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AUKUS 1: A strategic new alliance or just another ‘pivot’?

A new Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) defense grouping may see the U.S. export Virginia class nuclear attack submarines to Australia.
FPI / September 26, 2021


By Richard Fisher

On Sept. 15, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and American President Joe Biden announced the formation of a new defense organization, the Australia-United Kingdom-United States or “AUKUS” defense alliance.

In the works under the leadership of Morrison since 2019, the initial impetus for AUKUS was to enable Australia to replace its troubled $90 billion program to build 12 French air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines with up to eight nuclear-powered submarines based on U.S. and U.K. nuclear submarine technology.

AUKUS will produce new levels of military-technical cooperation that will compliment the 70-year old Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) alliance and the more recent Australia-India-Japan-United States “Quad” loose security cooperation grouping.

But AUKUS could become the basis for much deeper trilateral strategic cooperation. It will join the three nations in system of intellectual property protection arrangements that will allow cooperation in missile technology and other technologies necessary for competitive military capabilities through this century.

While the three leaders individually and via joint statements sought to make clear AUKUS did not target any “third party,” it is undeniable that Australia sought AUKUS and nuclear submarines to respond to years of vicious Chinese political-economic and military coercion.

For President Biden, the mere announcement of AUKUS takes the focus away from his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and puts him back in the leadership of the Western Alliance.

Washington and Canberra also gain a new commitment to Asian security by London, which has just toured Asia with an aircraft carrier battle group led by its new Queen Elizabeth carrier and promises to base two patrol ships in Asia for the next five years.

However, AUKUS also raises questions. Inasmuch as the group will not decide on the type of nuclear submarine or how to build it for the next 18 months, and actual delivery may not start for another 10 years, how will AUKUS deliver much needed deterrent power against China required right now?

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