Foreign Experts Comment On AUKUS Trilateral Partnership – Analysis


The creation of AUKUS – a new security partnership between Australia, Great Britain and the United States, which led to the breakdown of the defense contract between Canberra and Paris for the supply of 12 Barracuda-class attack submarines totaling more than 50 billion euros, received mixed assessments.

As part of the agreement, Australia plans to build at least 8 nuclear submarines using American technology, as well as re-equip its armed forces with American cruise missiles. In Paris, Australia’s decision was called a “stab in the back” and betraying.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian noted that the start of trilateral cooperation on nuclear submarines “gravely undermines regional peace and stability, aggravates arms race and impairs international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.”

According to Christoph Heusgen, a former German ambassador to the UN, the emergence of the new alliance has led to a “big loss of trust” in the Biden administration.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed his approval for AUKUS, while Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia has raised a number of questions with the United States in connection with the creation of the alliance and will also present them to colleagues from Australia and Great Britain.

Earlier, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne stated that the AUKUS partnership was created for the exchange of technology and is not a military or security alliance.

Analyzing the creation of AUKUS and its prospects, independent researcher Murray Hunter pointed out that the factual information provided on the new partnership is not yet sufficient to draw clear conclusions.

“At this stage there is very little detail about the actualities of AUKUS. The Australian subs will take a decade to go online into service. […] Australia today has little ability to militarily project itself, except for some naval ships more in Aux roles. […] I see AUKUS more as a regeneration of the ANZUS agreement with the UK taking New Zealand’s place,” the expert said.

According to him, on paper today, the AUKUS alliance makes no strategic difference in the Indo-Pacific – the only tangible issue so far is the intention of Washington and London to transfer nuclear submarines to Australia on a long-term lease and to give to Australia technology for their construction.

At the same time, the prospects for the development of cooperation, in his opinion, remain unpredictable.

“It will completely depend upon the next US presidency. Nothing can happen much in the next few years, except for some exercises. […] However, AUKUS will not replace any defense policy. It’s not a policy, just some undefined intentions,” the analyst said.

He added that there are some adverse effects – other than France – coming out.

“Singapore is not enthusiastic to the idea, but accepting it, Malaysia is critical that it may promote an arms race in the region. Indonesia is the most critical – it reminded Australia to observe treaties,” Murray Hunter said, stressing that the South East Asian response hasn’t been positive for Canberra.

In turn, Clive Williams, Visiting Fellow at the ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, expressed the opinion that AUKUS is intended to contain China’s growing military capability.

“The AUKUS agreement covers cooperation on artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, underwater capabilities, and long-range strike capabilities. It will also include assistance with establishing nuclear support facilities, probably to be located near Adelaide in South Australia. AUKUS will focus on military capabilities, differentiating it from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that includes New Zealand and Canada,” the expert said.

“Under the AUKUS agreement, the US and UK agree to help Australia to develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines as Australia’s major contribution to the AUKUS military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Australian submarines will not be equipped with nuclear weapons but will probably instead carry Tomahawk Cruise Missiles with conventional warheads,” Clive Williams added.

According to him, the deal represents a long-term security arrangement between the three countries.

“Australia is expected to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. Over the next 18 months, Australia, the UK, and the US will be planning the way forward, with expected delivery of the first submarine in the 2040s. In the meantime, Australia is looking at a leasing arrangement to familiarise the Royal Australian Navy with operating nuclear-powered submarines,” the analyst said.

From his point of view, the development prospects of AUKUS will depend largely on China’s actions.

“The AUKUS security partnership should ensure that the US, UK, and Australia are the dominant military actors in the Indo-Pacific during this century,” Clive Williams stressed.

Meanwhile, Grant Newsham, retired US Marine Colonel, said that the AUKUS deal is good from both a military operational and a political standpoint.

“The sharing of nuclear submarine technology with Australia is a big deal and a clear sign of commitment. But now the Americans and the British and the Australians need to make something happen – and fast. Get a sub or two to Australia quickly – the Americans have some spares available — and get the training and infrastructure going. Don’t wait ten years. It is needed now,” the expert said.

He also stressed that AUKUS is not just a submarine deal.

“It calls for cooperation in a range of areas including AI, advance technologies, and even missile systems. So there are plenty of other areas for cooperation beyond AUKUS’s ‘nuclear submarine’ part that gets most of the attention,” Grant Newsham explained.

“As for the French, they had to know the sub deal was on thin ice. The deal had become the equivalent of a mafia gang squeezing huge amounts of money out of somebody unwise enough to sign a legitimate seeming ‘deal’ with them. […] That said, this should have been handled better diplomatically,” the expert said stressing that the Biden administration showed its unprofessionalism in this situation.

In his opinion, the US will need extra effort to convince its partners of its own serious intentions for cooperation, since “AUKUS will not be enough by itself.”

“How serious is the US when Wall Street, Boeing, Apple, et al are pouring billions into the PRC and begging the administration not to anger the Chinese Communists? Letting that Huawei lady Meng Wanzhou go scot-free [her release was the result of a deal struck after lengthy negotiations between Chinese and American diplomats] will undercut AUKUS more than one imagines. All the Chinese have to do is scream, threaten, and pound the table, and the Americans will often back down, it seems,” the ex-diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Anthony Glees, The University of Buckingham, said that, according to British Prime Minister, nuclear powered submarines will allow Australia to “keep silent watch,” “observe,” undetected, Chinese movements in the Indo-Pacific region.

“It will have been negotiated with the US and Australia over many months, perhaps since Dec 2019, even before and, of course, this was done in secret and behind the backs of France, even though France had a contract to build diesel submarines with Australia, and unlike the UK, France is, genuinely in territorial terms, an Asia-Pacific power and has always been a close strategic partner of the UK, perhaps closer at times even than the US,” the expert said.

From his point of view, the exclusion of France was a major strategic error by the UK and by the US president Joseph Biden who seems not to have focused on the implications of deceiving France.

At the same time, Anthony Glees reminded that the UK’s national security adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove said AUKUS was “the most significant capability collaboration anywhere in the world in the past decade,” which means it is really a big deal that might be much more than just an 18 month collaboration.

“It seems to me [British Prime Minister Boris] Johnson really does intend this to be a big project, to begin to re-establish the UK as a global, rather than a European power,” the expert added.

He also did not rule out that the agreement may contain clauses that have not yet been announced publicly.

“It is possible that Australia will agree to build a harbour for the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet, or even that Australia might have some kind of access to UK nuclear weapons, which is hard to achieve without breaking the Nuclear Arms Limitations Treaties,” Anthony Glees said.


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