The leaders of Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom announced last week the formation of a new trilateral security agreement called “AUKUS.” The new security pact will oversee the development of a nuclear-powered submarine fleet in Australia and also focus on developing joint artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, and long-range strike capabilities.
Experts believe that the partnership will meaningfully augment the United States and its allies’ ability to effectively deter Chinese Communist Party (CCP) adventurism in the Indo-Pacific and that its mission-oriented multilateralism may provide a framework for future joint military efforts among democratic nations.
The move indicates a growing understanding of the threat posed by the CCP to the nations of the Indo-Pacific, and how alliances might best combat it, Sam Kessler, a geopolitical adviser at the multinational risk management company North Star Support Group, told The Epoch Times.
“It’s an indication that the U.S. is taking the level of seriousness to the next level and showing that it realizes it needs to more fully utilize its established set of alliances that have been around for decades,” he said in an email.
“It shows that the UK and Australia are also more committed to addressing the regional security concerns that are escalating in the Indo-Pacific.”
Kessler noted that the United States doesn’t normally share its submarine technology, much less its nuclear submarine know-how, and that the move demonstrates the seriousness with which the nation believes that its allies will be vital to countering emerging global security crises.
The last time the United States committed to such a transfer of technology was from 1958 to 1962, when it agreed to exchange nuclear capabilities with the UK in an effort to deter the Soviet Union from nuclear action as part of the U.S.–UK Mutual Defense Agreement, which is still in effect.
The nuclear submarines will make Australia the seventh nation in the world to command such technology, and the only one without also owning nuclear weapons. The other countries that have nuclear submarines are China, France, India, the UK, the United States, and Russia.
The CCP responded irately to the development, with state-owned media Global Times suggesting that Australia would now be a target for nuclear war.
The strengthening of Australia’s military capabilities follows a year of attempts by the CCP to cripple the Australian economy through sanctions and tariffs in response to a call by Australian officials for an inquiry into the origins of the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
Anders Corr, principal at advisory firm Corr Analytics, told The Epoch Times that AUKUS is particularly important insofar as it offers a strategic military capability and adds a specific mission set to nations whose other security agreements, such as the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, were otherwise limited to intelligence sharing or non-mission-specific drills.
“AUKUS is important because it creates a stronger core to the Five Eyes alliance,” Corr, who is also an Epoch Times contributor, said in an email, referring to the grouping of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
“Canada and New Zealand are still members of Five Eyes, but AUKUS can go where Five Eyes cannot, notably into strategic deterrence of China,” he said.
Allies and Vassals
Both experts also highlighted the fact that AUKUS serves as a reinforcement to allied attempts at increasing interoperability—the ability of their individual military forces to effectively commingle and operate as one single joint force.
“The Australians having nuclear submarine technology is designed to assist with the U.S. and British efforts, as diesel has major limitations and uses,” Kessler said. “This is just one example where interoperable forces can help ensure security in the Indo-Pacific.”
Another key component of developing such interoperability, Corr says, is the capability of sharing specific weapons systems in the future, should the nations deem such action necessary.
“Interoperability may be critical to the strategic power of AUKUS,” he said. “For example, if the United States or Britain decides to provide nuclear weapons that fit the Tomahawk cruise missiles that will arm Australia’s new nuclear submarines.”
As part of the agreement, Australia is set to receive Tomahawk cruise missiles to arm its nuclear submarines. Thus far, however, all three AUKUS nations have sworn that Australia’s new fleet of submarines will only be powered by nuclear generators, and not armed with nuclear weapons.
It’s also important to note that, though Tomahawk missiles are nuclear-capable, nuclear warheads for the system were phased out in 2014.
Additionally, the focus on building interoperability between the nations’ forces has become something of a key feature that distinguishes the United States’ military alliances from those of China.
While the United States and its allies seek to build joint forces that can work together toward one end, the CCP generally seeks merely to control its partners for the purposes of pursuing its own aims, and generally refrains from building any interoperational capacity, according to experts.
It’s a phenomenon that Corr believes stems from the very different forms of governance between the democratic West and communist China.
“AUKUS is a win for the ability of democracies, which by nature share power, to ally with each other,” Corr said. “Dictatorships, which are by nature power-hungry, do not have that advantage.”
Kessler also believes the agreement presents real progress in the allies’ ability to expand upon traditional alliance structures and leverage resources toward a common goal in a novel way.
“What we are seeing is that redrawing the lines and going outside the box can create a new scenario and range of opportunities that previously didn’t exist,” he said, “which is why multilateralism and traditional established alliance structures in the West can potentially find new life and meaning in this new strategic reality.”
A Framework for the Future
Importantly, Corr and Kessler believe that AUKUS could provide a framework for meaningfully improving upon the way democratic nations pursue security interests jointly, and that the agreement may provide a learning opportunity for informing other informal agreements such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad.”
The Quad is a forum among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that’s designed to promote a free and open Indo–Pacific and rules-based maritime order.
“It’s possible that AUKUS can provide a framework for formalizing other non-binding partnerships like the Quad,” Kessler said. “However, it will depend on how the two find a way to coexist and help each other out in ways that serve specific purposes and goals.”
Likewise, Corr said that the strength of AUKUS largely is in its dedication to solving a specific problem, and that other security agreements ought to focus on developing specific solutions to particular problems as well.
“AUKUS shows what an alliance can do when it has a specific mission, for example, the provision of nuclear submarines to Australia,” Corr said. “The Quad has a less specific, and relatively non-explicit mission, and so has been less effective to this point.
“As the danger from Beijing increases, the Quad will be forced to step in with more specific missions.”
Corr and Kessler hope AUKUS will prove a valuable springboard for effective deterrence of CCP in the Indo-Pacific and a boon to the many democratic nations of the world. That hope was shared by the leaders of the AUKUS nations, whose announcement of the agreement on Sep. 15 heralded a commitment to the values of “maritime democracies.”
For now, Kessler says the success of AUKUS will depend upon the ability of its leaders to acknowledge that the threat from Beijing is reaching its zenith, and to act accordingly.
“AUKUS as a multilateral cooperation tool can be a win if the Western players realize that the strategic reality is more serious, with higher stakes, after several years of evolving to this point,” he said.