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Australia, United Kingdom, United States (AUKUS)

Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced 16 September 2021 they had agreed to the creation of an enhanced trilateral security partnership – AUKUS. The security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region had grown significantly. Military modernisation was occurring at an unprecedented rate and capabilities are rapidly advancing and their reach expanding. The technological edge enjoyed by the AUKUS partners was narrowing.

AUKUS would build on the three nations’ longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties, and will enable the partners to significantly deepen cooperation on a range of emerging security and defence capabilities, which will enhance joint capability and interoperability. Initial efforts under AUKUS will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.

This is an opportunity for the three nations, with like-minded allies and partners, to protect shared values and promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. AUKUS will complement Australia’s network of strategic partnerships, including with ASEAN friends, Pacific states, Five Eyes partners, the Quad and other like-minded partners.

The first initiative under AUKUS is for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarine technology, leveraging decades of experience from the US and UK. Under AUKUS, the three nations will focus immediately on identifying the optimal pathway to deliver at least eight nuclear-powered submarines for Australia. Australia has no plans to acquire nuclear weapons and this proposal will remain consistent with Australia’s longstanding commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. All three nations are deeply committed to upholding leadership on global non-proliferation.

Australia will also acquire additional long-range strike capabilities for the Australian Defence Force. Throughout the decade, Australia will rapidly acquire long-range strike capabilities to enhance the ADF’s ability to deliver strike effects across air, land and maritime domains.

These include:

  • Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, to be fielded on Australian Hobart class destroyers, enabling Australian maritime assets to strike land targets at greater distances, with better precision.
  • Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (Extended Range) will enable Australian F/A-18 A/B Hornets and in future, Australian F-35A Lightning II, to hit targets at a range of 900km.
  • Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles (Extended Range) (LRASM) for the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
  • Continuing collaboration with the United States to develop hypersonic missiles for Australian air capabilities.
  • Precision strike guided missiles for Australian land forces, which are capable of destroying, neutralising and supressing diverse targets from over 400km.
  • Accelerating $1 billion for a sovereign guided weapons manufacturing enterprise – which will enable Australia to create weapons on Australian soil.

These capabilities, coupled with the planned Life-of-Type Extension of Australia’s Collins class submarine fleet, will enhance Australia’s ability to deter and respond to potential security challenges. The management of this transition, and other capability acquisition options that will meet Australia’s strategic requirements, will be at the forefront of consultations through AUKUS over the next 18 months.

France had pushed for several years for a European strategy for boosting economic, political and defence ties in the region stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The EU on 16 September 2021 unveiled its plan for the Indo-Pacific. But the AUKUS headlines overshadowed the EU’s own Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at "exploring ways to ensure enhanced naval deployments by EU Member States to help protect the sea lines of communication and freedom of navigation", according to a statement. Paris had raised the issue of the Indo-Pacific strategy during the June 25 visit to Paris of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing the importance of its submarine program with Australia.

The British chapter of the No Cold War coalition said in a statement that "the new anti-China military alliance forged between Australia, Britain, and the U.S.—AUKUS—is an aggresive move which threatens peace and stability in the Pacific region." According to the coalition of nearly two dozen peace groups, the creation of AUKUS "follows the recent sending of a British warship to the South China Sea in an aggressive and provocative gesture of support for the U.S.'s massive military build-up against China."

China Is Not Our Enemy, a project of U.S.-based peace group CodePink, responded by asserting that "if Biden and the Pentagon really want to 'ensure peace and stability' in the region, they could simply stop dealing missiles, weapons, [and] nuclear tech to Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan that escalate conflict and threaten global safety."

French officials were adamant they learned that Canberra was ditching the $66 billion French submarine contract only when the first reports began to emerge in the Australian press. But Canberra insisted France had long known the deal was on the rocks. Australian concerns were a matter of public record, with worries focused on cost over-runs and delays, as well as the bigger issue of whether the 12 submarines would be fit for purpose.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called the trilateral submarine deal evidence of "duplicity", "treachery" and a "stab in the back". EU Council President Charles Michel strongly criticised the Biden administration for leaving Europe “out of the game in the Indo-Pacific region”.

But the three Anglophone AUKUS partners shared a rather more confrontational approach to China than that of France. AUKUS emerged from a trade war with China and growing concern about Beijing's assertiveness around the Pacific. This came despite the fact that France had a far more extensive military presence in the Indo-Pacific region compared to that of the United Kingdom which was only newly returning to East of Suez.

The EU shouldn’t gang up on China with the US even if it stands closer to Washington by virtue of shared values, according to French President Emmanuel Macron. “A situation to join all together against China, this is a scenario of the highest possible conflictuality. This one, for me, is counterproductive,” Macron said, speaking in English, during a discussion broadcast by Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council on 04 February 2021. This kind of common front against China — as some other European leaders had advocated given the new Biden administration's revived openness to traditional alliances — risked pushing Beijing to lower its cooperation on issues like climate change, and exacerbating its aggressive behavior in Asia, including in the South China Sea, according to the French president.

Macron and European partners didn’t share the Trump administration’s outwardly aggressive stance on China, instead theorizing that it was at once a “partner, competitor and systemic rival.” Macron said Beijing was a competitor on trade and industrial issues and a systemic rival through its behavior in the “Indo-Pacific region and on values, human rights.” He decided not to allow the deployment and use of Chinese 5G technology in strategic sectors in France.

President Emmanuel Macron of the French Republic and President Joe Biden of the United States of America spoke on 22 September 2021, at the request of the latter, in order to discuss the implications of the announcement on September 15. The two leaders agreed that "the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners. ... The two leaders have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives."

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Page last modified: 05-01-2022 15:43:45 ZULU