The AUKUS Submarine Deal: Tectonic Shift in the U.S.-Australia Alliance


In September 2021, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia signed a new three security agreement that gave Australia permission to buy nuclear- submarines and advance its space program. On March 2023, final agreement was disclosed by Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. According to this agreement, United States to sell Australia three to five Virginia-class submarines starting in 2032; the co-development by the United Kingdom and Australia of a new AUKUS-class submarine to enter service around 2040; and a multibillion-dollar commitment by all three nations to increase the capacity of a trilateral submarine industrial base.

AUKUS is an alliance of a bigger strategic transformation that is taking place in the Indo-Pacific as a result of different actions taken by U.S. allies and partners to increase their capabilities and collaborate more closely.

The Motive of originating such an alliance will be in the US favor to broaden its influence in the Indo-Pacific area. This alliance, according to President Joe Biden, is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances, and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow. Maintaining the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is Washington’s top concern. Analysts believe that the primary objective of the pact is the containment of a rising China, even though the objectives and motivations underlying AUKUS have not been publicly disclosed by any of its signatories 

The action demonstrates how AUKUS, in conjunction with a new wave of U.S.-Australia force posture initiatives, can develop a collective deterrent policy more quickly than anticipated by many. It also provides a glimpse into the U.S.-Australian alliance’s seismic change, as Canberra positions itself as a key supporter of advanced American military operations to maintain a stable balance of power in the increasing challenges in the Indo-Pacific area.

The U.S.-Australian alliance, however, has faced some challenges in recent years. Under Trump, the US was ill-run, fragmented, unattractive, and weak. Although Biden is far from a perfect leader, his style reflects a noticeable change in American policy, which Australians appear to value.

This change has been taking place covertly. Washington and Canberra have been covertly rewiring the alliance through several new initiatives under the 2014 Force Posture Agreement, driven by a shared understanding of the need to support the regional balance of power in opposition to China’s growing military power and the United States deteriorating strategic position. A historic decision was made at the Australia-United States Ministerial Dialogue in 2021 to intensify force posture cooperation across five key areas—four service-based projects involving the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, and Army, and a cross-cutting logistics, sustainment, and maintenance enterprise-sped up this process.

Despite the Australian Defense Force (ADF) having a lengthy history of fighting with American forces, Australian bases have never been formally included in American war intention. Additionally, they haven’t been used as a staging area for American military activities, at least not since World War II. Now, this is essentially altering. Australia is quickly developing into a base for other forms of force projection and will soon be the only ally in the world to host and assist military operations by forward-deployed U.S. strategic bombers and SSN attack submarines. U.S. warfighters will depend on Australian bases, infrastructure, and other resources as these new force posture initiatives develop and take center stage in American preparations.

The U.S.-Australian partnership has strengthened over the past year, but there are still disagreements. Washington wants Canberra to do more to combat climate change, and Canberra wants Washington to challenge China’s economy, which continues to be the top trading partner for the majority of Indo-Pacific nations. The Trans-Pacific Partnership departure by Trump badly damaged American influence in Asia. To make amends, Biden will need to put in a lot of effort.

The United States and Australia do not have highly established systems for coordinated military planning, in contrast to NATO and other American alliances, and have not yet defined how they might allot roles, tasks, and capabilities to prevent and address high-end security threats. This is a problem that needs to be addressed head-on by SRF (Submarine Rational Force)-West and other posture solutions. The political truth that posture integration is a two-way street must be accepted by both parties.

Australia has made a very explicit commitment to supporting Washington in a regional crisis by making the autonomous decision to host a significant U.S. warfighting force on Australian land. However, it has also given itself some insight into and power over American military plans, as well as enough stake in the outcome to positively influence them.

Nazia Sheikh
Nazia Sheikh
Nazia Sheikh is a Research Officer at Centre for International Strategic Studies, AJK. Her research areas are Strategic Stability in South Asia, Strategic Dynamics of South Asia & Conflict Resolution between Pakistan & India.