The AUKUS military deal signed by Australia, UK, and the US has left France infuriated because it came at the cost of the $66 billion French-Australian submarine deal. Australia will now receive nuclear-powered submarines from the UK and the US. Given the loopholes in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), many countries have already exploited its weaknesses, and Australia has become yet another country to benefit from these weaknesses. Although it is unclear how members of QUAD have reacted to the formation of AUKUS, it has become increasingly apparent that the broader aim is to contain China. Compared to diesel-supported, the nuclear-propelled submarine can stay in deep water for months. This provides Australia with a security edge. Though it may not instantly provide Australia an assured second-strike capability.
AUKUS reflects the US grand strategy of offshore balancing: (a) aggressively following up the core pillars of its strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. One of which is sustaining key strategic allies vis-à-vis the rise of any potential adversary and the perceived peer strategic competitor (in this case China); (b) strengthening and empowering its allies in terms of economy and military forces against the rapid regional rise of China; (c) retaining a power projection in the Asia-Pacific region to which the US claims to be the predominant player for over a century. It may not retrench from the key sea-lines of communication (SLOCs); (d) upholding its key strategic military basis for carrying out military contingency plans when and if needed in collaboration with its allies and partners in the region; and (e) more importantly arguing for the so-called non-proliferation measures in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the NPT.
Australia, UK, and the US may repair their relations with their NATO ally by drawing France towards a similar deal. This will mean a formation of FRAUKUS only if France agrees. Regardless of France’s involvement, such a deal for developing nuclear-powered submarines can have both short and long-term implications on the evolving situation of the Asia-Pacific region. Many of the US’s closest Asian allies including those of its rising Asian rival China are closely monitoring the development of such a deal.
First, many analysts argue that such a nuclear deal may not have dire implications on the non-proliferation regimes since Australia has already stated that it would not go nuclear being part of the NPT. The US can monitor Australia to not divert such technology in the making of nuclear warheads. Others are more sceptical about it. Member states of the NPT have already exploited the weaknesses and it is now unravelling despite gaining an indefinite life extension since the NPT review conference in 1995. That said, the state’s possession of technology matters. Technology that is sweetening has already made many states go nuclear. Besides, in international politics, intention can change overnight. It may not be surprising if Australia could divert such technology in the making of nuclear warheads.
Second, such a nuclear deal could potentially increase crisis instability and speed up the arms race in Asia-Pacific. Since Australia will be the first non-nuclear-weapon state to have developed nuclear-powered submarines, others such as Japan, South Korea, and even Taiwan with acute security dilemmas despite the US security assurances may follow suit. All these states are technologically advanced and may develop the aspiration for possessing nuclear-powered submarines. This could set up a precedent which can create a domino effect. An increase in the arms race between these states will raise the prospects of crisis instability and risk military crises in the region. Other countries connected with these states may also be affected economically and militarily.
Third, as part of the US offshore balancing, the US and its Asian allies i.e. QUAD and AUKUS will put strategic pressure on China, thereby creating a security dilemma between the US and China. This may create two potential scenarios for China: a) China will develop effective counter-measures by advancing its military capabilities to counter the US strategy of encircling China thereby creating balance; and b) China could further speed up its economic imperatives by integrating as many countries including the US’s closer allies as China can to potentially avoid the inevitability of serious military crisis. That being noted, the production of effective counter-measures for retaining balance and economic integration could greatly prevent serious military crises between the potential rivals.
Lastly, US strategic alliances like QUAD and AUKUS may serve the vital security interests of the US and its allies. Such increasing strategic partnership may also increase the security of Australia, Japan and India. However, such imperatives can potentially decrease the security of countries like Pakistan because of its strategic rivalry with India. Thus, the formation of these types of strategic dialogue particularly those that include India will have deleterious implications on South Asian stability.
To retain economic and strategic balancing, the competing rivals need to foster trust, restraint, cooperation, and engage in dialogue regularly. This will ensure the success of all otherwise disparity in power and lack of cooperation can result in military tensions.