NEW DELHI: In a major development on Thursday that took the entire international community by surprise, UK-USA-Australia have signed a new trilateral security agreement, termed “AUKUS” to counter Chinese misadventures in the Indo-Pacific region and to give some strategic depth to the QUAD grouping that seemed to be taking shape, slowly but steadily.
Under the agreement, the US and UK will provide at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to Australia by transfer of technology and capabilities alongside including artificial intelligence and cyberspace technology cooperation. The US last shared this technology with the UK in 1958. Nuclear powered submarines use highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium as fuel, which has made the US reluctant over the years to share this technology with any country.
The move from these three nations has however left its major partners in Indo-Pacific: France and India unanswered and surprised to an extent. While India has observed silence on the move, as MEA spokesperson on being asked about the pact declined to comment on the development, France has been infuriated by the move calling it a “stab in the back” as the pact officially put curtains on the 65 billion USD deal signed between France and Australia in 2016 to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and replace it’s two-decade-old Collins submarines.
French Foreign Minister has expressed his disapproval of the agreement by saying : “We had established a trusted relationship with Australia and this trust was betrayed…what concerns me as well is the American behaviour. This brutal, unilateral,unpredictable decision looks very much like what Mr Trump used to do. Allies don’t do this to each other”.
Chinese reacted to this agreement on expected lines as the move is explicitly directed to counter its aggressive posturing in the region. Chinese Foreign Ministry in its official reaction said: “it would closely monitor the pact that is supposed to gravely undermine the regional stability, aggravate arms race and hurt the international non-proliferation efforts“. China also condemned Australia for the agreement by saying Australia can’t be a party to a strategic military alliance in the region as it is a non-nuclear state and also a party to NPT and a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Southern Pacific region.
Australia has however defended itself on the move saying it has taken the decision after long and deep deliberation and that the pact is only directed to ensure peace and stability in the region. Australian envoy to India Barry O’ Farrell on keeping France and India out of the agreement said that it kept India in the loop. However, he expressed disappointment on the breakup of the submarine pact with France but said that his country’s cutting-edge naval capabilities will help give teeth to the strategic ambitions of its partners in the region and this should not affect their engagement in Indo-Pacific.
The move coming just a week before the first-ever in-person meeting of heads of the states of QUAD will have implications on the future course of the grouping, it remains to be seen as to how the US will defend this move as the technology transfer puts its questioning of Iran and other adversaries on the enrichment of uranium and development of nuclear capabilities under scrutiny. But certainly, the evolving dynamics in Indo-Pacific will see the rebuilding of partnerships and strategic alliances in the time to come.