On December 8, 2022 in Washington the defense chiefs of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, members of the 2021 AUKUS defense alliance, praised the nuclear submarine construction process for Australia and expressed their hope that it would proceed as soon as possible.
The US Department of Defense stressed that all of the above parties would carefully comply with all approved international standards for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and cooperate with the IAEA.
The trilateral security alliance AUKUS (named after the first letters of the participating states – Australia, the UK and the US) was established in September 2021 to reduce China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region in general and in the Pacific in particular.
To this end, the Australian Navy was to significantly enhance its capabilities by building nuclear submarines and putting them into service in the coming years. The initiative led to Canberra pulling out of a submarine construction agreement already signed with the French Naval Group, leading to a major diplomatic scandal, which was, however, resolved with the coming to power of Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in spring 2022.
The decision to build nuclear submarines for the Australian Navy was made to improve Australia’s chances of successfully fending off a Chinese attack in the event of a regional conflict.
Thanks to the US initiative, Australia, which so far has had no nuclear weapons in its arsenal, can now have at its disposal large quantities of highly enriched uranium, which is needed to build nuclear submarines on its territory. According to analysts, Australia may well have enough uranium to produce nuclear missiles. If this happens, in the not too distant future a once non-nuclear-weapon state will become a nuclear one without signing the relevant agreements and therefore remaining out of the sight of international supervisory bodies.
Such an initiative on the part of the US is explained by the fact that the US leadership is prepared to do anything to promote its geopolitical interests in the Asia-Pacific region, thus upsetting China’s plans.
For the first time in 50 years, the US may grant access to its underwater technology to a foreign nation, Australia. Half a century ago, the first country to receive US designs was the UK. This was done so that the British Navy could do something to counter the Soviets. Washington is now going to share its technology with Canberra in case of combat operations against potential aggression. If Australia succeeds in launching a nuclear submarine, it will join the list of countries that use nuclear submarines and have one of the strongest navies in the world.
China, for its part, opposes Washington’s military preparations. Chinese diplomats have repeatedly issued statements condemning US actions, which they believe violate the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and provoke a situation in the Pacific that could lead to nuclear conflict.
It is important to note that Russia, too, has a negative view of the AUKUS bloc and the US ambition to give Australia access to advanced military technology. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the emergence of new defense alliances organized by the United States is raising international tensions. Similar statements by other Russian politicians can be explained not only by the Russian Federation’s desire to maintain good neighborly relations with China, but also by the Kremlin’s reasonable intention to prevent the spread of nuclear and conventional weapons around the world. The recent outcome of US arms supply policy is the ongoing fighting in Ukraine.
In the meantime, AUKUS member states plan not only to improve their own armed forces, but also to include as many countries as possible in their sphere of influence.
Australia, for example, is interested in developing further relations with the Philippines. It is a developing country with a population of 114 million and enjoys an advantageous geographical position. A friendly dialogue with the Philippines allows Canberra not only to boost its economy through lucrative trade agreements, but also to secure its far-flung frontiers. This is especially so given Australia’s stated concern that Chinese military installations, highly undesirable to Canberra, could reach its borders in the foreseeable future.
At a joint press conference with Philippine President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippine capital Manila on June 19, 2022, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson said relations between the two countries should become strategic by the end of 2022. Robinson expressed hope that Marcos Jr. will pursue a measured and rational policy for the benefit of the Philippines. During the meeting, the two countries exchanged views on future cooperation in the field of defense. In particular, they discussed the training of reservists for the Philippine army and the $80 million allocated by Australia for this purpose. Also, Marcos Jr. and Robinson discussed the problems of the Filipino diaspora in Australia, which is the fifth largest ethnic group living in the country.
In October 2022, a joint Philippine-Australian naval exercise was held to increase the two countries’ capacity to counter smuggling, terrorism, drug trafficking and the effects of natural disasters. A total of around 400 sailors and officers from both countries took part in the exercise. According to the Philippine Navy, the exercise contributed to increasing the level of capabilities of the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard.
It should be stressed that the 2022 joint Australia-Philippines exercise on Philippine territory was not the first time, with a similar exercise on May 12 of the same year at the Philippine Fort Ramon-Magsaysay range in Nueva Ecija. This demonstrates Australia’s keen interest in maintaining its presence in the Philippines and demonstrating its military strength to neighboring countries.
However, active AUKUS action in the Pacific is unlikely to actually produce the desired results for its member states. Many states around the world are steadily shifting their foreign policy vectors in favor of Beijing, which offers them more favorable conditions for cooperation. For example, South Pacific island states such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, strategically important to Australia’s security, are steadily increasing their partnership with China and increasing their trade turnover with it. Sooner or later, other island states in the AUKUS area will follow suit.
By increasing armaments and demonstrative exercises on other countries’ territories, AUKUS member states only heighten international tensions and harm their budgets by wasting financial resources to the detriment of taxpayers – this is the opinion of a large proportion of voters of the alliance members who will cast their votes in future elections not in favor of the current trend.
Petr Konovalov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”