In the latter half of the 2021, Washington initiated strategic trilateral defence pact with the UK and Australia, colloquially called as AUKUS. AUKUS is a strategic security framework to assist Australia in building nuclear-powered submarines to extend interoperability, mutual benefit, and commonality.[i]
Aside of assisting Australia building nuclear-powered submarines, the core purpose of AUKUS is to contain China’s meteoric rise and its growing naval expansionist desire in Indo-Pacific region in general and particularly in the South China Sea. AUKUS aims to have a surveillance over the sea routes and then maintain strategic dominance in the Indi-Pacific region, particularly in competition with China.[ii] AUKUS reflect the Indo-Pacific ambitions of U.S. and the manifestation of the U.S. Foreign Policy under Biden’s administration, as Antony Blinken stated in his early speech after assuming the office, that China presents America’s the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”[iii]
AUKUS and repercussion for Nuclear Non-Proliferation
The new Security Pact, AUKUS, has certainly overshadowed the aims of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)[iv] by bringing back the geo-strategic and security competition in the Pacific. It has rung the alarm bell in the region as the Pact has the potential to disturb balance of power among the countries influence by AUKUS. China, Russia, and Japan have been more reactive and raised concerns against Australian accusation of nuclear-powered submarines as pact has the potential to jeopardize the nuclear weapon free zone status of Southeast Asia. In response to it, China’s Foreign Minister Spokesperson Zhao Lijian has termed AUKUS as a violation of the Treaty of Rarotonga (1985), which made an assurance to a nuclear-free South-Pacific region.[v] Similarly, many political analysts and nuclear experts are of the view that the trilateral security pact poses grave threat to the nuclear non-proliferation regimes[vi] such as Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In 1970, NPT was entered into force with a clear objection of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting peaceful use of nuclear energy, and achieving nuclear disarmament.[vii] On the contrary, AUKUS explicitly promotes export of nuclear facilitates for security purposes and promotes nuclear proliferation, horizontally as well as vertically. After the creation of Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), AUKUS is yet another setback to the global efforts of nuclear non-proliferation.
Nuclear competition between India and Pakistan
Unlike, balance of power among countries in Pacific, India and Pakistan face direct implication of AUKUS, as it may ignite a nuclear-race between India and Pakistan. The geography of India and Pakistan is such that it has always been difficult for both neighbouring yet rival countries to avoid great power competition whether it was the World Wars or Cold War. Although India has had successfully maintained neutrality towards great power competition since its independence in 1947, India non-alignment policy may fad owing to assertive China and geo-strategic showdown in the Pacific.
Other than five nuclear state (the U.S., France, UK, Russia, and China), India is the only non-NPT nuclear state to possess nuclear-powered submarine i.e. INS Arihant, leased by Russia. With time the technology became outdated and India needed an up-gradation to its nuclear-powered submarine program but NPT and other nuclear non-proliferation regimes are the main hurdle for India to modernize its naval defences. After the inception of AUKUS, the tides have turned, as AUKUS is a possible platform for India to bargain for better nuclear technologies to augment its nuclear-powered submarine to secure its strategic interest in Indian Ocean and Pacific region. The point of concern is that the sharing and production of nuclear-powered subs intricately link to nuclear weapons and sharing of sensitive nuclear technologies,[viii] which will be possible through the platform of AUKUS. This has sparked a debate among security and regional experts that AUKUS will disturb the balance of power and rekindle nuclear race in the region. Hirofumi Tosaki, Centre for Disarmament-Centre for Science and Technology, showed distresses by stating that the exemption granted to Australia acquiring nuclear-powered subs will motivate other countries that they too should have such options.[ix] Likewise, Zhao Lijian has also warned that the security pact will undermine the peace and stability of the region.[x]
AUKUS will create avenues for the regional powers to make similar arrangements between like-minded allies, and one such scenario can be possible between China and Pakistan. The security pact will incite China to look for ‘partner in crime’ and China cannot trust any country other than Pakistan. The friendship dates back to 1963 when both nations reached an amicable settlement, and delineation of borders. China is also Pakistan’s biggest trading partner when it comes to the imports of military hardware. Besides, China has been playing an important role in strengthening Pakistan’s defence. China has gifted PNS Tughril (Type 054A/P) and J-10C fighter jet to Pakistan and its collaboration over JF-17 Thunder bear testimony to their long-standing bilateral relationship. Furthermore, cooperation between the navies of the two countries have been unprecedented in the recent years. In 2017, Pakistan signed agreement with China to acquire four Type 54 Guided Missile Frigates, which were the most technically advance Chinese frigates of the modern era.[xi]. Yet transfer of nuclear-powered submarine to Pakistan is not a Chinese agenda so far, but India’s proximity with AUKUS can motivate China to equip Pakistan with nuclear-powered subs to balance with India. In any possible scenario, strengthening Pakistan’s naval force is not a choice for China but its own strategic interest.
