Part One of 2
Just recently, Australia has signed a new security pact with the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) called AUKUS and for the first time, the US will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. Australia confirmed the purchase of eight nuclear submarines from the US, much to the mortification and vexation of the French who were under the impression that their submarine deal with Australia was already sealed and secured.
The French have expressed that such action from Australia is “regrettable,” saying it contradicts “the letter and the spirit” of cooperation between the two countries. France lost around $66 billion from its deal of producing a dozen diesel-electric submarines for Australia.
According to US President Joe Biden, the trilateral pact is needed to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region in view of the current strategic regional environment, while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the submarine pact will provide “the desired substantial capability enhancement that Australia has needed” and help the country “build regional resilience.”\
Although none among the leaders of the three countries mentioned China during the presentation of the said trilateral military pact, obviously the defense alliance is designed to counter not only China’s growing political and economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region but also its growing modern defense capabilities.
In many ways, AUKUS like the QUAD is a “counterbalancing security alliance of the “three eyes” against China. QUAD or also known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal strategic dialogue that is maintained by talks between member countries like the US, Japan, Australia, and India.
US Pivot to Asia Strategy
AUKUS like the QUAD is not an isolated occurrence of China-baiting and provocation. Just to note, in an attempt to counter China and to realize the aspiration of the US Pivot to Asia strategy, the US rejuvenated the QUAD.
Similarly, like QUAD, AUKUS is part and parcel of the whole grand strategy and arrangement of the shift in the US foreign policy from being Middle East centered to Asia Pacific focused, from “War on Terror” to “Great Power Rivalry against China” that is continuously challenging the positioning and alignment of countries in the region.
All these are embodied in the so-called “American Pivot to Asia” or what is known as the “US Strategic Rebalance to Asia,” under the Obama administration that was renamed as the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) under the Trump presidency, which is being pursued by the Biden administration.
The rebalance to Asia strategy is the US response to the ever-changing and very dynamic geopolitical context and environment of the Asia Pacific region which have been driven by significant developments such as the rise of Asian economies with China as the frontrunner, and the inevitable rise of China as a regional power in Asia and even beyond.
The overarching narrative of the US rebalance to Asia strategy is indeed driven by the compulsion of realpolitik in contemporary times with China being identified as the number one threat to the US hegemonic standing in Asia.
In many ways, the said strategy is not only fastened to the idea and the belief that the center of gravity for US foreign policy, national security, and economic interests is shifting towards Asia from the Middle East.
It is prefixed on the recognition that the Asia-Pacific would play an increasingly important role in driving the world’s political and economic life in the 21st century, and the US would like to take advantage of these opportunities to boost economic growth at home, to reassert its influence and leadership in the region while trying to preserve its global hegemony.
This US rebalance to Asia strategy has three components, – economic, diplomatic, and military-security.
AUKUS Impact on the Philippines and ASEAN with Herman Laurel, Bobby Tuazon, Gen. Victor Corpus
Militarily wise, the US plans a large-scale redeployment of its military power in the Asia Pacific region. To note, in May 2018, Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced the renaming of the “US Pacific Command” to “US Indo-Pacific Command.” Hence, since the launch of its strategic rebalance to Asia strategy, the US has been looking for ways and means to boost US military presence in the Asia Pacific region and explore ways to disperse US security forces beyond Northeast Asia.
The US has been exploring the possibility of moving some of this presence closer to Southeast Asia. This has prompted a mix of reactions among countries in ASEAN with speculations that the military-security component is the main goal of the said US rebalance to Asia foreign policy.
Military-security-wise, the US has also been heightening its efforts in the establishment of new and the reinvigoration of security alliances with its existing partners in the region as evidenced by the successive visits of high-ranking US officials in many Asian capitals.
Likewise, the conduct of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) of US, UK, and QUAD members’ warships in the Indo-Pacific region is part and parcel of the US grand Indo-Pacific strategy. And AUKUS in many ways is a realization of these objectives. Hence, like the QUAD, AUKUS in essence is part and parcel of the US response to the growing influence and power of China in the Asia Pacific region.
After decades of engagement in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, particularly in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has shifted its focus to the Asia Pacific region with the ultimate goal of not only promoting US interests but to safeguard and secure US survival as a global hegemon and dominant power in a unipolar international system continuously being challenged by the rise of China – not only as a regional power in Asia but even into a superpower status alongside the strengthening economic, political, and military power of other contending regional powers like Russia and others, piloting and shepherding a multi-polar world order.
