What is the Aukus Alliance?
The US, the UK and Australia signed a new military strategic defense alliance on 16 September 2021, which allows Australia to get the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. The US is sharing its submarine technology for the first time in 50 years, having previously only shared it with the UK after the Second World War.
It means that Australia will be able to build nuclear-powered submarines that are faster and harder to detect than conventionally powered ones, and which can stay submerged for months and shoot ballistic missiles from longer distances, although Australia has stated it had no intention to put nuclear weapons on them.
This is the most important military alliance since the Second World War.
No military deal of this magnitude has been concluded since the signature of the North Atlantic Treaty, which formed the basis of the NATO, and was signed on 4 April 1949 by the 12 founding members.
It is increasingly clear that the US is now seeking alternative and new forms of defense partnerships in the future, which are outside of the old-fashioned NATO, to confront emerging geopolitical problems.
Former Deal between Australia and France
The three-way strategic alliance Aukus, between the UK, US and Australia will replace the current bilateral deal between Australia and France that was worth over 65 billion USD. Australia will end the contract given to France in 2019 to build 12 diesel electric-powered submarines to replace its existing Collins submarine fleet. France invested heavily at the diplomatic level to get this contract, but apparently, France was only given 3-hours-notice before the Aukus deal was announced to the world.
Obviously, this deal will go out of the window now as French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said that it was a “stab in the back” and “this is not done among allies”. It is also a major blow to President Macron who is seeking re-election in 2022. President Macron, unlike his predecessors, invested heavily to help the Anglo-Saxon countries: the Americans in Afghanistan the British on military co-operation, and the Australians in the Indian-Pacific. This is a major blow for his efforts. No French President, since President Chirac, has done more in the field of international peace and security on the world stage than President Macron. It is regrettable that his efforts have not been appreciated because France still has major influence in the French-speaking parts of the African continent and plays a major role in the Mali peace operation.
This move might have a negative impact on the participation of France in NATO as well. Let’s remember that de Gaulle withdrew from NATO in 1966, and France only returned under President Sarkozy in 2009. Last year, President Macron even called the organization “brain-dead”. Let’s see how the role of France in the NATO will change after the next French presidential elections, and during the mandate of the next French president (2022-2027).
Consequences for the bilateral relationship between the US and France
France immediately recalled its ambassadors both from Washington and Australia for consultations. It was the first time in the history of the long alliance between France and the United States, dating back to 1778, that a French ambassador has been recalled to Paris in this way for consultations.
Let’s not forget it was La Fayette, a French General, who helped the colonists against the British during the Revolutionary War, and even co-authored the Declaration of Independence in consultation with Jefferson. Even the Statute of Liberty, that iconic landmark of the United States, was made by a French artist, Mr. Bartholdi in France, and was then transported to New York as a gift to the new democracy of the world by the French people. This is how old and important this alliance has been!
The French ambassador to the US, Philippe Étienne, in the hours after the deal tweeted: “Interestingly, exactly 240 years ago the French navy defeated the British navy in Chesapeake Bay, paving the way for the victory at Yorktown and the independence of the United States.”
It is unclear how the French diplomatic service, that is usually extremely efficient, was unable to detect those negotiations among the US, UK and Australia, which had been ongoing for months against the French national interest.
The role of France should not be underestimated as an ally, because it is now the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that is also a member of the European Union, following Brexit.
Later, both President Biden and Macron committed themselves to healing the US-French bilateral relationship with both actions and words, but it will take time until things get back on track again.
Ultimately, the conclusion for France is that France, on its own, is too small to make a global impact and influence strategic affairs on the world stage. It is no longer a major world-power but a mid-sized world-power. The EU is the right place for France to fulfill its global ambition and the German-French alliance is the right tandem to do so.
What is the US interest in AUKUS?
The aim of the US is to counter China’s influence in the South-China Sea region, otherwise called the Indio-Pacific Region. The deal not only allows Australia to get the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines, but also to get intelligence from the US. This has not happened since the Second World War. The pact will focus on military capabilities, separating it from the FIRE EYES intelligence-sharing, which also includes New-Zealand and Canada.
Similar negotiations for partnerships are underway with Japan, India and South-Korea and will be concluded in the near future by the US.
The US president, Joe Biden, spoke of the need to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and to address the region’s “current strategic environment”.
The perceived scale of the Chinese threat in this Indio-Pacific region, a very important zone with some of the world’s most vital seaways from India to Japan and south to Australia, has grown tremendously in recent years.
