A “New Cold War” on the USA-China Line?

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The AUKUS alliance, which was formed by the United States (USA), England, and Australia on September 15, 2021, was seen as a new move in the strategy of surrounding China in the South China Sea. However, Iran’s full membership in the organization at the Dushanbe Summit, where the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) convened to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan, was interpreted as China’s move against the United States. The retaliatory actions of the two superpowers show that a new “Cold War” is on the way.

In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), in order to evaluate the future of the competition between the USA and China, presents to your attention the opinions received from the leading experts and academicians in their fields.

Dr. Emre OZAN (ANKASAM Turkish Foreign Policy Advisor)

Emphasizing that the multipolarity in the international system has been intensified in recent years and the competition between the great powers has come to the fore, Asst. Prof. Emre Ozan said, “After the Cold War, the USA was the hegemonic power of a unipolar system. World politics had a structure in the form of the challenges of liberal and democratic countries led by the USA and the actors who took a scattered and reactional stance against this hegemony. After the September 11 attacks, the Washington administration declared war on global terrorism in order to intensify its hegemony and to eliminate the threats posed by radical terrorist organizations. But with the USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, this process seems to have come to an end.”

Ozan said, “Actually, the failure of the policy of designing the Middle East by using military force has been known for a long time. Since the era of Barack Obama, the United States has sought to move away from this policy. In other words, the Washington administration now accepts the rise of China as the main threat. In this framework, a policy has been adopted to surround China and to balance it through alliances. This situation naturally raises the question of whether a new Cold War has begun or not. Washington gives different messages on this issue. USA President Joe Biden, recently in his speech at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, declared that they do not want a new Cold War and that they seek to establish peaceful relations with all countries. But the developments that is experienced are in the opposite direction.”

Ozan remarked that, “The alliance desired to be established with the UK and Australia shows that the USA is seeking partnerships with countries that perceive China as a threat. It can be said that the alliance in question emerged as a reaction to Beijing’s military expansion in the South China Sea. Therefore, the region in question may turn into one of the new tension areas in the international system. However, we can interpret the USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan within this framework. With this aforementioned move, the USA allowed the formation of an area of instability in the close vicinity of China and especially on the route of the Belt and Road Initiative. Against this, China seeks to ensure regional stability by strengthening its relations with Pakistan and Iran.”

Finally, Ozan concluded his assessments by saying that, “All these developments, that is the mutual tendency of the sides to some alliances, indicate that a new Cold War is about to begin. But this new era will have its own dynamics. Due to the multipolar nature of the system, many different alliance options seem possible. Therefore, although it is stated that a new era has been entered in the international system, it is not easy to foresee what kind of structure this period will bring with itself.”

Assoc. Prof. Fahri ERENEL (İstinye University)

In his evaluation within the scope of AUKUS, Assoc. Prof. Fahri Erenel said, “The USA is striving to develop its external balancing strategy with new alliances, in the South China Sea, against China, which it describes as the greatest threat to its declining hegemony. The
‘Advanced Triple Strategic Partnership Agreement’ between the USA, UK, and Australia, whose short name is AUKUS, has much more meaning than the fact that Australia has eight nuclear submarines to be produced with USA technology.”

Erenel evaluated as, “It is not credible to explain Australia’s inclusion in this partnership, which may lead China, which has had political and commercial disputes since 2015, to take even more drastic measures, by leaving the agreement with France on submarine production aside, only to ensure its own security. With the cancellation of two infrastructure cooperation agreements with the State of Victoria, within the scope of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, by the Australian Federal Government, relations that have become increasingly strained may have drawn the Canberra administration into the aforementioned partnership. The USA and the UK have openly exploited Australia’s this situation.”

