The AUKUS alliance, formed by Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, has sparked extensive debate and scrutiny, particularly concerning its effectiveness in countering China’s escalating military power in the Indo-Pacific region. The agreement primarily revolves around submarine collaboration, aiming to bolster defense capacities against the growing Chinese naval force. However, this partnership faces substantial challenges and uncertainties, ranging from technological sharing issues to the high costs incurred by Australia, casting doubts on its potential to significantly alter the regional military dynamics. While the AUKUS framework promises transformative advancements, these benefits remain largely unmaterialized. This essay aims to analyze the core arguments surrounding the efficacy and limitations of the AUKUS alliance, examining the contrasting perspectives and potential solutions to fortify this framework for better deterrence against China in the Indo-Pacific region.
These arguments are based on the assumption that the AUKUS deal will be successfully implemented as intended. However, the current uncertainty stems from substantial challenges. The American side faces hurdles regarding technology sharing, while on the Australian side, there are concerns about the required political will, largely due to the project’s high costs estimated at around $300 billion.
AUKUS, primarily focused on submarine collaboration, aims to counter China’s military expansion. However, it does not offer a substantial deterrent or significantly alter the regional military dynamics against Beijing. This emphasis on submarines is vital. China’s aggressive military development, anticipating approximately 85 submarines by the time AUKUS is fully operational, vastly overshadows the planned addition of eight SSNAUKUS submarines. This stark contrast highlights the significant disparity in naval capabilities.
According to the „Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” report issued by the U.S. Department of Defense, the People’s Liberation Army Navy currently operates 12 nuclear-powered submarines of which six are capable of launching ballistic missiles and six further attack submarines. Additionally, fielding 48 diesel-powered attack submarines, the PLAN is able to conduct wide range of operations including launching ballistic missiles, anti-ship operations as well as anti-land operations. This contrast underscores the limitations of relying solely on submarine capabilities to counterbalance China’s overwhelming naval force in the region, indicating a limited impact on altering China’s strategic calculations.
Additionally, there are concerns that the AUKUS agreement may not significantly enhance general defense capabilities. It doesn’t bolster the submarine capabilities of the U.S. , Great Britain and could, in fact, weaken their defense postures, as highlighted in a recent congressional report. This is largely due to the strain on the U.S. industrial base and the exorbitant cost imposed on the Australian Government.
Currently, the U.S. sustains a steady production rate of two Virginia Class Submarines annually, a pace unlikely to change due to resource allocation for industrial base renewal, primarily for artillery ammunition production. Consequently, the proposed sale of 3-5 Virginia-class submarines to Australia on top of the development of the SSN-AUKUS will set the U.S. Navy back by years. This delay is worrisome, especially considering China’s ongoing efforts to build a substantial submarine fleet. In contrast the PLAN is expected to possess a 80 submarine strong fleet by 2035, five years before the first SSN-AUKUS is expected to leave production.
Moreover, there are valid concerns that the massive project cost might impede Australia’s defense spending in other critical areas. The estimated $300 billion cost contrasts starkly with Australia’s 2023-2024 Defense Budget of about $52 billion, surpassing the $50 billion mark for the first time. It’s highly probable that such a considerable expense will impact further defense allocations significantly.
The AUKUS agreement significantly enhances capacity building in the Asia-Pacific region through its often overlooked second pillar. This aspect holds substantial promise to positively impact the overall security among the trilateral nations, particularly in bolstering deterrence within the Indo-Pacific. AUKUS’s second pillar focuses on fostering collaboration and advancement in cutting-edge technologies such as hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and information sharing.
If implemented effectively, AUKUS will establish an interoperable fighting force operating at the forefront of technological advancement. Considering the potential Taiwan Contingency, it’s crucial for the involved parties to function cohesively. In this light, AUKUS’s pillar 2 emerges as a pivotal and transformative force.
The initial pillar within the AUKUS Framework offers limited deterrence, both in general and for immediate situations against China. This is primarily due to the overwhelming naval capabilities of the PLAN and the logistical challenges posed by distant bases. Additionally, the domestic industrial bases of the U.S. and Australia may struggle to keep up with the production capacities of their Chinese counterparts, leaving these countries exposed to casualties in a potential conflict involving Taiwan. Conversely, the second pillar shows promise with initiatives that aim to create a unified front against China and drive innovations. However, these potential benefits are yet to materialize, indicating that, currently, the framework does not significantly bolster deterrence against China.
To strengthen the framework, the AUKUS states should consider expanding the alliance to include Japan. As a treaty ally of the United States, a liberal democracy invested in the rules-based order and a staunch defender of Taiwan, Japan’s inclusion would substantially enhance the framework. Its extensive shipbuilding capabilities, along with expertise in quantum computing and AI, would greatly benefit both pillars of AUKUS, elevating the initiative to a more robust and effective level.
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