Why Did the US Ditch Its European Allies in Favour of UK and Australia to Wrangle With China?
The exclusion of EU members of NATO from the new security initiative (and even from discussions on it) in the Indo-Pacific region has once again raised questions in Europe regarding whether the US is really "back", as President Joe Biden claimed.
The announcement of a new security agreement
between the US, UK, and Australia this week came as a surprise – both for the countries' close allies, and for China, which is believed to be one if not the main targets of the new "alliance", dubbed AUKUS.
The emergence of the new security pact sparked an array of questions, ranging from how it will affect the political and security landscape in the Indo-Pacific, where it will operate, to why its creation was kept secret from EU countries and how they will react to AUKUS' creation.
What are the US' Goals for Establishing AUKUS?
In the official declaration, AUKUS members claim that the newly forged security alliance was created to address "rapidly evolving threats" and made no mention of any specific countries that will be targeted
. However, there are not many security "threats" (at least perceived as such by the member-states) in the area where AUKUS will operate.
18 September 2021, 03:51 GMT
The US designated China as one of its near-peer potential adversaries not long ago and made no secret of resources freed up following the troubled Afghanistan withdrawal being redirected to the Asia-Pacific region.
Washington has disagreements with Beijing, including the row over the disputed South China Sea and US routine military patrols in the area, which is deemed by China as its territorial waters. Now that the White House has redirected its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, away from Afghanistan, it will need a base of operations, with Australia being the most convenient one to reduce the costs, Dr Chang Ching, research fellow at the Taiwan-based Society for Strategic Studies, says.
"There are many reasons behind the decision of the 'rotational deployment' of all types of American warplanes to Australia, particularly, the cost of military presence in the Korean Peninsula, Japan and Okinawa already becoming more hard to manage the pressure and criticisms from the local communities".
Another sign suggesting AUKUS will be targeting primarily China
is the fact that the US has been trying to build alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Dr Stephen Nagy
says. This process has intensified ever since President Joe Biden entered the White House, he notes.
According to him, the US pursues goals of preventing Beijing from establishing hegemony in the region via a variety of strategies: from cementing military presence in the coastal waters to building a massive intercontinental trade route.
"Tensions in the region have escalated hand-in-hand with China's assertive behaviour in the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, and Himalayan plateau, not to mention its 'Belt and Road Initiative' that aims to reshape Eurasia's geopolitical map such that neighbours of China are asymmetrically dependent on the Chinese economy and eventually subject to Beijing's rules. The US and like-minded countries do not want to see this manifest as it would impact their national interests".
The US wants to challenge China's alleged ambitions for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific from a position of coordinated strength and diplomatic unity, and hence created a new security pact, Dr Stephen Nagy argued.
Why Did the UK and Australia Join AUKUS?
The US is going to be the driving force of the new security pact and the UK was invited only because its presence in AUKUS "cannot be avoided", Paolo Raffone, a strategic analyst and director of the CIPI Foundation in Brussels, suggests. However, unlike London, Canberra's presence in a security agreement was absolutely needed for the US to move its weaponry, the analyst notes.
17 September 2021, 05:47 GMT
Australia was also interested in joining this alliance as its relations with China have deteriorated sharply over the past year, Hugues Eudeline, former submarine captain and China expert, says. The two countries engaged in a tariff war after Canberra demanded an investigation into COVID-19's origins on Chinese territory.
"They need an ally. But when I say an ally, I mean they need a country that has weapons compatible with theirs to make the logistics easier. [...] In this case, if a war erupts, the torpedoes [in Australian submarines] must be of American origin".
The AUKUS deal, however, will equip the Australian Navy with more than just torpedoes – instead of diesel-electric submarines ordered from France, Canberra is going to get nuclear-powered ones from the US. These subs have greater strategic and tactical manoeuvrability compared to conventional ones, Eudeline
says. The ex-captain notes that Australia setting its gaze on nuclear submarines
indicates a departure from the country’s longstanding position on the issue, likely prompted by a shift in public opinion.
Why Was No EU Country Invited to AUKUS?
One of the most contentious aspects of the new security pact is the absence of any members of the European Union. The US never even discussed AUKUS with its EU allies, resulting in an unpleasant surprise for the French defence industry. As a result, France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia, while the EU renewed talks about a European army as a way to get more military independence from NATO
17 September 2021, 19:37 GMT
The exclusion of EU states from AUKUS was a logical step on the part of the US, Paolo Raffone, believes. According to him, these countries, France included, play only a minor role in NATO's operations. However, not all countries seem to be content with this.
"The resentment of France is part of the typical French way of stressing the fact that it is a former power and it is a member of the Security Council and therefore should be given a certain degree of consideration. But nobody is really looking at it this way, like the French do".
European countries have a limited capability to deploy their military forces to such a distant region as the Indo-Pacific, Raffone says. France has its interests in the region, such as its exclaves in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, former submarine captain Hugues Eudeline indicates, adding that regardless of this, Paris has a weak military presence there, partly due to logistics issues.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.