Over the night of September 15th, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States all announced a new landmark security act known as AUKUS. The agreement will lead to a more secure Indo-Pacific region, the sharing of technology, the expansion of Australian and British Naval forces, and the contribution of more naval assets to the region.
For the better part of the decade, there have been calls for the formation of a group known as CANZUK. This would have seen a new alliance forged between Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom. However, different political parties in these nations moved against the idea and it never came to fruition. However, Australia’s Scott Morrison and Britain’s Boris Johnson have both sought better relations with each other and more cooperation between the two nations. At the same time, the United States has pursued closer ties with the Royal Navy as they now have a powerful fleet with two modern aircraft carriers. The requirements of defence in the pacific have led to all three nations changing focus from the Atlantic and the Gulf to the Indo-Pacific, where China’s People Liberation Navy (PLAN) have been aggressively claiming island to expand the nation’s influence. AUKUS is a security agreement that aims to halt Chinese expansion, as well as secure the influence of the ‘Anglo-sphere.’ It is possible that New Zealand may see an opportunity and seek to join the treaty.
Part of the agreement will see the sharing of technology among the three nations. By far the biggest success story will be the expansion of the Royal Australian Navy, which will be gaining a number of new nuclear-powered submarines to add to their fleet. This will not be the only new class of vessel added to the Royal Australian Navy that has been developed by the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom. Australia is one of three nations, including Britain and Canada, that will acquire the Type 26 frigates. Australia is set to purchase nine of these vessels and they will likely serve alongside US and UK carriers, whilst their submarines also provide long range missile capability and reconnaissance. The UK and US militaries also have a range of equipment used by both nations. Primarily, the F35 lightning aircraft run by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm and the United States military have always been a joint venture between the two nations and this shows the interoperability between both national navies. The use of the Type 26 frigates in the Canadian Navy and the increasing importance of Artic trade routes may also encourage Canada to seek to join the treaty.
This new alliance should come as no surprise to those who have kept a keen eye on the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. Over the past couple of years, all three nations involved with AUKUS have, in some form or another, rotated their international focus to the region to combat the growing influence of China. Although the announcement of a formal agreement may heighten tensions in the area (as China will feel more isolated and backed into a corner), it will provide a stronger front against China. This new naval powerhouse may encourage China to invest more in their own navy, which is expanding at a rate five times faster than the US navy. It also feels as though the agreement is solely focused on the Anglo-sphere and has missed the potential to form a more global front against China.
Both Japan and Taiwan have been left out of the agreement. The case of Taiwan is no surprise, as many nations do not recognise the island as an independent nation. However, Japan has just finished exercises with the UKCSG and is dedicated to the defence of Taiwan and the concept of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). The inclusion of the Japanese Maritime defence force would also boost security in the North of the Pacific, providing a much closer naval capability to China than those of the AUKUS nations.
This security agreement will see the expansion of AUKUS naval power and joint operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It will also provide a stronger wall against Chinese expansionism. But what will the cost of it all be?