AUKUS: A new catalyst for the arms race in the Indo-Pacific region
Seymur Mammadov
U.S. President Joe Biden listens as Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (seen on TV screen) speaks via video conference, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., the U.S., September 15, 2021. /CFP

U.S. President Joe Biden listens as Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (seen on TV screen) speaks via video conference, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., the U.S., September 15, 2021. /CFP

Editor's note: Seymur Mammadov is the director of the international expert club EurAsiaAz and editor-in-chief of Azerbaijan news agency Baku Tribune. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily those of CGTN.

Last September, the U.S. and UK said they would help Australia build nuclear submarines. The three countries also pledged to cooperate in areas ranging from cyber capabilities to quantum technologies. Now these allies, having not yet achieved their originally-stated goals with the construction of nuclear submarines, have agreed to cooperate in the development of hypersonic weapons within the military bloc AUKUS. I wonder why such a rush? Why is the U.S. deliberately provoking an arms race in the Indo-Pacific region?

No one doubts that the main reason for the creation of AUKUS is to contain China's political and military potential in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States is currently taking certain practical steps in this direction. For example, the United States (today) is in search of new allies and partners, forging alliances against China.

According to a report by Japan's Sankei Shimbun, Australia, the U.S. and the UK have informally invited Tokyo to become a member of AUKUS. However, after this publication, Japan's top government spokesperson Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that Japan was not discussing joining AUKUS in one form or another and that Japan was not invited to become a member of AUKUS or take part in association meetings.

However, a few days before the news was released, Hirokazu Matsuno said that Japan supports the decision of the AUKUS countries to cooperate on the development of hypersonic missiles.

"Japan supports the actions of AUKUS to further strengthen cooperation in a wide range of areas, such as security and defense, and considers them to be meaningful. Japan will continue to strengthen cooperation in various forms with important partners - the U.S., Australia and Britain - to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific region," Matsuno said.

Japan's interest in hypersonic weapons is not small. Japan revealed in 2018 that it was working on hypersonic missiles. In March 2020, the Japanese government announced plans to develop two classes of hypersonic weapons: hypersonic cruise missiles (HCM) and hyper-velocity gliding projectile (HVGP).

If Japan joins this military bloc, this will cause a sharply negative reaction from Beijing and may ruin relations with China. But it is not yet entirely clear in what form Tokyo may participate. Soft options are not ruled out – such as to be an associate member, an observer, etc. – because from the point of view of the military-political establishment of Japan, participation in AUKUS is in the interests of Japan since it may consider China and North Korea as a security threat.

On the other hand, what is the point of Japan joining this bloc if it is already bound by military and political obligations with the United States? On the territory of Japan there are military bases and other aspects of the U.S. military infrastructure, and a huge military contingent has been deployed there since the end of World War II. The legal basis for the presence of American bases in the country is the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, signed in 1960. Because of possible fears of China's growing economic power, Japan is more likely to side with the U.S. rather than with China.

The second important country that the U.S. wants to see in the AUKUS military bloc may be India. America is convinced that without India, this coalition will not be as effective. Therefore, it is not surprising that the United States is placing its main bet on India. But no matter how hard the Americans try to "drag" India into this bloc, there is still no consensus in India as to whether the U.S.-British-Australian partnership benefits India or, to the contrary, harms its interests.

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Rankin is seen during a maritime exercise in waters off Darwin, Australia, September 5, 2021. /CFP

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Rankin is seen during a maritime exercise in waters off Darwin, Australia, September 5, 2021. /CFP

India is well aware that AUKUS is undermining the strategic order in Asia, that the bloc initiated by the Americans is a frank challenge to China, and this in itself is potentially destabilizing to the Southeast Asian region. In addition, the alleged goal of the bloc is to build up the naval power of Australia, not India. Moreover, India witnessed the unacceptable behavior by Australia when it broke its contract with France to buy French submarines. This instilled distrust of the Indians in relation to the supposed unity and collective solidarity of the West.

I note that this is not the first time that the U.S. has acted against the interests of its NATO ally. There was a case when Poland was ready to buy French H225M Caracal military helicopters, but at the last moment Warsaw refused the contract in favor of American helicopters. However, this scandalous break in the contract between Australia and France provides new opportunities for India in terms of expanding its military-technical cooperation with France in the development of the Indian submarine fleet.

India has announced its own plans to create a fleet of multi-purpose nuclear submarines. However, the United States did not offer India any assistance in the technological development of its naval weapons. Former Indian Navy Chief Arun Prakash said the U.S. has been telling India for years that U.S. laws prevent the U.S. from sharing nuclear propulsion technology with anyone. One thing is clear, however: the U.S. does not plan to transfer advanced technologies to other partners in the Asia-Pacific region, except to Australia.

However, there is concern that Australia's future nuclear submarines will potentially be equipped with U.S. and UK nuclear weapons. Experts also express concern for a loophole in the text of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons which allows non-nuclear countries to build nuclear submarines, warehouses with materials for reactors of which are under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This opens the possibility for the creation of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear countries.

AUKUS is a large pyramid that will most likely include key regional partners in selected areas. It is likely that the U.S., UK and Australia will seek to expand AUKUS to dilute the notion that it is an Anglo-Saxon club.

However, the organizational basis for countering China may not necessarily be AUKUS. The Anglo-Saxon core is not that important. Importance lies in which countries are included in the anti-Chinese front and how they intend to act in the future. Some of China's neighbors are not very well disposed towards China, and it is already clear that the U.S. is trying to gather them into a coalition. This does not bode well for security in the Asia-Pacific region in the coming decades.

If this is an attempt only to scare China, it will be unsuccessful as it will not work to get concessions from Beijing. But if these are serious military and/or political containment plans, this will cause opposition from China.

Instead of prioritizing the formation of new coalitions, alliances and heighten an arms race in the post-pandemic world, it would be appropriate and useful to, instead, focus efforts on problems in the non-military sphere such as eliminating the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, global warming and overcoming the impending food crisis.

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