Australia will lose partnerships with France and China, resulting in economic damage and military instability.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
A new military deal was announced this week. US President Joe Biden yesterday informed US media on the creation of an alliance between the US, UK, and Australia to share advanced military technology. The group’s main objective is to join forces between states with a liberal-democratic tradition in order to respond to the advance of China. The attitude comes as a new stage in the escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing and this may only be the beginning of a new series of provocations against the Asian country. A curious point of this new partnership, however, is that it seems much more advantageous for the US and UK than for Australia.
The announcement about the group’s creation came after a virtual meeting between Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Commenting on the importance of creating this alliance, the officials emphasized the aspect of cooperation and friendship between their countries. Biden stated: “This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow (…) AUKUS — it sounds strange, all these acronyms, but it’s a good one”; while Johnson said: “We’re adding a new chapter in our friendship”; and Morrison completed: “We must now take our partnership to a new level”.
The new bloc will be known by the acronym AUKUS and will focus on the area of intelligence and high technology, working mainly on sharing strategic data and on the joint development of sectors such as robotics, cyber, quantum, underwater systems, and long-range attacks. Forming an advanced technological alliance, these countries hope not only to increase their military capability, but also to achieve a speed of military technical progress effective enough to prevent China from becoming the most technologically advanced military power in the world in the coming years.
The most decisive moment for the consolidation of the alliance will be the period of the next 18 months, when ways to integrate these three countries technologically will be discussed. Despite the great military potential of the US and the UK, Australia is a weaker country militarily, especially in the nuclear sector, and this deficiency will need to be solved so that the country can collaborate on projects with its partners. For example, under the new agreement, it was decided that the US and UK would hand over a nuclear-powered submarine to the Australian government, but Canberra does not have enough technology to operate a nuclear-powered submarine. So, before promoting an equivalence in military capacity, an initial technological equalization would be necessary, which will be the focus of action in the next year and a half.
Despite the “positive” side for the nations involved in AUKUS, there will be great turmoil regarding relations between these countries and other states. For example, France and Australia already started a diplomatic crisis immediately after the agreement. The reason is simple: to enter the alliance, Australia had to commit to purchasing only American or British-made submarines, which resulted in the decision to cease the country’s previous contract with the French company Naval Group, valued at 90 billion dollars. Paris expressed strong indignation on the Australian decision and severely criticized the new military accord. French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly declared that the step taken by Australia is contrary to the spirit of cooperation that has always strengthened relations between these two countries. No retaliatory measures have been announced, but there will certainly be a negative impact on other sectors of Franco-Australian relations.
Australia will also be impacted by China itself, a country that cooperates immensely with Canberra in several sectors, despite rivalries in the military sphere. In fact, the Australian economy depends on good relations with China. 35% of Australian exports have the Asian country as their destination. Beijing’s imports are focused on raw materials and agricultural commodities, with iron ore as the main pillar of bilateral economic relations. Recent tensions and Australian involvement in QUAD operations had already been a reason for China to adopt restrictive measures, which resulted in significant losses for the Australians. The Chinese government has completely banned the importation of coal and imposed very high tariffs on some food products, such as beef, barley, and wine. With the creation of AUKUS, the tendency is for this conflict to increase, resulting in more sanctions, which will affect Australia immensely, while China will look to other partners.
The agreement, while possibly improving the defense potential of the three countries involved, does not seem profitable for Australia, which is adhering to a foreign agenda of confrontation with China. This type of bellicose action does not serve Australian interests. Canberra’s focus should be on building a neutral and respectable posture. Its regional proximity to China leads to a point of instability during an escalation of violence. While the US and UK deal with the situation from a “safe distance”, Australia is the one to suffer the most from any escalation of tensions. Furthermore, it must be remembered that while the US and the UK are nuclear powers (which makes a war between these countries and China virtually impossible), Australia remains a country with much lesser military capacity, which means that a conflict between Beijing and Canberra is a possible scenario, in a case of continuous escalation of violence. So, considering all these factors, in addition to the economic losses, it is evident that there is no advantage for Australia to be involved in this type of partnership.
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