ASEAN Reactions to AUKUS
Indeed, in many ways, like the QUAD, AUKUS is a construct of an exclusive alliance or bloc or grouping to counter China’s rise. Like QUAD, AUKUS is nothing more than a narrower, security-centric effort of the US alongside the UK and Australia to counter China. This is precisely the reason why ASEAN countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are critical, ambivalent, and are less likely to support AUKUS because it risks fomenting divisions among Asian countries, and it might potentially provoke a nuclear arms race in the Asia-Pacific region.
For instance, Malaysia is saying that this alliance will provoke an arms race, and also it goes against the idea of an ASEAN region that is nuclear-free, a zone of peace, and a zone of freedom and neutrality.
Indeed, AUKUS, in many ways, is in variance with the purpose and intent of the Southeast Asian nuclear weapons Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ), a treaty signed by ASEAN member states on 15 December 1995 as a commitment to preserve the ASEAN region as a region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
Likewise, AUKUS to some degree is an anathema to the ASEAN “Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality declaration signed by the Foreign Ministers of the ASEAN member states in 1971 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which envisions an ASEAN region free from interference by outside powers, practicing peaceful coexistence and preserving the independence and sovereignty of individual states.
Like the QUAD, AUKUS may also propel a reverse consequence vis-à-vis containing China’s military modernization and defense capability. As a response to the threat and provocation pose by AUKUS to China’s security, China may exert greater efforts to enhance and ramp up its military deterrence capabilities. Worst, other countries in the region may also be provoked to do the same.
Such a scenario would in many ways endanger the peace and stability of the ASEAN region and the wider Indo-Pacific region. Just like what the Malaysian elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad said, the defense pact between the “three eyes” has escalated the risk of armed conflict in the region.
Mahathir in an interview recently said, “This agreement indicates you openly regard China as a possible enemy and that if it comes to the crunch, you might even go to war. Just imagine what war would do to Southeast Asia.”
Thus, the possibility for ASEAN countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore to be caught in a cross-fire and be caught in between China which is seemingly the object of AUKUS on the one hand, and the “three eyes” on the other end with the US at the helm, is quite a huge possibility looming in the horizon and this is something that ASEAN countries don’t want to be facing in the foreseeable future and have been steering clear/away from nowadays.
It’s still America First!
Likewise, AUKUS to some degree might also weaken the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968. The said treaty explicitly prohibits the transfer of nuclear technology for military application. The coming into fruition of AUKUS has to some degree also shaken the transatlantic alliance between the US and its Western European allies.
This could probably lead to the recalibration of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) from being heavily fastened to the US to a more standalone NATO steering away from US influence.
With the fiasco and blunder of the US abrupt and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan just recently, and now the coming into fruition of AUKUS which has been seen by France as “stabbed in the back,” many European leaders are contemplating and have entertained the thought that the US is indeed an unreliable partner. Furthermore, European and Asian leaders alike seem to be pondering on the impression that nothing much has changed with the US foreign policy from Trump to Biden.
It’s still consistently and fundamentally orbits around the notion, – “America First.” On another note, with AUKUS and the sale of nuclear submarines to Australia by the US with the UK’s nod coming into fruition, it is but imperative to ask, who benefits the most from all these? Will the American people, the Australians or the British people, or the Asians benefit from all these or it is the huge military-industrial complex of the US that profits from all these?
With the raging Covid-19 pandemic and the need for economies in the Asia Pacific to bounce back from the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, what countries in Asia like the Philippines need is not another AUKUS or a QUAD that might push further not only the competition and rivalry of China and the US in the region but may drive a nuclear arms race as well in the Indo-Pacific region.
Rather, countries in the Asia Pacific region must emphasize common interests, must strike a middle ground amid conflicting interests, and must seek and put greater value on win-win cooperation in maritime affairs, regional connectivity, pandemic response, mitigating climate change, economic cooperation, and achieving the United Nations’ global sustainable development goals.
Countries in Asia must broker a stable balance of power through a combination of multilateralism and bilateralism and must do away with unilateralism and the creation of “clique” or grouping that has the purpose of singling out one country for the sake of peace, stability, and prosperity of Asia and the world.
Source: Sovereign PH