militarily and diplomatically in South China Sea. In 2021, QUAD declared a shared vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, thus countering China’s aggression in the region.
  • Leaders of all four QUAD nations became more aligned in their common interests regarding China’s assertive attitude in the Indo-Pacific in 2021 and are inclined to establish a productive collaboration.
  • The first project of AUKUS will be to help Australia acquire a nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarine fleet. The three heads of state reaffirmed their intention to continue to work with their allies and groupings in tandem with AUKUS, with the QUAD being mentioned by Morrison and Biden, though they were not specific on details.

How AUKUS augments Quad?

  • AUKUS reassures US allies of its commitments in the Indo – Pacific.
  • AUKUS is a shot in arm for larger Indo-Pacific agenda of which India, U.S., Japan, Australia, among others, are key partners.
  • AUKUS augments aim of QUAD of keeping the Indo-Pacific region free, open and inclusive.
  • AUKUS has ventured where the Quad has been reluctant to make forays into — military domain
  • AUKUS fills the vacuum created by the reluctance of Quad to be seen as an anti-China military alliance.
  • It will augment the capacity of the Quad of which both the US and Australia are members
  • It is a first of its kind defence initiative of the US in the Indo – Pacific.
  • AUKUS might Make Quad grouping relatively more palatable to ASEAN.

How AUKUS impacts influence of QUAD?

  • Unlike AUKUS Quad does not have a clearly outlined agenda and activities.
  • It is not a formal organization and does not have any formal structure.
  • It might end up becoming a mere deliberative forum.
  • Quad members have security/military considerations in mind vis-à-vis China, however they have been reluctant to make it an agenda in the summits.
  • Members have shown little interest in properly institutionalising the Quad.
  • In the larger scheme of Indo-Pacific, AUKUS can become its security/military arrangement, while Quad might merely be a talk shop.
  • With India facing challenges in its continental neighbourhood and its increasing focus on Indo-Pacific, AUKUS can overshadow the potential of Quad which is important for India.

Benefits of AUKUS for India

1. Strengthens India-Australia relations

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.
  • 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.

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.

Analysis of AUKUS

  • US treatment of Afghanistan & France raises questions about American reliability as a partner.
  • India not getting offer that US has offered to Australia under AUKUS has raised concerns of America’s support to India’s defences.
  • AUKUS signals a dilution of interest in India or Quad, particularly in USA’s Indo-pacific strategy.
  • AUKUS might weaken strategic cooperation under Quad and reduce quadrilateral grouping to dealing with just climate change, COVID vaccines.
  • India has itself been reluctant to visibly securitize Quad. Quad has collectively decided to focus on areas that help build resilience in the region and demonstrate that grouping can deliver practical solutions to regional problems. Security dimension of Quad is clearly visible in the MALABAR naval exercise which has the same participants as the Quad.
  • However, it has been argued that AUKUS could actually help Quad. It could even take some pressure off the grouping, by attracting Chinese ire. It might make the four-country grouping relatively more palatable to ASEAN in comparison.

AUKUS could reduce pressure on India and Japan to undertake commitments on defence and security front that they are unable or unwilling to sign on to. This potentially increases the freedom of action—or strategic autonomy—of these members and other like-minded countries in the region.

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