AUKUS is a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, announced on 15 September 2021 for the Indo-Pacific region.
Under the pact, the US and the UK will assist Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.
The pact also includes cooperation on advanced cyber, artificial intelligence and autonomy, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic, electronic warfare, innovation and information sharing.
The pact will focus on military capability, separating it from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that also includes New Zealand and Canada.
Australia is now set to join an elite group of only six countries – India, the US, the UK, France, Russia and China – that operate nuclear-powered submarines. It will also be the only country to have such submarines without having a civilian nuclear power industry.
The security grouping AUKUS will focus on advancing strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Though the US has explicitly denied that the grouping is targeted against China, its Indo-pacific orientation makes it an alliance against China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea.
The three countries alongside Canada and New Zealand already share extensive intelligence through the Five Eyes alliance.
Significance of AUKUS Alliance
It will involve a new architecture of engagements across emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, cyber capabilities, and additional undersea capabilities.
It will help Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) in cooperation with the UK & the US.
It also reaffirms that, after Brexit, the US still wants the UK, and not the EU, engaged as its key military partner.
Even though this has not been stated explicitly, AUKUS will contain the rise of China, particularly its rapid militarisation and aggressive behaviour in the Pacific region, especially in and around the South China Sea.
AUKUS aims to ensure that there will be freedom and openness in the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea.
Shifting US Priorities in Asia:
It also gives US focus for its post-Afghanistan tilt to Asia.
Regional Security in the Indo-Pacific:
The AUKUS deal seeks to address core US concerns of regional security, deterrence, and balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.
It will enhance Australia’s contribution to its other partnerships, including the QUAD. The Quad and AUKUS are distinct, yet complementary.
Increasing Rivalry with China
AUKUS will challenge China’s naval expansion and could hurt its commercial interests.
In such a scenario, their relations with China are going to deteriorate.
Dissent in ASEAN
Any sudden accretion in Australia’s naval capabilities is bound to cause unease in the region.
There is the matter of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) disunity over the emergence of AUKUS.
Implications on India
The pact allows India—a key US partner and Quad member—the freedom to set the terms of engagement with its neighbour, without formally participating in a China-containment initiative.
AUKUS is a broader coalition of countries in the Indo-Pacific region to deal with China.Any measure that boosts the capability of India’s partners is a welcome move.
However, AUKUS could push China into assuming a more adventurous posture by deploying more warships and submarines in the Eastern Indian Ocean.
Thus, any miscalculated move could be detrimental to Indian interests.
India needs to display solidarity with its Quad partners, especially at a time when tensions with China are again rising.
India should focus on close defence cooperation with strategically important nations without resorting to a security alliance.
Five Eyes Alliance
The Five Eyes alliance is an intelligence-sharing arrangement between five English-speaking democracies: the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The alliance was created during the Cold War (1946-1991) that was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as their respective allies.
The alliance was needed to share sensitive information regarding their adversaries on all possible fronts available.
It is often described as the world’s most successful intelligence alliance.