The dramatic announcement made on September 15 of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the UK and the US (AUKUS) caught many by surprise, most notably France. While announcing the new military pact, US President Joe Biden made an embarrassing slip-up, apparently forgetting the name of the Australian prime minister. Some suggest that this is a symptom that President Biden is possibly having cognitive decline.
AIKUS is described as a "new enhanced trilateral security partnership' between these three Anglosphere countries to "preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific". The three leaders, President Joe Biden and Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison while announcing AUKUS stressed that it was about "investing in our greatest source of strength -- our alliances".
The new military pact is reminiscent of the WWII alliance in the Pacific against Japan but this time, it is clearly designed against China but China was not explicitly mentioned by the three leaders at the AUKUS announcement.
Tom McTigue of The Atlantic argued that "the end of the war in Afghanistan, the pivot to China, and the prioritisation of the old Anglo alliances over the EU are all grand strategic moves". AUKUS has been dubbed as ANZUS 2.0, but excludes New Zealand and includes the UK. But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern "welcomed" greater UK and US involvement in the Asia-Pacific region.
Australia's opposition leader Anthony Albanese also has thrown his support behind AUKUS. But former Australian prime minister Paul Keating in a newspaper column criticised AUKUS for taking the confrontational stance against China pointing out that "military aggression or invasion, a threat China has never made against Australia or even implied making". He then pointedly noted "China does not attack other states, unlike the United States, which does attack other states". Both Albanese and Keating belong to the same party - the Australian Labour Party.
The US has many military alliances in all forms and shapes with countries from India on one end to Japan on the other end in the Indo-Pacific region with countries like Australia, Singapore, South Korea and others in between to confront China. But the UK is missing in this game in the region. The UK tries to portray itself as a great power, but has extremely limited means to do so, except as a sidekick of the US.
Now the UK in the post-Brexit era in its efforts to burnish its image is very happy to play the role of a sidekick of the US in the Indo-Pacific region to gain some global credential. AUKUS is the perfect deal to accommodate the UK in its efforts to join the game in the region and to help Boris Johnson in realising his dream of making "Global Britain". But that is only one aspect, not the whole of AUKUS. Its primary objective is to sell arms to Australia which prides itself of being the Deputy Sheriff in the Asia-Pacific region to confront Chia.
This AUKUS is another Anglo-Saxon alliance that has already infuriated France because it cut out France from their US$66 billion (with cost escalations now estimated at US$90 billion) contract to supply 12 submarines to Australia. Instead, under the new alliance agreement Australia will buy 8 nuclear powered submarines from the US, but the price tag is still unknown. It is to be noted that these nuclear subs will be powered by weapons grade uranium.
However, Gem Romuld, the Australian Director of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons told Afshin Rattansi of RT that it would cost double the amount i.e., US$180 billion. Her estimate is very similar to another estimate that indicates that US subs will cost 50 to 100 per cent more than the French ones and will have American crews like in the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth now floating around the South China sea.
French officials were outraged by the manner in which they were blindsided by Australia and being unaware of the months of negotiations between the three "Anglo" powers. French Foreign Minister Jean -Yves Le Drian called what the US did as " a stab in the back". Tom McTigue described AUKUS as "the great Anglo-American heist of France's submarine contract with Australia".
France had recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra as a retaliation. However, it now appears that the French tantrum has been soothed after French President Emmanuel Macron had a 30 minute talk with US President Joe Biden, and the French ambassador to Washington is on his way back to his post.
European leaders also have come out strongly against AUKUS. Both European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the move. Von Der Leyen even officially joined France in demanding an explanation from Washington asking the question "what happened and why" and described the US behaviour towards France as unacceptable. Even a former French Ambassador to the US, Gerard Araud suggested to respond to this moment by opening a dialogue with Beijing.
And then there is China. Beijing denounced the agreement as "extremely irresponsible" as it "seriously undermined regional peace and stability, aggravated the arms race, hurt international non-proliferation efforts". China also considers the agreement a reflection, yet again, of "an outdated Cold War mentality".
Even French foreign minister warned that "We see the rise of an Indo-Pacific strategy launched by the US that is "militarily confrontational" or more precisely to put it in plain language, preparing for war.
