The AUKUS Agreement, which was first announced in September 2021 and became official three months later, is a defense alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America (USA) aimed at cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines. On March 14, 2023, the leaders of the three countries met to determine the roadmap of AUKUS. According to this military plan, which is designed to balance China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific Region, nuclear submarines will be transferred to the Australian Navy and the United States and the United Kingdom will provide technological support to the country for joint production.
Australia’s nuclear-powered conventional submarines are intended to contribute to security and stability in the Asia-Pacific. To be noted; These nuclear-powered systems are used only in the propulsion systems of submarines. There is no risk associated with nuclear armament. In this sense, the construction of these systems continues with the permissions obtained from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agreement under AUKUS also includes capacities in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, and other high-tech transfer. Nuclear-powered submarines are faster and have a longer range than conventional diesel-powered submarines. In this way, the Australian Navy will be able to conduct secret patrols in a more distant geography and attack the enemy navy.
The concerns raised by this agreement regarding regional security are high. Beijing described AUKUS as “a typical example of a Cold War mentality” and condemned it as “a threat to regional peace and stability. In addition, regional states such as Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand, which strongly advocate denuclearization, are concerned that AUKUS could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. However, the states of the region, including Australia, are members of nuclear non-proliferation treaties. However, Kanberra says that nuclear-propelled submarines do not prejudice nuclear disarmament treaties.
Beijing drafted an anti-AUKUS resolution in the IAEA last October 2022. This resolution states that the AUKUS initiative violates the responsibilities of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Many IAEA members, especially India, worked to prevent the bill from passing, and as a result, China had to withdraw the bill. In short, China claims that the AUKUS partnership involves the illegal transfer of nuclear weapons materials.
According to Beijing, this agreement is essentially an act of nuclear proliferation. AUKUS countries emphasize that the necessary permits have been obtained from the IAEA. Indeed, if China’s claim were true; The U.S. could not build an aircraft carrier powered by nuclear propulsion. Likewise, France has a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. France also has nuclear-powered submarines. Again, all U.S. submarines are nuclear-powered. In this respect, Australia’s purchase of nuclear-propelled submarines from the UK will not pose any problem based on precedents.
As mentioned above, the advantage of being nuclear-powered is that its range is longer. As a matter of fact, these submarines or ships are not equipped with nuclear weapons. Their weapons are also conventional. After the determination of the roadmap at AUKUS, France offered India cooperation in the production of nuclear submarines. This is another important development that will change the security environment of Asia-Pacific.
Currently, China has two nuclear-propelled submarines. Therefore, the main point that Beijing is against is that AUKUS disrupts regional security balances, causes militarization, and serves the bloc politics.
India may consider joining this Western military alliance to meet its nuclear submarine needs. As a matter of fact, India’s urgent need in this field is seen as an important opportunity for Western countries and is the subject of competition. At the end of January 2022, for example, Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee in the UK, called for AUKUS to be extended to include India and Japan. These two countries are already part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) with the United States and Australia. Therefore, Ellwood’s proposal was also interpreted as an effort by the UK to join the QUAD.
It is noteworthy that the UK has recently made an exit in this direction. Because until today, Britain has not intended to give its nuclear submarine technology to Japan and India. In fact, both the US and the UK have stated that Japan’s participation in AUKUS is not on their agenda. Shortly after the pact was announced, in September 2021, the United States; It declared that no other country, including India and Japan, could be part of the security pact. Also in April 2022, the White House denied the claims that Japan would join AUKUS. However, over time, significant changes have occurred in the conjuncture. The U.S. is now taking its military relations with Japan to the next level. Therefore, he can be warm to this issue.
Given the recent US effort to turn India into an enemy with China, New Delhi’s participation in AUKUS will serve this purpose. In other words, India’s rapprochement with the AUKUS alliance or a similar cooperation with France will increase China’s sense of being surrounded. The recent end of the historic disputes between South Korea and Japan can also be considered an important development in the US strategy to encircle China. China’s neighbors in the Asia-Pacific are now strongly tied to US alliances. This greatly deteriorates the security environment of the Asia-Pacific. Beijing seems to have no choice but to conduct strong diplomacy with the Asia-Pacific countries to reverse this momentum. Accordingly, China has resumed security talks with Japan after a four-year absence. Because China; It is aware that if Japan cannot keep its relations with actors such as Australia, the Philippines and India well, these countries will begin to join the American axis.
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