Why have the UK, US and Australia struck a defence pact?

·3-min read

The leaders of the UK, US and Australia picked a moment when all of their time zones matched up to jointly announce a new defence partnership.

Here is a look at what the pact entails and why some have criticised the concept.

– What are they calling this new alliance?

The trio have put the initials of each country’s name together to spell out the word Aukus, pronounced Or-cus.

– What does it mean for the countries involved?

Defence officials said the partnership is about sharing more information about technology, integrating security operations, and being more open with each other about advances they are making in terms of defence-related science.

It is also thought it could help save money – once one nation has developed a new piece of machinery or software, it can be shared with the others via the alliance without needing to duplicate efforts.

– What’s the first objective of Aukus then?

The three national leaders – Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US president Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison – were clear about the first initiative of Aukus: to get Australia set up with nuclear-powered submarines.

– Why do they want the subs?

Nuclear-powered – although not nuclear-armed – submarines will give the Australian navy the ability to operate undetected for longer periods underwater.

The UK and US have used the energy source on their own submarines for decades, which is one reason why both are well-placed to help Canberra to build theirs.

– How will this benefit the UK?

The Prime Minister has highlighted two main reasons for backing the trilateral defence pact – security in the Indo-Pacific region and jobs at home.

Mr Johnson has said Scotland and parts of the north of England and the Midlands will benefit from work on the Australian submarine fleet.

The UK Government, in its integrated review of security and foreign policy earlier this year, outlined plans for a “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific.

The Aukus relationship is seen as one way of making this shift towards a region that is set to become increasingly important in terms of the global balance of power in the future.

– Is there a subtext to all this?

Observers and some MPs, such as former defence minister Tobias Ellwood, certainly think so – they see this being about standing up to China.

China has been expanding its military, surface fleet and aircrafts and, according to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, now has “probably one of the largest armed forces on the planet”.

Beijing has also been involved in a series of disputes with neighbouring nations over navigation rights in the South China Sea, along with attempts to silence criticism of its treatment of the Uighur people.

The UK has been using nuclear-powered submarines for decades
The UK has been using nuclear-powered submarines for decades (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Having a set of Western submarines able to patrol across the Pacific is seen as a way of keeping China’s growing influence in check.

Mr Wallace, however, said the alliance announced on Wednesday was “not just about China”, but also about delivering modern capabilities for Australia.

– What does China have to say about Aukus?

Beijing is, it is fair to say, less than pleased to see allies formally ganging up together.

The Chinese embassy in Washington has accused the trio of being stuck in “their cold war mentality and ideological prejudice”, and warned against building “exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties”.

– France also seems to be unhappy. Why?

France had an agreement with Australia to supply a new fleet of conventional diesel-electric submarines – that contract has now been scrapped, in a move that has irked Paris.

In a joint statement, foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and armed forces minister Florence Parly accused the US, in facilitating a defence pact with Canberra, of excluding a European ally in the effort to bring stability to the Indo-Pacific region.

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