Under this pact, the US will be providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarine technology and, accordingly, eight submarines will be built in the Adelaide dockyard of Australia. After providing the UK with this technology back in 1958, this is the first time that the US is providing this technology to another country. This will be a boost to Australia's naval strength and capacity and will also establish fresh polarisation in this strategic region.
France immediately expressed a sharp reaction when AUKUS was announced. In 2016, Australia and France signed an agreement, deciding to build 12 fuel engine-run submarines. The cooperation under this agreement had proceeded a long way. France had given assurance of handing over the submarines to Australia by 2035. However, with the emergence of the AUKUS pact, Australia cancelled the almost 90 billion dollar purchase order with France. Until the last moment before the AUKUS agreement came through, France was completely in the dark about the pact.
France claims that they were not provided with any information in this regard. The country was naturally enraged, seeing this as an outright betrayal. A French minister said this was not just the breaking of an agreement, he said they had been stabbed in the back.
France had naturally hoped that, as an allied nation, the US would include them in strategic planning and in any new strategic positioning. But the US took up this new initiative, completely sidestepping France and terminating the lucrative deal between France and Australia. France has even said they will reassess whether they will remain in the NATO military command. NATO, and inter-Atlantic relations, hasn't faced the prospect of such a disruption in years. The US is making an effort to resolve these bilateral tensions, but analysts feel that this is going to have far-reaching adverse effect.
Other than France, naturally there was a sharp reaction from China. They feel that this pact will disrupt the stability in this strategically important region. They see this as a manifestation of the US Cold War mindset.
Malaysia feels that this pact will step up the arms race in the region.
While other regional countries have not expressed their reaction as yet, they are concerned. It is interesting that though ASEAN is located at the centre of the Indo-Pacific strategy, no country of this region is included in this pact or has any part at all in it.
The AUKUS pact will not only spur off an arms race in the region again, but may also create a propensity to violate the non-proliferation treaty. The regional and sub-regional strategic military balance that exists at present, might be crumble. This, in turn, can lead to fresh military and strategic tensions in the region
Also, after AUKUS came into being, questions were raised about Quad's importance and its role. Quad's present and future agenda basically focuses more on the social aspects and very little regarding security. So it may seem that Quad has been pushed aside and security issues will be dealt with through AUKUS.
Presently only six countries of the world have nuclear-powered submarine technology and have added this to their armed forces. Under the AUKUS pact, Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines. The question is why Australia suddenly advanced towards this sort of technology. Such submarines have certain special capabilities. These can stay for long stretches of time underwater and are capable of expanding their operational scope. But adding these submarines to their armed forces, Australia's military strength will increase manifold and its navy will be able to increase its surveillance and patrol in the Indo-Pacific region. However, these submarines won't have any nuclear weapons. On the contrary, these will actually carry conventional weapons.
With the US decision to hand over this technology, several controversial issues have come to the forefront. Australia will have to use high grade uranium in order to achieve nuclear power and this will be of the grade used in making nuclear bombs. Australia is not a nuclear power. It is not clear if they will earn this capability themselves or if the US will give them this high grade uranium. Whatever the case may be, there remains the question of whether the nuclear non-proliferation pact is being violated or not. And this may also set a precedent for other countries to proceed towards making high grade uranium.
The AUKUS pact will not only spur off an arms race in the region again, but may also create a propensity to violate the non-proliferation treaty. The regional and sub-regional strategic military balance that exists at present, might be crumble. This, in turn, can lead to fresh military and strategic tensions in the region. But most importantly, the country around which this pact has been made, is not likely to sit quietly. China is very likely to speed up, many times over, its present pace of increasing its military strength. And, more particularly, it will strengthen its present process of modernising its navy.
Almost all powerful states in the world are now endeavouring to increase their strategic presence and consolidate their power in this maritime region
Many observers of the US feel that the increase in Australia's naval capabilities will be an effective antidote against China. But the western observers perhaps have failed to clearly comprehend how far things can go if China, in reaction, steps up both the speed and scope of increasing its military strength.
The Indo-Pacific region is an extremely sensitive and important strategic maritime region. The present situation in this maritime region is akin to the rise of the superpowers in the Atlantic after World War II. That is why almost all powerful states in the world are now endeavouring to increase their strategic presence and consolidate their power in this maritime region.
It is a matter of concern that it has not been possible so far to build up any sort of security infrastructure in this region. Given the manner in which rapid militarisation is taking place in this vacuum, things may well get out of hand and there is huge apprehension of peace being disrupted in the region. The objective of all countries of the Indo-Pacific region should be to keep such a predicament in mind and work towards establishing sustainable and durable peace. The precondition of development of this region is stability and peace.
* Major General ANM Muniruzzaman (retd) is president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS)