New alliance of old allies: US pacts with Britain and Australia against China

Ivan Lebedev

The establishment of a defense partnership by the United States, Britain and Australia, announced this week, is in line with the American pivot towards the Indo-Pacific and is directed exclusively against China. The U-turn began under Barack Obama, continued with some zigzags under Donald Trump and accelerated sharply under Joe Biden.

Now Washington has persuaded its longtime allies, London and Canberra, to join this maneuver. During the Cold War, they all fought together against the Soviet Union, and now they are going to confront a new common rival. Including in order to protect their interests in the Asia-Pacific region (APR), which has become one of the world’s largest centers of economy and trade.

An exception

The USA, Great Britain and Australia have decided to designate their trilateral partnership with the abbreviation AUKUS, formed from the initial letters in the names of these countries (Australia, United Kingdom, United States). A not very elegant neologism (even Biden noted that it “sounds strange”) inevitably evokes associations with other blocs formed in considerable numbers after the Second World War to contain the USSR, but now almost forgotten. Of these, only NATO remained (the practically disintegrated ANZUS, or the “Pacific Security Pact”, with the participation of the same three countries, does not count). There have been no new such alliances for a long time, and here you go.

Unlike the old alliances, AUKUS does not provide for mutual security obligations, but gives its members the opportunity to exchange defense information and technologies, help each other to strengthen their armed forces and increase their compatibility in the theater of war. The most important part of the agreement is the transfer of American secrets to the creation of nuclear submarines to Australia, which will be equipped with nuclear reactors, but not nuclear weapons. 

With these technologies, Australia plans to build at least eight submarines, the first of which will enter service in 2036. In addition, the United States will supply the latest cruise missiles for the Navy and Air Force of this country, as well as operational-tactical missiles for its ground forces. Australia, planning to spend tens of billions of dollars on the purchase of these weapons, is thus becoming a powerful military power with modern naval forces capable of conducting operations in the World Ocean.

For Australia, this is a ticket from the periphery to the center of international politics. According to the US administration, the secret technologies for creating a nuclear submarine (nuclear submarine) will be transferred to it as an exception to the rules. Previously, such trust was given only to Great Britain, and even then 70 years ago. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the leaders of Great Britain, the former “mistress of the seas”, have also never suffered from a lack of political ambitions, claiming the most prestigious roles in world affairs.

For the first time since the Cold War

The participants in the new pact said that it “is not directed against any particular country.” At the same time, a high-ranking official of the US administration, who asked not to mention his name in the press, called “containment in the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as one of the goals of this initiative. Whom the United States and its allies are going to hold back, he did not specify, and it was not necessary.

American experts have dubbed the Chinese political, economic and military expansion around the world “the war of the wolves” – after the popular Chinese action movie Wolf Warrior. The Biden administration, which believes that China is the main challenge to American interests, has chosen a course towards it that provides for simultaneous cooperation, rivalry and opposition in various fields.

The White House’s Interim Strategic National Security Guidelines in March noted that China is “the only rival that can combine its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to erect enduring obstacles to a stable and open international system. “. Accordingly, in all these areas – in the economy, diplomacy, military and technological spheres – severe pressure has been deployed against China.

The United States is particularly concerned about the build-up of China’s military potential. According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s military spending has almost doubled over the past 10 years. And although in absolute terms these costs are three times less than those of the United States, the pace of Chinese military development seems to frighten the Americans. They are especially worried about the expansion of the PRC navy, the size of which, according to American intelligence, already exceeds the size of the US Navy.

“China’s naval fleet is seen as a serious challenge to the ability of the US Navy to establish and maintain military control over the sea in the western Pacific Ocean – it is the first time that the US Navy faced with such a problem after the Cold War, – noted in a recent report of the Study Congressional service “The Chinese Navy is a key element in China’s challenge to the United States’ longstanding status as the leading military power in the Western Pacific.”

No conflict needed

Of course, the United States is in no way interested in a large-scale military conflict with China and will do everything to prevent this. A just-published book by renowned American journalist Bob Woodward and his Washington Post colleague Robert Costa tells how the head of the United States Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milli, at the end of last year, on his own initiative, called his Chinese counterpart Li Zuocheng to reassure him. that the United States has no intention of attacking China. Milli took this step because he received information that the Chinese leadership is seriously afraid that Trump, who was spending his last days in the White House, would not give the order to strike at the PRC.

At the same time, it is known that the US military admits the possibility of local conflicts or separate military clashes with China. And in such a situation, they probably would not mind if Great Britain and Australia provided them with some support.

Biden said from the outset that in its foreign policy, including in its rivalry with China, the United States should rely on allies and alliances. However, it turned out to be very difficult to put together a global anti-Chinese alliance. It turned out, in particular, that neither the EU nor NATO is suitable for this. The European Union has not been inspired by the prospect of a tough confrontation with China, since this does not correspond to either the investment agreement between them, or the European strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. As for NATO, this region is simply not included in its area of operational responsibility.

“US allies view their relations with China differently and in many cases do not share Washington’s views on how to influence China’s behavior. Beijing is constantly exploiting these internal differences between allies,” political scientist James said in a publication on the Brookings Institution website. Goldgeier and his former colleague and current Pentagon official Lindsay Ford.

Not a gentleman

The creation of the new pact caused a serious conflict between Australia and France. Having agreed with Washington on the construction of a nuclear submarine using American technologies, Canberra refused a contract with the French corporation DCNS for the construction of 12 submarines. The project was estimated at about $ 40 billion. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called it “a stab in the back” and said that “the allies do not behave like that.” This is “reminiscent of the Trump days,” he added.

France does not rule out that it will seek compensation from Australia, but so far it is limited to diplomatic demarches. Its embassy in Washington has canceled celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Chesapeake, the decisive battle in the American Revolutionary War, in which the French navy defeated the British.

The EU leadership is also disappointed and outraged. “We have not been consulted,” said EU foreign minister Josep Borrell in Brussels. According to him, this shows that the Europeans must strengthen “strategic autonomy” and “the ability to act independently.” America seems to them again, apparently, to be an unreliable partner.

One way or another, in the current situation, the United States considered Britain, which had broken with the EU, and Australia, another member of the British Commonwealth, as its natural allies. Probably, the experience of interaction between the United States and Great Britain in NATO, as well as the United States and Australia in ANZUS was taken into account. Although the last block practically collapsed after New Zealand in 1984 banned ships with nuclear weapons on board from entering its territorial waters. Now she said that the ban also applies to the nuclear submarines that Australia plans to build.

The United States would also like to see Japan and India among the allies in the anti-China alliance, which, along with Australia, are participants in the Quadripartite Dialogue on Security in the Asia-Pacific Region. On September 24, Biden is going to host the leaders of these countries at the White House. In addition, Washington expects to pull up the Philippines and Vietnam, which continue territorial disputes with China over islands in the South China Sea, to these efforts.

No telephone conversation

It is noteworthy that the creation of a new pact was announced less than a week after Biden’s telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to a spokesman for the US administration, the US president did not inform his interlocutor about these plans. At the same time, Biden, as far as is known, raised the issue of the possibility of meeting with the Chinese leader and, apparently, did not receive any definite answer. This does not mean that a meeting between them will not take place in the near future, but it will now be much more difficult to agree on it.

Beijing’s reaction to the trilateral partnership between the United States, Great Britain and Australia has shown that it is concerned about the prospect of an imbalance in the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region. “The beginning of cooperation between the United States, Great Britain and Australia on nuclear submarines grossly harms peace and stability in the region, aggravates the arms race, harms efforts within the framework of the international regime for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. He called on the parties to the pact to abandon the “outdated mentality of the Cold War era” and “narrow-minded geopolitical concepts.”

It may seem that all this plays into the hands of Russia, since confrontation between other countries, including rival powers, diverts their military, financial and human resources and creates unnecessary problems for them. However, such a confrontation leads not only to an increase in tension in such an important region as the APR, but also to a violation of strategic stability on a global scale. And here the question arises whether Russia itself will have to take some steps in this regard.