Australia, the UK, and the US have signed a new military pact they say will protect their countries. The allies claim an AUKUS (pronounced ‘awk-us’) alliance will support a “peaceful and rules-based international order”. But critics have called the move a new Cold War against China. And some question the Western countries’ decision so soon after defeat and withdrawal from Afghanistan. It seems to ignore key lessons: that US power is in decline and that expeditionary warfare is a recipe for disaster.
Announced on 15 September in a trilateral press conference, the UK government expects the deal to “bolster the Integrated Review commitment to strengthen alliances with like-minded allies and deepen ties in the Indo-Pacific”.
The Integrated Review is the UK’s overarching international security strategy.
The conference – in which US president Joe Biden appeared to forget Australian PM Scott Morrison’s name – saw some discussion of eight new nuclear submarines in Adelaide, South Australia. However, the move had antagonised France, which had signed a £40bn deal to build submarines for Australia. These will now be built as a joint US/UK/Australian project.
According to Reuters, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was a “brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision” and that it “reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do”. He added:
I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.
The UK announcement didn’t mention China. Instead, the text referred to the ‘Indo-Pacific’, saying the region was:
at the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition with potential flashpoints including unresolved territorial disputes; to nuclear proliferation and miscalculation; to climate change and non-state threats from terrorism and Serious Organised Crime. It is on the frontline of new security challenges, including in cyberspace.
The Chinese government, however, had no doubts about why the US and its allies were escalating their activities in the region. And the Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington condemned the “Cold War mentality”. Liu Pengyu said that countries should not “build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties”.
Some Tory MPs have used the new defence pact to call for hikes in military spending. Defence committee chair Tobias Elwood tweeted that since the move was long-term, an increase was required:
My takeaways 🇬🇧 🇺🇸 🇦🇺
👉 We’re finally waking up to the China threat in the S’ China Sea.
👉 UK tilt to Indo-Pacific is long-term- this requires increased defence spend.
👉 Western alliances are re-grouping post-Afghanistan. But we need to fix the NATO/EU schism pic.twitter.com/alhw0PkZFK
— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) September 17, 2021
And, according to the Guardian, Australian PM Scott Morrison also wants to increase military expenditure:
He said the push for more advanced submarines, together with an intention to further increase defence spending and draw closer to the US and the UK, would allow Australia to “contribute to the stability and security of our region” and “benefit all in our region – no exceptions”.
Spectre of Afghanistan
As Elwood has pointed out, the US, UK, and their allies are trying to reset after failure in Afghanistan. But the process does not seem to involve learning any key lessons. They’ve cut and run from the Central Asian country. Now they seem set to pump up defence budgets, increase their rhetoric, and refocus on China.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Royal Navy
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