In the continuation of his words, clarifying the power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific, Erenel said, “AUKUS is the latest example of the USA’s searches for China’s increasing influence in terms of navy power. The USA has built a partnership, including the UK, with the promise of cooperation, including the Nuclear Submarine and other quantum technologies, without burdening itself, and even by making money. Moreover, this work was undertaken at the expense of offending France, a NATO member, which is one of the two most influential countries of the EU along with Germany. It is predictable that the process may lead to the formation of new alliances.”

Erenel said, “The agreements signed in June 2020 and increasing bilateral military exercises between India and Australia in the fields of strengthening defense and cooperation with the Indo-Pacific maritime issues should actually be seen as a part of the USA’s strategy to surround China. Countries such as Japan, India, and Australia not only increase their defense expenditures but also develop the will to strengthen their joint action capacities. The concept of the ‘safety apple’, uniting Japan, Australia, India, and the USA’s State of Hawaii, is being revived.”

Emphasizing that the goal is to confine China to its mainland in a way that it will not implement the “Grand Strategy”, Erenel commented, “China responds this move from the north with the North Pacific Ocean Strategy (Cryopolitics-Ice Policy); In other words, with the opening that is made through the Bering Strait and continues to turn the wheels of the economy with the natural gas pipelines coming through Russia and Turkmenistan.”

Erenel stated, “The fact that Paris was left out of this agreement and the EU and especially Germany saw France as justified shows that it could concentrate on the security structure that the EU called the ‘Strategic Compass’, after the Germany elections, and that EU may respond with moves to improve relations with Russia and China, and that parting ways with some Eastern European countries acting together with the EU. In particular, it can be said that France-China relations can be revived.”

Finally, Erenel concluded his assessments by saying that, “Developments like the agreement between Washington and London, which was reached before the NATO summit in June 2021 and aimed at developing cooperation in all fields, the process that foresees the UK to increase the number of nuclear warheads, London’s new national security strategy that identified China and Russia as a threat and the UK’s inclusion in the trade agreement between the USA-Mexico-Canada should be analyzed in the context of AUKUS. The fact that New Zealand does not participate in this partnership shows that the external balancing has not been fully formed.”

Ahmet Bülent MERİÇ (Retired Ambassador)

In his statement on the subject, Retired Ambassador Ahmet Bülent Meriç said, “Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson and President of the USA, Joe Biden, making a joint statement on 15 September 2021, announced that they had established a triple security pact. This new form of cooperation has been named AUKUS by the abbreviation of the names of the three-member states.”

Retired Ambassador commented that “The AUKUS Pact envisions abilities for protracted hybrid warfare, such as cyber warfare, the use of artificial intelligence, underwater warfare and long-range strike power should be developed together. However, what stands out in the areas of cooperation is that the Royal Australian Navy will be supported in order to acquire nuclear submarines. This means that the USA’s SSBN class submarine construction technology, which can launch cruise missiles as well as long-range ballistic missiles, is opened to Australia after the UK. In other words, Australia will be prepared for the gendarmerie of the West in the protection of the main arteries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.”

Meriç made an evaluation that, “After QUAD and FIVE EYES (intelligence-sharing network between the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada), coming of the AUKUS cooperation indicates that the USA, which has left Afghanistan, a very important strategic center in the center of the Eurasian mainland, from now on, will focus on keeping his superiority in the blue waters by concentrating on besieging China from the south. It is clear that the United States will turn the balance of power in the region in its favor by creating nuclear uncertainty by stratifying its siege by connecting various cooperation forums and connecting the nuclear submarines of the United Kingdom and Australia. Because China’s, which has 60 submarines, 6 of which are nuclear-capable, strategic cooperation with Russia has not yet reached the warm seas of the Asia-Pacific.”

Emphasizing that this step taken by the USA will create a security dilemma among the global powers, Retired Ambassador said, “As a matter of fact, the first reaction of the China-Russia duo emerged by making Iran, which has been an observer until now, a full member of the SCO.”

