September 16, 2021
Early thoughts on AUKUS and India
AUKUS is a military pact within a military pact. Non-inclusion has opportunity costs for India; but also offers other opportunities for partnership.
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- AUKUS — Australia-United Kingdom-United States — is a new trilateral pact among countries that have existing alliance relationships with each other. The public announcement on 2021-09-16 concerns joint development of strategic capabilities like nuclear submarines and cyber power. Joint defence — where one country comes to the aid of the other — is both implied and covered by previous alliance arrangements. AUKUS is thus a military pact within military pacts.
- General Secretary Xi Jinping of the Communist Party of the China is the real father of AUKUS. Had it not been for Beijing’s belligerence, not least targeted at Australia, the need for AUKUS would not have been felt. While it is a truism that international alliances, like weapons, are not directed at any country in general, they are certainly directed at specific targets at a particular time. AUKUS has come into being as the sharpest countervailing coalition to China.
- AUKUS is an example of the “bubbles of trust” approach to partnerships that I had written about. Countries that share interests, values and resources have enough mutual trust necessary to pursue joint initiatives. They can do this within and across existing alliances and partnership systems. AUKUS is a good model for multilateral cooperation provided it does not turn exclusive.
- AUKUS will now act as a core and driver of the Quad, as the three countries can proceed under their trilateral framework without having to wait for consensus with India and Japan.
- Japan and the United States have a long-standing military alliance. In other words, India is thus the only ‘independent’ voice with the Quad; but this ‘independence’ will be constrained by its own power and resources.
- If the Quad itself was too limited a partnership framework for the Indo-Pacific, AUKUS is even more so. The trade-off in multilateral partnerships is between being small enough for coherence and large enough for adequate coverage. Both AUKUS and the Quad must expand their outreach to include at the very least, Indonesia, Viet Nam and Singapore. Remarks made by AUKUS leaders point to connecting the Atlantic and Pacific partners. But this may be more aspirational than a statement of intent.
- Although President Biden mentioned the importance of France in his remarks, Paris will be outraged: it loses a A$50 billion submarine supply order and has been ‘left out’ of AUKUS. Even so, to the extent that it has interests in the Indo-Pacific — and it does — it should be open to partnerships with AUKUS, Quad and India.
- Those who see strategic autonomy as an end of India’s foreign policy will not be too concerned over India’s non-inclusion in a regional alliance. Those who see it as a means have reason to be concerned at the opportunity costs of non-inclusion in a high-technology & capability building initiative. The case for rapid economic growth has become even more urgent as a strategic priority for India. Maintaining an open economy that offers opportunities for its partners is crucial.
- India will benefit from an AUKUS-like alliance in the realm of cyber power. From a strategic perspective, India in cyberspace is analogous to Australia in the Indo-Pacific. AUKUS’s most urgent task is to equip Australia with nuclear submarines to defend maritime frontiers. India needs the cyber equivalent of nuclear submarines to defend its own cyber frontiers.
- BTW: AUKUS is very aukuard. It’s better than “Auu!”” or “Uua!” but “Aukusa” sounds better in India. Not sure if Aukusa is Japanese word and if so, what it means. Future generations will judge us poorly if all we can give them are AUKUS, SCO, BIMSTEC, ARF and so on. The Quad is a little better, although it evokes the image of undergrads hanging around an old campus. But compared to Entente Cordiale, Triple Alliance, Triple Entente, Reinsurance Treaty, Warsaw Pact and suchlike that the past century gave us, these acronyms are bloody dull.
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