On 15 September 2021, a statement regarding a new partnership was made by the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom, and Australia. This alliance, called “AUKUS”, aims to establish an advanced trilateral security partnership. The alliance which aims to defend common interests in the Indo-Pacific region, was announced as a pact that will share technology, industrial bases and supply chains.[i]
In a way, the “securitization” policy of the Indo-Pacific region, which started especially during the Donald Trump era, continues in Joe Biden’s government. The ongoing Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), the military exercises in the region and also the announcement of the AUKUS Pact should be considered as the strategy of containment of China and the revitalization of the Transatlantic alliance. However, although AUKUS seems to be a step towards this effort and a formation against China, the strongest reaction came from France and then the European Union (EU) which has deteriorated the relationship between continental Europe-USA and England.
As is known, England’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) with the Brexit process has led London to search new pursuits and strategies. Driven by the goal of “Global Britain”, London appears to have shifted its Eurocentric policy to the Indo-Pacific.
England which is a dialogue partner with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2021,[ii] is certain to have a more active role in the region with the AUKUS. With the Brexit process, acceleration of these efforts by England should be seen as the search for new allies after its exit from the European Union. In this context, England has declared that they will take part in an Anglo-Saxon alliance on the front line against China in the Indo-Pacific region.
On the other hand, France which no longer has its former power and has not gain its desires in Mediterranean and Africa, turned its direction to the Indo-Pacific which is the centre of the new power struggle, to return to become a global actor. In a speech at the military base on Garden Island in Sydney on 3 May 2018, Emmanuel Macron who for the first time described France as the “Indo-Pacific Power”, outlined elements of France’s strategy. However, the absence of France in the formation of AUKUS has a restrictive effect on the objectives of Paris. In particular, the cancellation of France’s $66 billion nuclear submarine deal with Australia in 2016, provoked a huge backlash in France.
French Foreign Minister Le Drian’s statement resonated widely in the context of the issue:[iii]
“It’s really a stab in the back. This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do. Our trust has been betrayed. This is not something allies do to each other. I’ve personally negotiated this deal.”
And the former French ambassador of Washington Gérard Araud’s statement had the same attitude:[iv]
“The world is a jungle. France has just been reminded this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia. C’est la vie.”
In addition to the immediate and individual responses, the emphasis given in a joint statement issued by Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly has been the first signal of tension in the Trans-Atlantic relations in the post AUKUS era: [v]
“The regrettable decision just announced only heightens the need to raise loud and clear the issue of European strategic autonomy.”
Australia, another party to the pact, has chosen a side after following the strategy of balance between USA and China for years. It will not be difficult to predict that Australia, which has a mutual economic dependence with China, will face serious economic repercussions for its decision. However, Australia will have gained significant deterrent force with AUKUS thanks to nuclear-powered submarines with tremendous capabilities in terms of speed, range, stealth and durability.
Australia which will be the seventh country that has nuclear submarine after the USA, England, China, France, India and Russia, will also participate in new technological collaborations. In this context; it can be suggested that Australia, one of the leading countries in the Indo-Pacific strategy, will play more effective roles in the future.
China on the other hand, evaluates these processes as part of the moves against them. In fact, they have been critical of the nuclear submarines to be built in Australia under AUKUS. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said AUKUS severely undermines regional peace and stability and will increase the arms race.[vi] An article in the Global Times raised the question of:[vii]
“Once the Australian army fights the People’s Liberation Army, military targets in Australia will inevitably become targets of Chinese missiles. Australia should prepare for the worst. Who is more capable of withstanding the global chaos? China or them?”
Decidedly so, judging by the statements of both AUKUS countries and Chinese officials, it would not be wrong to say that neither bloc will abandon its security strategies. Beijing’s response to this latest step should be sought in the South China Sea and Taiwan.
AUKUS emerged as a common nuclear agreement of Anglo-Saxon countries rather than a large-scale engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. The fact that New Zealand that has adopted the “Policy of Non-Nuclearization”, is not in this alliance is an indicator of this. It is not a remote possibility that the pioneer country of AUKUS is England rather than the USA. Because the strongest reaction to AUKUS comes from France and the emphasis on the need for the EU to act on its own, suggests that the post-Brexit EU-UK rift continues. For the USA, AUKUS means adding a more Anglo-Saxon perspective to the QUAD, which represents a multilateral approach. With this move, Australia has revealed that they will now play a more proactive role in the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy.
As a result, AUKUS will reinforce the front against China in the Indo-Pacific region with a significant military advantage. In return, it is apparent that it will create a disconnection between the EU and the USA-UK. The answer to the question of whether the rift is large enough for China to fill; or a temporary response, and how countries in the region will respond to an Anglo-Saxon structure within the scope of Asian nationalism, will be a significant indicator in the geopolitical conflicts of the next period.
[i] “Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS”, The White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/15/joint-leaders-statement-on-aukus/, (Access of date: 16.09.2021).
[ii] “Britain Granted ‘Dialogue Partner’ Status by Southeast Asian Bloc”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/britain-granted-dialogue-partner-status-by-asean-nations-2021-08-04/, (Access of date: 18.09.2021).
[iii] Jules Darmanin And Zoya Sheftalovich, “‘Stab in the back’: France Slams Australia, US over Move to Ditch €50B Submarine Deal”, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/france-slams-australia-us-e50b-submarine-deal/, (Access of date: 18.09.2021).
[iv] “France Erupts as Australia Prepares to Ditch $90BILLION Submarine Plan for a US Nuclear Powered Fleet-Complaining They Have Been ‘Stabbed in the Back”, Daily Mail, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9995875/Australia-nuclear-submarine-plan-Frances-fury-stabbed-back.html, (Access of date: 18.09.2021).
[v] “Joint Communiqué Issued by Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly”, French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/australia/news/article/joint-communique-issued-by-jean-yves-le-drian-and-florence-parly-16-sept-2021, (Access of date: 18.09.2021).
[vii] “AUKUS to Bring ‘Nuclear-Powered Submarine Fever’ Across Globe”, Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202109/1234459.shtml, (Access of date: 18.09.2021).