AUKUS: Bold Deterrent Or Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Of A Future War With China?
AUKUS, the security pact between the US, the UK, and Australia, is beginning to take shape. Its aim is to deter China, but it risks drawing the Indo-Pacific region into a military conflict.
You might remember AUKUS, the security pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Under the pact, the US and UK will assist Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.
For France, its foundation 18 months ago meant the termination of the French submarine mega-contract with Australia. The process of reconciliation with these countries was gradual: first with the United States, then with Australia thanks to a change of government, and finally with the British, who were closer and therefore more difficult to forgive.
But AUKUS (the acronym for Australia-United Kingdom, United States) hadn't been mentioned much until Monday, when U.S President Joe Biden welcomed on a San Diego submarine base his British and Australian counterparts, Prime Ministers Rishi Sunak and Anthony Albanese. The aim? To give weight to this alliance between the three English-speaking powers in the face of an opponent that’s never been addressed: China, of course.
The three countries have announced a plan to replace France's conventionally powered submarines with nuclear-powered ones. It is a complex plan because there are very strict rules for selling nuclear technology to a non-nuclear country, and, in fact, Australia will not have the submarines it needs until the next decade at best.
The Indo-Pacific region is now the scene of all rivalries: it is the world's demographic, economic, and military center of gravity. Even if it is actively operating against Russia in Ukraine, this is where the United States devotes a large part of its attention, with a strategy reminiscent of the Cold War.
Cold War echos
Similar to the first Cold War era with the USSR, acronyms are flourishing, as are many configurations of countries around Washington. AUKUS, the latest addition, combines three very close countries: the United Kingdom is in NATO, and the Australians have been involved in all the engagements alongside the United States, in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. They are always there.
But it is not the only one. The Quad more informally connects India, Japan and Australia with the United States; and the US has defense treaties with Japan and South Korea.
China is not mistaken: Beijing denounces a strategy of "encirclement", an excessive term for a country of one and a half billion people, but it remains relevant nonetheless. During the Cold War, it was called containment.
AUKUS undoubtedly has no other purpose than to organize military support in case of open conflict with China, in Taiwan, or in the South China Sea.
Theoretically a deterrent, this approach also risks being a self-fulfilling prophecy, drawing the entire region into an arms race that is already well underway on both sides, and placing the rivalry primarily on military grounds.
The Indo-Pacific is the main center of innovation and economic production in the world, but this competition takes place in the shadow of an exacerbated strategic rivalry. It is not clear that the AUKUS will do anything but add to the growing insecurity.
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