AUKUS, is the name of the trilateral security pact signed by Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. on September 15, 2021. The deal focuses primarily on security in the Indo – Pacific region for its operations. The second object of the pact is for the United States and the United Kingdom to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
The pact also covers other sensitive areas such as cooperation in cyber capabilities and artificial intelligence. Other areas of interest are quantum technologies as well as underwater military capabilities. In addition, Australia plans to acquire new long-range strike capabilities for its air force and Navy and develop new technologies in that area.
The three signatories to the pact are Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the U.K., Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and President Joe Biden of the United States. All three national leaders affirmed a solid resolve to actualize the goals of the pact. Boris Johnson further emphasized that the purpose of the deal is not to be aggressive towards any nation. But all three countries have been cautious about China’s growing influence in the region.
The navies of the three countries: Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, in concert with France, Japan, and India, must-have in the past six months been actively involved in so-called Freedom of Navigation exercises in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. China has consistently opposed these joint military exercises in her backyard.
South China Sea Dispute
China is in dispute with neighbouring countries, namely Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan, over the South China Sea territorial waters. Beijing’s claims to sole ownership of the regional waters violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Accordingly, the U.N. and its agencies, including the Arbitration Panel, have repeatedly condemned Chinese claims to that effect.
In the light of the above, the AUKUS pact has raised grave concerns among other global military powers. In Moscow, it is viewed as a potential catalyst to a new regional arms race. China reviles it as a continuation of the old “Cold War” mentality. Beijing concluded that the parties would harm their own interests in the long term.
The pact also registered a somewhat discordant note in France. In the wake of the deal’s announcement, France recalled its ambassadors to Australia. U.S French President Macron said he remembered his ambassador to Washington D.C. over the “unacceptable AUKUS submarine pact”. In truth, France signed a 90 billion dollar deal to build six diesel and electric submarines for Australia in 2016.
The French Deal Is Cancelled.
The AUKUS pact signed to build six nuclear power submarines scuttled that deal. The French foreign minister Jean – Yves Le Drain put it, “We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed. This is not done between allies”. France accused the three parties to AUKUS pact of a stab in the back. The reasons for Australia’s sudden U-turn has not been given.
Events in the South and East China seas in the past six months may have necessitated Canberra’s policy change. The Australian Navy has been involved in military exercises with U.S, British and Japanese naval fleets. Beijing expressed outright condemnation of their “unacceptable provocation” but singled out Australia for verbose threats.
China Threatens Australia
In May 2021, Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Beijing’s Global Times, a newspaper whose publications reflect official views of China’s Communist Party, attacked Australia in writing. “China has a strong production capability, including producing additional long-range missiles with conventional warheads that target military objectives in Australia when the situation becomes intense”. The U.S. assured China it would respond to any such attack on Australia proportionately and in whatever form.
The question raised by military experts is: Has Australia the means to respond if attacked by China? The answer is a resounding NO. That obviously prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison to seek procurement of nuclear-powered attack submarines.
Nuclear powered submarines can sail for twenty years without refuelling. Food supply is the only limiting factor that returns them to Port. They run underwater without noise, making their movement hard to trace. At 25 mph, they run faster than their diesel-powered subs, which move at 20 mph. These advantages enjoyed by navies with nuclear submarines make them unique. The U.S. launched the first nuclear submarine in 1950. Today Russia, U.K., China, France and India have since acquired their own fleets.
However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has clarified his intentions to not delve into nuclear missiles production. Australia is a signatory to the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1973. He also affirmed that Australia would not build nuclear power stations. His words, “But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability”.
The Royal Australian Navy.
The Royal Navy of Australia consists of 50 commissioned vessels with personnel of over 16,500. The Royal Navy is one of the largest and sophisticated in the Pacific area. Australia’s naval forces played a significant role in the Indian Ocean during W.W. ll and have continued to do so to date. It possesses:
*** Six Collins class guided-missile submarines.
*** Eight frigates armed with multi-role helicopters.
*** Three guided-missile destroyers as attack vessels.
***Twelve advanced patrol boats.
*** Two amphibious assault ships
*** Six air arm squadrons minehunter coastal vessels.
In addition, the Australian Navy possesses several navy auxiliary vessels. As a result, it is ranked 19th out of 140 globally in terms of 2021 military strength Global Firepower.
The position of Australia as an island continent makes it absolutely necessary for the country to possess a strong navy. Though not a match for the Chinese Navy and other major powers, it has a daunting geostrategic relevance. That also places a lot of maritime responsibilities on Canberra. And, though the Royal Australian Navy is by no means a weak link of the Australian military forces, it certainly needs to be modernized. That makes the acquisition of six nuclear-powered submarines in the next eighteen months very crucial.