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 AUKUS : A Three-way Alliance in the Indo-Pacific

Mar 23, 2023

AUKUS A Three-way Alliance in the Indo-Pacific

Today we will discuss AUKUS : A Three-way Alliance in the Indo-Pacific in our today's edition of Current Affairs. Read further to upgrade your UPSC CSE knowledge and also understand the topic’s relevance to the UPSC syllabus.

For Prelims: Current events of national and international importance.

AUKUS, Indo Pacific, QUAD

For Mains: GS Paper III (Important international institutions, agencies, and fora- their structure, mandate) AUKUS, Indo Pacific, QUAD, Nuclear non-proliferation, International Atomic Energy Agency,


In March 2023 , Anthony Albanese, Rishi Sunak, and Joe Biden, leaders of Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., appeared in front of the  USS Missouri, a Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, in San Diego, California, to unveil the AUKUS agreement.

Probable Question

The recently formed security alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States- AUKUS- is a challenge to Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea. Elaborate. (150 words, 10 marks)

What is AUKUS?

  • It is a new three-way strategic defense alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), initially to build a class of nuclear-propelled submarines.
  • Now AUKUS also works together in the Indo-Pacific region, where the rise of China is seen as an increasing threat, and develop wider technologies. 
  • All three countries were facing the heat of China’s rise. The U.S. was already pivoting to Asia, seeking to reinforce its conventional might, strengthen and streamline coordination with existing allies and build new alliances. It had already identified China as a “revisionist” power and a threat to the “rules-based order”. 
  • Britain, which wanted to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific in line with the U.S. pivot, also saw China, as it recently described, as an “epoch-defining challenge”. 
  • For Australia, a non-nuclear power that had been dependent on its western partners for security guarantees, China’s rapidly growing military capabilities posed fresh challenges. The three of them moved fast. In September 2021, they announced the AUKUS trilateral alliance. 
  • And in 18 months, they have an agreement, probably binding all of them together in defense partnership for generations.

Also Read: India Agrees to 3 "Trade Pillars" at Indo-Pacific Meet 2022

Need for the Submarines

  • Australia had six Collins-class diesel-electric boats, which were ageing and should be replaced by the early 2030s. 
  • The country had reached an agreement with France to buy diesel subs. Nuclear-powered submarines, however, can stay underwater for far longer than diesel boats and travel at greater distance. 
  • Australia will be able to operate such subs stealthily for prolonged periods, collect intelligence more robustly and deploy troops quickly.

China’s Response Against AUKUS

  • Relations between the three allies and China were already at a low, and the deal, which did not name China but was widely understood to be in response to its expansionism in the South China Sea and aggression towards Taiwan, drew a swift response from Beijing.
  • A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the three countries were in the grip of an “obsolete cold war zerosum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical concepts' ' and should “respect regional people’s aspirations otherwise they will only end up hurting their own interests”.
  • China also questioned Australia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.

Fears of Nuclear Proliferation

United States’s allies have largely taken a favourable view of the agreement, China and Russia have responded sharply. Both have raised questions about nuclear non-proliferation as Australia, a non-nuclear power, will get advanced nuclear subs.

The U.S. and Britain have maintained that the submarines will be nuclear-powered, but not nuclear armed (they will have conventional non-nuclear weapons). But critics say the subs will use highly enriched uranium, which could be diverted for weapons. U.S. and British officials counter such criticism saying the reactors at the nuclear plants on the boats are sealed shut.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, says it will hold talks with AUKUS countries to monitor nuclear risks and inspect the subs both before and after their deployment.

Intensified Competition Between the two World Powers 

Beyond the discussion of technicalities, the bigger picture is the intensifying competition between the U.S. and China. Unlike the U.S., which is protected by and has seamless access to the world’s two largest oceans, China has wrinkles in its immediate naval periphery.

Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines are America’s allies. Taiwan, the self-ruled island located just 160 km off Chinese shores, is dependent on the U.S. for security guarantees. Guam, an island in the Western Pacific, is an American territory. China faces challenges in projecting its force across the Pacific due to the first, second, and third island chains in addition to the presence of American forces and weapons in these regions. To tackle its limitations, China has built the world’s largest navy and sought to establish its dominance in the South China Sea.

The U.S., which has been the unquestionable superpower in the Pacific since Japan’s surrender in 1945, wants to counter China’s influence. It is holding frequent military drills with South Korea; planning to sell hundreds of cruise missiles to Japan; upgrading a marine regiment in Okinawa; and recently securing access to four additional military bases in the Philippines. The pivot is under way in full scale. And in AUKUS, it sees a comprehensive, multi-national and multi-phased agreement to bolster its grip on the region and counter China’s influence as the new cold war is gradually taking shape.

Geopolitical Significance

  • It means China will have to face a powerful new defense alliance in the Indo-Pacific, one that has been welcomed by regional partners such as Japan. 
  • It also reaffirms that, after Brexit, the US still wants the UK, not the EU, as its key military partner.

Source- The Hindu

Frequently Asked Questions

Which countries are members of AUKUS?

Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America are members of the AUKUS. 

Does AUKUS violate the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)?

The NPT is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

The U.S. and Britain have maintained that the submarines will be nuclear-powered, but not nuclear armed (they will have conventional non-nuclear weapons). But critics say the subs will use highly enriched uranium, which could be diverted for weapons. U.S. and British officials counter such criticism saying the reactors at the nuclear plants on the boats are sealed shut.

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