While it is true that the security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Unites States (AUKUS) does not directly interfere with the purpose and the geographical sphere of influence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); now has it caused major disagreements among European NATO members, it does have the potential to push unwanted changes at European and global level in terms of issues of security and potential alliances.
For Europe the consequences may not be immediate. However, it cannot be ignored that 2 of the most militarily important NATO members, the US, and the UK, have decided to join this pact. France is, so far, the country that has been affected the most when Australia ditched the 38.6-billion-euro agreement to build 12 diesel-fuelled submarines to procure American-built nuclear propelled ones instead. The US is alienating France, forgetting that it is one of the US oldest allies, and one of the most militarily capable NATO members in the European continent. France is also an important actor in the Indo-Pacific region, the area of influence of AUKUS, as there are approximately 1.6 million French citizens living in that region.
AUKUS starts with a serious diplomatic failure: not including France in the deal. Although it is not too late to rectify, as the promised equipment to the Australians will take almost a decade or more to build, there are little prospects the US would consider adding France, and there are also little incentives for the French to join 3 countries that have stabbed it on its back.
This pact could also worsen the already fractured relationship between the US and Europe, the UK and Europe. Prospects for cooperation now seem dim after this agreement. This is a double-edged sword. It benefits China as it is sowing discord among powers; and it is also an incentive for France, and possibly the European Union (EU) as a whole. Although there are robust agreements in place between the UK and France, such as the Lancaster House Treaties, the way both countries proceed in the pursue of their foreign policy individually and at continental level, will determine how hard or soft the blow is for both the EU and NATO. The fracture can open the door for the idea for greater European autonomy. Germany is preoccupied with its general election, allowing France to make use of this to take a more protagonistic role to advance further EU independence.
AUKUS militarily speaking does not pose any real threat to China or the region. It does, however, signals a very strategic game among all actors involved. The pact has positively impacted the UK, who after Brexit, has seen this agreement as a small victory over Europe. The United Kingdom has finally set itself free from the subjugating practiced of the EU. AUKUS has also come to strengthen the Global Britain policy it pursued since its exit from the EU and its reclaiming its place in international affairs. Secondly, for the UK, the support given by the Biden administration also means the US has decided to side with the UK and not with Europe when it comes to China’s rise.
A more overlooked downsize of this pact is the danger of nuclear proliferation. Although it is unlikely that Australia will start developing the idea of nuclear weapons any time soon. So far, the rule is that any country with nuclear powered submarines are also holders of nuclear weapons. Allowing Australia, a non-nuclear state, to own such submarines is a serious loophole that would leave the door open for countries such as Iran to buy nuclear-powered equipment from China or Russia; or other countries with a history of nuclear weapons development such as India, Pakistan or North Korea to decide to build such equipment.