Finally, Meriç concluded his statements by saying, “In the international system, a multi-center structure is being passed and Cold War conditions are formed between the centers. In this environment, it can be expected that AUKUS cooperation may activate some critical fault lines. The first is the breaking of the transatlantic partnership. The movement in the aforementioned area emerged at the first moment. Australia’s unilateral termination of the $66 billion worth of Construction of Traditional, Diesel Submarine Contract, signed with France’s Naval Group in 2016, has led to a reaction from Paris. The EU is also positioned next to France. Secondly, the future of the 1985 Rarotonga Treaty, which established a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the South Pacific, has become uncertain. Australia’s moves that are a breach of its obligations under the aforementioned treaty could lead to deteriorating relations with its closest ally in Oceania, New Zealand.”

Mehmet Emre ÖZTÜRK (Journalist -CRI Türk)

In his evaluation, journalist Mehmet Emre Öztürk said, “AUKUS, which provides nuclear submarine cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region against China’s growing military presence, appears as an ‘arms deal’ shaped based on geopolitical interests. In this respect, it is possible to say that the economic rivalry between the USA and China has now spread to the military field. Even if AUKUS is an attempt to deter China’s growing military power, it is also likely to create the opposite effect. Against threats from the West, China likely does more to develop its military capacity. A legitimate area has emerged for China, which will want to protect its sovereignty areas on land and seas, to make attacks in the field of defense. This situation has the risk to repeat a process very similar to the USA-Russian arms race during the Cold War.”

Emphasizing that another remarkable issue is the UK’s re-emergence in the region after many years, Öztürk interpreted it as, “It should not be forgotten that the UK, which turned to the Indo-Pacific in geopolitical competition, after Brexit, has a joint operation power with the US Army. It is likely that the UK, which took the opportunity for security engagements with the USA in the region, will take part in the Indo-Pacific alliances that will be formed in the upcoming processes. Although the United States had previously tried to establish a military force in the region with the QUAD alternative, it could not form the alliance it wanted. As a matter of fact, at the last QUAD Leaders’ Summit held in Washington, it was seen that the alliance clearly did not want to include the phrase “China”. The four countries revealed that they provided cooperation on agenda topics that would support regional interests rather than military partnership. Here, the error of comparing QUAD and AUKUS has emerged once again. While QUAD remains an informal alliance, whose members have different reservations; AUKUS, on the other hand, was recorded as a formal agreement that is made with Australia, the only alliance for the UK and the USA in which they can find their own values in the Asia-Pacific.”

Reminding that another important development came from Dushanbe, Öztürk said, “The SCO gathered on the subject of Afghanistan; however, the agenda gained a different dimension with the inclusion of Iran as a permanent member of the organization. The membership of Iran, which has wide influence and balancing power, has been evaluated as a new message of the SCO against the West. Described as the ‘NATO of the East’, the SCO aims to ensure military, economic, and cultural cooperation among member states, and to develop partnerships, especially in the field of security. Among its 9 members, the countries that draw attention with their military power are known as China and Russia. Considering the different defense policies of China and Russia, it seems unlikely that the organization will turn into a military power element in practice.”

Finally, Öztürk summed up the situation by saying, “In general, the replacement of the economic competition between the USA and China by the arms race has become a possible scenario for the future. Washington’s submarine deal has given China some messages in terms of military. Having advanced military technologies in land and air, China can detect every activity in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits. But underwater, this situation works against China. With limited underwater detection capabilities, China’s defense capabilities against generating power with nuclear reactor submarines will be weak. Therefore, it can be expected that China will embark on a path to develop its military abilities underwater too. The arms race to be experienced will put the international peace environment into a complex process through China-USA relations.”

The articles on our website are the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the institutional view of Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research (ANKASAM).

Özge Eletek 1999 yılında İzmir’de doğdu. İlk ve orta öğretim hayatını İzmir’de tamamlayan Eletek, 2021 yılında Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında birçok konferans ve seminere katılan Eletek, Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi’ndeki stajını sürdürmektedir. Halihazırda Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi'nde yüksek lisans eğitimini sürdürmektedir.