Similarly, AUKUS has the potential to entice India to upgrade its nuclear-powered submarine capability as India is a strategic partner to the U.S. and enjoy close partnership with the UK and Australia. According to the regional experts, AUKUS is mostly like to expand and India is the strongest contender among other regional allies such as South Korea or Japan, as India and AUKUS shares a common enemy i.e. China. Moreover, AUKUS without India will not serve the purpose of AUKUS and AUKUS is not only a partnership to develop nuclear-powered submarine for Australia but also a strategic agreement to cooperate over AI in the Pacific. India also will not leave any opportunity to modernize its out-dated nuclear technology and naval capabilities. Moreover, ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapon policy of India is hallowed and nothing more than a political gimmick as the Western powers are keep on modernizing and equipping India with nuclear arsenals, knowing the fact that India is renowned for nuclear theft and failures. Since 2014, BJP is trying to reverse and update its doctrine of ‘No First Use’, owing to the emerging challenges to its frontiers with Pakistan and China. Being a strategic partner of the U.S., India’s bilateral relations with other members of the AUKUS, i.e. UK and Australia, has touched new heights. Australian High Commissioner in Delhi (India) Barry O’Farrell stated that this century belongs to India and welcomes Indian forces in Exercise Talisman Sabre, a biennial exercise led by the Australian Defence Forces and the U.S. military. Additionally, MILAN 2022,[xii] a multilateral naval exercise, is yet another evidence that the West is building India’s naval expertise and schooling India to operate in high seas, before offering a membership to AUKUS. Owing to the proximity and strategic partnership with the major contenders in South Pacific, India and Pakistan might take a side not by choice but by their geo-strategic compulsion.
Global order is facing a tumultuous times since the economic crisis of 2009, as nothing is certain. Although India is not a member of AUKUS, India is a natural partner to AUKUS. The legitimate security concerns of India in the retrospect of border skirmishes with China and Chinese expansionist policies in the Pacific, AUKUS elite will be forced to cooperate with India over nuclear-powered submarine. India was then a non-NPT member when the U.S. lobbied to make India member of NSG. So, nothing is certain but if India join AUKUS there is a possibility that China will help Pakistan to acquire nuclear-powered submarine which will eventually start a new era of nuclear race in Asia in general and particularly between arch-rivals India and Pakistan.
[i] Panda, Jagannath. “Is ‘AUKUS Plus’ a viable option?” The Diplomat. January 26, 2022. https://thediplomat.com/2022/01/is-aukus-plus-a-viable-option/
[ii] Cheng, M (2022). “AUKUS: The changing dynamics and its regional implication.” European Journal of Development Studies, pp. 03.
[iii] Luca, De Dan & Williams, Abigail. “China poses ‘biggest geopolitical test’ for the U.S., Secretary of State Blinken says.” NBC News. March 04, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-poses-biggest-geopolitical-test-u-s-says-secretary-state-n1259489
[iv] Smith, Sheila A. “The Quad in the Indo-Pacific: What to know.” Council of Foreign Relations. May 27, 2021. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/quad-indo-pacific-what-know
[v] Musto. A, Ryan. “Does AUKUS violate the pledge of a nuclear-free South Pacific?” The Diplomat. October 22, 2021. https://thediplomat.com/2021/10/does-aukus-violate-the-pledge-of-a-nuclear-free-south-pacific-china-thinks-it-might/
[vi] Kibe, Hidemit Su. & Akagawa, Shogo. “AUKUS pact delivers blow to nuclear non-proliferation regime.” NikkeiAsia. October 21, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Comment/AUKUS-pact-delivers-blow-to-nuclear-nonproliferation-regime
[vii] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt/#:~:text=The%20NPT%20is%20a%20landmark,and%20general%20and%20complete%20disarmament.
[viii] Cheng, M (2022). “AUKUS: The changing dynamics and its regional implication.” European Journal of Development Studies, pp. 05.
[ix] Matsumoto, Fumi & Jibiki, Koya. “AUKUS sub deal triggers debate on nuclear safeguards.” NikkeiAsia. December 01, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Indo-Pacific/AUKUS-sub-deal-triggers-debate-on-nuclear-safeguards
[x] Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s remark. Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Commonwealth of Australia. September 23, 2021. https://www.mfa.gov.cn/ce/ceau/eng/sghdxwfb_1/t1909396.htm
[xi] Salik, Muhammad. “Sino-Pakistan defence and Strategic Cooperation.” Global Village Space. May 07, 2021. https://www.globalvillagespace.com/sino-pakistan-defence-and-strategic-cooperation/
[xii] “Indian Navy-led multinational exercise MILAN 2022 begins in Bay of Bengal.” Naval Technology. February 29, 2022. https://www.naval-technology.com/news/indian-navy-led-multinational-exercise-milan-2022-begins-in-bay-of-bengal/
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