Why does the Indio-Pacific Region Matter?
This is the whole point. We are entering a new age. We are living in turbulent times that are caused by the change in the course of history.
The world is changing, and we are entering a new AGE.
Every Hollywood action movie starts with a government ignoring a scientist.
After 600 hundred years, the center of the world is shifting. It is no longer in the WEST, and after 600 hundred years, since the discovery of America in 1492, the focus of the world is moving to the EAST.
The change is caused by the emerging of a new world superpower: China.
Like it or not, it is a question of fact. This process can be only slowed but cannot be overturned.
The Indio-Pacific Region is going to be the new center of the world, and a new world order is being shaped that will be finalized in the next 20 years.
These historical moments can only be compared to when Columbus discovered America in 1492, prior to that the center of the world had been the Mediterranean Sea and its regional military and trade relations. After the discovery of America, the center of trade, and therefore the geopolitical interest, shifted to the Atlantic ocean and the center of trade moved to the ports of Belgium and Netherlands. Therefore, cities like Amsterdam became immensely wealthy and North Italian cities lost their former trading power and importance.
We are living similar times. Now China is emerging as the next superpower in the world, and trade with its neighbors is being upgraded. Trade with India, South Korea, Australia, and Japan will be boosted and the center of the trade, that has been the Atlantic Ocean and in the West, will move to the Indio-Pacific region.
We are entering a new age. This shift will take one or two decades to be shaped, then it will be set for hundreds of years.
As a consequence, the United States might be using the old slogan “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and enabling China’s neighboring countries militarily by the AUKUS deal, and more deals to come, to counteract China’s operations in this region. The first deal was concluded with Australia, more deals will follow with Australia, Japan, South-Korea and India.
In this context, we can understand that the deal to exclude France has only been collateral damage in these strategic alliances.
Are There Changes in Foreign Policies?
Firstly, after AUKUS, it is clear that the US considers the UK as its major ally following Brexit, and no longer the EU.
Secondly, it is also clear that the US is seeking new, alternative military partnerships to counter emerging geopolitical problems outside of NATO. These new alliances will be bilateral or trilateral. In my view, the US will form new ad hoc alliances, based upon specific interests, and is no longer prioritizing a permanent partnership that solves all military problems.
Thirdly, after Brexit, there is also a shift in British foreign policy, based upon its new integrated policy paper, according to which the Indian-Pacific region is going to be a priority for Britain. It seeks to conclude new partnerships with the 4 key countries in the region: India, Australia, South Korea, and Japan.
Who Has Nuclear-Powered Submarines in the World?
The US has 68, Russia has 29, China has 12, UK has 11, France has 8 and India has 1 nuclear-powered submarines.
I would like to point out that, according to the Aukus deal, Australia is going to get 12 nuclear-powered submarines, as many as China has at the moment. With the US support, Australia will be able to match Beijing in the Indio-Pacific region.
The question arises whether the new pact is an infringement of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA), based in Vienna, announced that it would investigate the matter, but one doubts there would be any infringement due to the fact that 6 countries already own such submarines.
No date has been announced as to when these submarines will be built. The US will lead the project, and the precise technology it is willing to share is unclear, so is the UK’s role in the supply of the submarines.
What is China’s response?
China has been angered by the deal and a Foreign Ministry spokesperson described the deal as “obsolete cold war zero sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical concepts” and should “respect regional people’s aspiration […] otherwise they will only end up hurting their own interests”.
Obviously, the deal will speed up the arms race in the Indio-Pacific region, as China finds itself surrounded by neighboring countries that are aligned to the US.
The arms race is so imminent and strategic that it indeed reminds one of the Cold War and the possible escalation into a hot war. We can bet that China is not going to sit and wait until it is surrounded by all of its neighboring countries operating nuclear-powered submarines.
Former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, challenged Boris Johnson as to whether the newly signed Aukus defense pact between the UK, US and Australia could lead to Britain being dragged into a war with China over Taiwan.
We don’t know yet.
What is clear now is that we live in the expectancy of a war, as all major countries in the region are getting, or will be getting, nuclear-powered submarines in the next few years.
The UK National Security Adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, has described the Aukus deal as “perhaps the most significant capability collaboration anywhere in the world in the past six decades”.
I guess he is right. The future will decide how it will impact the new world order, and the future of new defense alliances among nations.
However, it does not look pretty.
Thank you for your interest.