The new trilateral alliance cements US and UK resolve to counter China and revives western hegemony…
Written by Johanna Ross, journalist based in Edinburgh
For many, it came as a complete surprise. ‘AUKUS’ as it is to be known, announced somewhat out of the blue last night, is a security pact between the UK, US and Australia, focused on countering China in the Indo-Pacific. Britain and the US will aid their partner in building nuclear-powered submarines, which will be faster and harder to detect than the conventional submarines Australia currently possesses. In addition the three allies will cooperate in the areas of cyber security and artificial intelligence.
None other than the French Foreign Minister was visibly angry at the announcement of the brand new Trilateral Alliance when he spoke to French media on Thursday, referring to the move as a ‘stab in the back’ and a ‘betrayal of trust’ by the Australians. His indignation is understandable given in a few short minutes last night it was revealed that the pact will effectively replace the €50 billion ‘Future Submarine Program’ Australia had been working on with France for years. It speaks volumes about the disregard which these allies have for their European ally, the fact that an announcement of this proportion could be made without any consultation with their NATO partner.
One can see where the alliance has evolved from. It is a strictly ‘Anglo’ pact, excluding other European allies and fits in with Boris Johnson’s idea of a ‘Global Britain’ widening its reach in the Indo Pacific. Now that Johnson has removed Britain from the security ties that came with European Union membership, he can pursue his own geopolitical strategy, which as I have written before, is reminiscent of nineteenth century British imperialism. Britain is simply itching to play policeman in the Indo-Pacific, and Australia enables it to do so.
As for the US, since Trump declared China as enemy No.1 when he came to office, America has been keen to ramp up containment of the world’s second largest economic superpower. The rhetoric coming from the US administration has been increasingly aggressive towards China, and it has been successful in persuading its British allies to align with it in its anti-China policy, as seen from the scaling back of British government cooperation with Chinese communications giant Huawei. The US and UK have been united in their resolve that China and Russia represent the greatest threats to the West, despite warnings from some, including former British PM Tony Blair that Islamic extremism remains the main obstacle to global security.
It’s fair to say that the international response to the alliance has been muted. New Zealand has distanced itself from the pact, citing its anti-nuclear stance and ‘independent’ foreign policy. China is naturally concerned, with the Foreign Ministry stating it will ‘severely damage’ regional security and lead to an arms race. It is viewed from Beijing as an act of aggression, with western countries interfering in China’s sphere of influence.
Britain, of course, may have its own personal motivations for embarking on the project. It was recently revealed that the Defence Ministry is already making contingency plans for relocating Trident – the UK’s nuclear submarines – in the event of Scottish independence. Scots are traditionally anti-nuclear and the SNP policy is very clear that nuclear weapons would have to be removed in such an eventuality. There were rumours that the UK was thinking about moving the submarines abroad – now a much more likely proposition given the new AUKUS agreement. However, Boris Johnson also highlighted in his speech on Wednesday night that the new strategic alliance would create ‘hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the United Kingdom-including Scotland’ and as such he defiantly opposes any idea of Scottish independence and Trident removal.
More broadly however, and following on from last month’s chaotic western withdrawal from Afghanistan, this new trilateral alliance represents a reshifting of focus from regime change operations in the Middle East to countering China and Russia in the style of Victorian age great power politics. Unfortunately we know what that 19th century rivalry led to – an arms race and ultimately the First World War. There is no doubt that it will increase geopolitical tensions both regionally in the Indo-Pacific and internationally. The Anglosphere poking its nose into areas of the globe where it is not welcome never ended well.
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