Annoncement of a new trilateral security partnership called 'AUKUS'. (ANI)
India reserved its response on the headline development in global security with the announcement of the new US-UK-Australia (AUKUS) trilateral security partnership, but New Delhi has reason to be optimistic.
The security trilateral will be a huge message to China. Most important, it will add to the global efforts to balance China in this region. It will augment the defense capabilities of Australia, which has graduated to become one of India’s closer strategic partners in this region. Second, the new trilateral is likely to augment the capabilities of the Quad, of which both US and Australia are members.
The Quad is not a security grouping, so this brings a security adjunct to the Quad, which is the diplomatic outreach to the Indo-Pacific by four democracies. For the present, the Quad and AUKUS will move on parallel tracks, with the possibility that in future, these could merge.
Australian PM, Scott Morrison tweeted, “Today, Australia begins an enhanced trilateral security partnership with the UK and the US to enable deeper cooperation on security and defence capabilities. This is an historic opportunity for our countries to strengthen our nations’ security in uncertain times.”
Ashley Tellis, senior fellow at Carnegie told TOI, “The AUKUS agreement is meant to build Australian capabilities to contribute to the military balancing of China. Nuclear submarines are our ace in the hole — they target China’s biggest vulnerabilities. So it’s a great investment.”
The wrinkle in this stems from the bad blood generated between Australia and France, two of India’s big partners in the Indo-Pacific. France, being a resident power of the Indo-Pacific is feeling sore today. France had signed a major deal to supply submarines to Australia in 2016 — French shipbuilder, the Naval Group had signed a $40 billion deal to supply diesel submarines to Australia. Today, Australia scrapped the deal, without so much as a by-your-leave, going with UK and US to build nuclear submarines. Actually, in 2016, the Australian anti-nuclear lobby had prevailed, preventing Canberra from ordering nuclear submarines from France, which is the other big manufacturer.
“It was a stab in the back,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian French foreign minister. France is sore with both US and Australia. This might impact the India-Australia-France trilateral for the time being, although the reasons for that trilateral remain as strong as ever.
Tellis added, “the political symbols are just as important: it emphasizes that Australia is fully committed to the US strategy of balancing China while creating some space to accommodate the UK desire to showcase a “Global Britain” (but that’s a subordinate aim). “
Rory Medcalf, professor at Australia National University wrote, “Australia and its allies are basically seeking to retain or regain a defensive military edge that we have been losing to Beijing’s rapid military modernisation. … India, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, and South Korea will likely welcome a stronger Australian navy.”