On September 15, 2021, US President Joe Biden together with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the formation of AUSUK — a defense and security partnership between Australia, the US, and the UK — which “will protect and defend shared interests in the Indo-Pacific.” AUSUK had been in the works secretly for 18 months.
AUSUK’s primary aim is to block China at sea. However, in all honesty, it is intended to stop China from encroaching into the South China Sea, which is delineated by the First Island Chain that stretches from Japan by way of Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. It will turn Australia into a base for a nuclear-powered submarine fleet and increase information sharing among Australia’s allies.
The first initiative under AUSUK will be the creation of nuclear-powered submarine technology for the Royal Australian Navy. For starters, eight nuclear-powered submarines are planned. In addition, the pact also covers the sharing of cyber warfare and other diverse undersea technologies.
US long-term strategy
On geopolitical terms, AUSUK would strengthen the US long-term strategy to contain China using Australia as a proxy. With a fleet of nuclear submarines prowling the depths of the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Australia’s naval power would supplement America’s naval supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region.
AUSUK would supplement the Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA), which was established 50 years ago to enhance bilateral defense relationships and mutual cooperation between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK. It’s noteworthy to mention that they’re all Commonwealth members and once were part of the British Empire.
And with AUSUK now part of the Indo-Pacific geopolitical calculus, it brings the alliance under America’s nuclear umbrella or to be more precise, underwater nuclear deterrence. With Australia becoming a nuclear submarine power, it adds strength and breadth to America’s worldwide network of military alliances that now encompass the entire Indo-Pacific region and beyond.
Australia is also the site of Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap (JDFPG), which plays a key role in providing information for intelligence purposes, as well as for military operations, including air strikes. It is partly run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US National Security Agency (NSA).
Pine Gap’s location is strategically significant because it controls U.S. spy satellites as they pass over one-third of the globe, including China, the Asian parts of Russia, and the Middle East. In other words, once a missile is launched from any of these places, Pine Gap is instantly alerted and the missile is tracked, providing the U.S. with valuable information to intercept it.
Since the South China Sea is within range of Pine Gap’s satellite surveillance, China’s seven bases in the artificial islands in the Spratly Archipelago are within reach of the U.S.’s cruise missiles deployed in the area and can strike any of the bases within 30 seconds.
Another development that has been moving fast is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (also known as the Quad (US, Australia, Japan, and India).
In a joint statement in March 2021, “The Spirit of the Quad,” the Quad members described “a shared vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” and a “rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas.” The Quad members said they are needed to counter Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Recently, South Korea applied for membership in the Quad, a move that would solidify the Quad’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. It would be a counter-balance to China’s growing influence in the region. With South Korea and the possibility of New Zealand and Vietnam also joining the Quad, the partnership could evolve into “Quad Plus,” which could eventually emerge as the next global theater of power politics and competition. As a result, there had been talks of building an Asian NATO with Quad at its core. Indeed, an Asian NATO would definitely counter a militarized China. Looking back at how NATO was formed, it was the threat of Soviet expansionism that led to its creation. An Asian NATO could be the antidote to Chinese expansionist ambitions.
AUSUK would be the catalyst in bringing together a strategic framework of the collective might among the US’s mutual defense alliances with Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan, which in effect draws the US’s first line of defense at the First Island Chain.
Reactions from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were mixed. Breaking with some of its neighbors, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin welcomed the formation of AUSUK, saying: “ASEAN member states, singly and collectively, do not possess the military wherewithal to maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia.” He argued that AUSUK would address the imbalance in the forces available to the ASEAN member states. “In that regard, we believe that the fresh enhancement of Australia’s military capacity through this trilateral security partnership would be beneficial in the long term.”
While, I don’t think it would lead to a nuclear arms race — the US and UK are already two of the biggest nuclear powers in the world — adding Australia to the nuclear mix would solidify America’s position because of the proximity of Australia to the South China Sea. Besides, the US has already deployed 2,500 marines in Australia since 2011 when then President Barack Obama’s “Asia rebalance” had pivoted the US away from the Middle East towards the Pacific.
AUSUK has made it official that Australia will be playing a key role in geopolitical matters in the Indo-Pacific. Needless to say, America – as always – would still be calling the shots. But the huge Australian continent will be where the action would be. It was announced recently that more US troops were being rotated to Australia, and missiles, air force planes, and visits by US nuclear submarines were being planned in the near future. Australia would become an unsinkable aircraft carrier. Heck, the US “invasion” would culminate in strong trilateral relations between Australia and its former colonizer Great Britain and future colonizer America (just kidding – “partners-in-arms” would be more appropriate). It would also boost the economic well being of Australia whose population of 27 million is just a drop in the 2.9 million square miles of land.
By all accounts, Australia will be the focus of the advent of Pax Pacifica (Pacifican Peace). It will be the linchpin of AUSUK to check a rising China and put it in its proper place in a world at peace.