China has already been hemmed in by US military installations and the US navy remains very active in the South China sea with regular reconnaissance flights daily on China's coast. The US drive against China provokes one of the deepest diplomatic crises since the end of the cold war.
Also, Indonesia and Malaysia have come out strongly against Australia's planned acquisition of nuclear powered submarines. Both the countries fear that AUKUS will lead to a major arms race in the wider Indo-Pacific region. But these two countries along with some other ASEAN countries are also more concerned that there is no such thing as acquiring nuclear powered submarines without the prospect of acquiring nuclear weapons at a later date which will lead to nuclear arms race in the region. However, it must be noted that ASEAN member countries are not unanimous in their response to AUKUS.
Many political commentors including Chinese commentator like Victor Gao who also said that Australia was now an "adversary". The Global Times in an editorial also opined that "possessing nuclear - powered submarines will become a universal temptation. The world needs to prepare for the arrival of a "nuclear - powered submarine fever".
These nuclear powered submarines are capable of launching a nuclear strike. For that very reason North Korea also warned about new arms race in the region after the AUKUS deal. With the military debacle in Afghanistan, the US is intending to wage a new cold war in Asia with China as its target keeping in line with President Biden's "America is back" rhetoric. In effect, the US in its declining phase of imperial power is desperately trying to build a new world order by building military coalitions in an effort to preserve the old one by projecting the military threat coming from China. The new "Anglo" alliance is one such attempt to maintain its global hegemony in its declining days.
There is also a strong business dimension to AUKUS which possibly overrides the military alliance part of it given that the US has already numerous military alliances in place in the regions for very a long time. US arms corporations very successfully stymied the submarine deal with France to clinch the same deal for themselves. Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute has recently opined that a new cold war with China would help perpetuate the power of the US military-industrial complex and increased military spending would only benefit American arms corporations. 52 per cent US military spending in FY 2020 to 2021 ended up in the coffers of private military contractors.
In the similar fashion some political observers also argue that AUKUS is an arms deal to benefit the US arms industry at a very critical time facing the industry. According to the SIPRI, between 2016 and 2020, the US accounted for 37 per cent of global arms exports, making the country the single largest arms exporter in the world. Exports of weaponry require wars, hot or cold or war-like situations. Therefore, the US strategy of what is described as "systemic military confrontation" with China is very helpful for US arms exports as well as for the domestic market.
In a further effort by the US to ratchet up confrontation with China across the board, a face to face leaders' summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue known as QUAD was held on September 23 in Washington. The meeting was attended by President Joe Biden and Prime Ministers of Australia, India and Japan. The QUAD is the US led quasi-military alliance to undermine China to pursue its economic goals.
Since the end of the WW II, Australia like the UK has backed the US to the hilt and committed military force in support of all US military aggressions starting from Korea, Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, a Pentagon official declared the US has "no better allies than Australia and the UK".
But that can not be fully vouched for India and Japan despite the fact that Japan has remained under the US military occupation since the country was nuked and defeated by the US in 1945. India under the Hindu supremacist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has strengthened its strategic partnership with the US, but India also maintains a well functioning relationship with Russia.
India and Japan like Australia also parroted Biden's catch phrases like "a free and open Indo-Pacific", "democracy", "human rights" and above to adhere to the US crafted "international rule based order", not the UN based international law.
Yet, to make doubly sure, the Biden administration announced the formation of AUKUS just a week before the QUAD summit to put both India and Japan on the spot as to their commitment to the escalating US confrontation with China. However, it is of interest to note that former Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao in a television interview with Karan Thapar described AUKUS as "strategic ambush of QUAD".
The advanced US preparations for war by building military alliances against China are also driven by its domestic political agenda. The recent military debacles, fractured domestic consensus and rising social tensions needed projecting its military strength to divert attention away from those very domestic issues.
Despite military debacles in recent times, Washington is now preparing a new and more catastrophic wars in line with the Pentagon's strategic shift from the "war on terror" to preparing for "great power conflict". The US as an imperial power never shied away from resorting to mass murder and aggressive war as routine tools of statecraft.