In an interconnected world primarily driven by globalization, it is rare to see countries that function solely on domestic capabilities. Thanks to interconnectivity, there are always some alliances to look up, treaties to analyze, and global affairs to watch out for because they significantly impact the global market. The recent security alliance between Australia, the US, and the UK is one such deal that has created a buzz in cybersecurity.
What is the AUKUS deal?
AUKUS is a new three-way strategic defense alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It was initially created to build a class of nuclear-powered submarines and collaborate in the Indo-Pacific region, where China’s rise is seen as an increasing threat, and to develop broader technologies. It implies that Australia would terminate the contract awarded to France in 2016 to construct 12 diesel-electric submarines to replace its aging Collins submarine fleet.
Apart from the United Kingdom, this is the first time the United States has shared nuclear propulsion technology with an ally. Hence, many believe Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have reached a “landmark defense and security pact” that will have ramifications in the Indo-Pacific area for decades. This will enable Australia to construct a fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered attack class submarines to tackle China’s rising threat.
US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and his Australian equivalent Scott Morrison held a combined virtual news conference on Wednesday. According to experts, the AUKUS deal, which will also encompass AI and other technologies, is one of the countries’ largest defense cooperation alliances in decades.
While China was not specifically addressed, the three presidents made many references to regional security issues, which they claimed had “increased considerably.”
Moreover, the joint leaders’ statement issued by US President Joe Biden to introduce AUKUS stated that the deal will also involve “significant trilateral collaboration” that will first “focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and further underwater capabilities.”
Why is this new security alliance significant?
Analysts believe that the AUKUS alliance is the most significant security agreement between the three countries since World War II.
“This is a historic opportunity for the three states to preserve shared values and promote sustainability and success in the Indo-Pacific region with like-minded friends and partners,” the joint statement said.
Western governments have expressed concern about China’s infrastructure investment in Pacific islands and China’s trade penalties on countries such as Australia.
Australia had previously maintained positive relations with China, its largest trade partner. However, the relationship has deteriorated in recent years as a result of political difficulties. But there is now tension with France after Australia’s cancellation of the A$50 billion (€31 billion; £27 billion) agreement to build 12 submarines.
The classic illustration of balance of threat
Although China was not mentioned in the statement, it is not difficult to conclude that this endeavor was launched due to mounting fears of a rising Chinese threat. These impressions are based partly on China’s increasing capabilities, notably its ability to project naval force in the Asia-Pacific, but also on the country’s overtly revisionist goals in some sectors.
Although what is happening here is, to some extent, merely structural (that is, indicating shifts in the balance of general capabilities), Beijing is solely to blame in other ways. Until recently, Australian thinking on the consequences of China’s development was ambiguous: business leaders sought to maintain profitable economic connections. At the same time, renowned strategists warned that fighting Chinese power expansion was not in Australia’s best interests.
However, China’s increasingly belligerent behavior, particularly its unjustified decision to impose a crippling trade embargo in rebuttal to an Australian proposal for an independent international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, has resulted in a steady hardening of Aussie attitudes. China’s unproductive response serves as a reminder that the US is not the only major power capable of diplomatic blunders.
China has slammed the deal as “very reckless.” The pact also sparked a feud with France, which has now lost a commitment to build 12 submarines with Australia. AUKUS is thus additional proof that the United States and the United Kingdom are eager to control China.
The Integration of AI, Cybersecurity, and Quantum Powers
The decision to add Australia in their long-standing cooperation reflects the West’s increasing concern over Beijing’s expanding military, debt diplomacy, and sanctioned cyberbullying.
During the press conference announcing the deal, President Joe Biden stated that, in addition to submarine technology, there would be a cyber component. While the US President did not clarify at the press conference, it is apparent that the US and the UK would be supporting Australia in building cyber defense and perhaps aggressive capabilities.
In recent years, Australia has been subjected to several major cyberattacks. One of the most prominent occurred in June 2020, when Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, officially stated his nation had been the subject of a “sophisticated” cyber assault.
The Australian Prime Minister warned that an unidentified foreign government was behind it, with the finger firmly pointed at China. Scott Morrison reported speaking with Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the incident, although it is unclear whether the UK supplied cyber expertise to the Australians.
Prior to it, the country experienced a ‘nation-state hack’ of Australian political parties and parliament in February 2019.
Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom are already members of the Five Eyes security partnership, which exchanges intelligence data (Canada and New Zealand are the others). They’re also developing an interoperable submarine fleet and the technology to power them.
Meanwhile, China claims that it solely has benign objectives. It asserts it has not fired a single shot in anger in years and that actions such as constructing bases on South China Sea reefs – based on claims turned down by The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 – are entirely sensible and cause no harm to any nation.
Is this merely a nuclear submarine deal among nations?
The three presidents underlined that the agreement would only transmit nuclear propulsion technology, such as reactors, to power the new submarines, not nuclear weapons capability. The new submarines would not be equipped with such weapons. Australia has traditionally been a staunch opponent of nuclear proliferation and apprehensive about civilian nuclear power, and Morrison reaffirmed that position in his speech.
There are a few less-discussed aspects beneath the headlines that are also worth considering.
It Goes Beyond Submarines
The attention has centered on French and Australian nuclear and diesel submarines. Given the geopolitics, the incredible hardware is an important and intriguing component, but this is also about other forms of conflict.
Critically, cyber is an important component, recognizing both the threat of cyber warfare to the three states and their allies, as well as the potential implicit in data and capabilities exchange. This is a historic chance for the three states to work together with like-minded friends and partners to preserve shared values and promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
China’s significant defense spending on its own submarines and planes is a major motivator for the deal. Similarly, China’s investment in cyber weapons is troubling. When the dust settles, we will witness a commitment to cooperate from the superior ally countries, with enormous potential to disrupt adversary cyber attacks.
Data sharing and cross-jurisdictional collaboration will make AUKUS really formidable, but it will also present some significant problems. Extreme care is advised around data.
Sophisticated technology is the core of this new alliance
The leaders of AUKUS are ambitious. Quantum computing is even mentioned in the White House statement. While we will have to wait and see if that aspect of their vision is completely realized, we can be confident that Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will be used in unprecedented ways.
“The rule books have been ripped up in the last five years. As a result, competent individual hackers, much alone state-sponsored adversaries, may access massive computational power and advanced machine learning algorithms.”
To tackle new dangers, it is critical to recruit the most advanced public and private sector technologies. AUKUS provides a solid structure for Australian, UK, and US agencies and their vendors to collaborate on developing the formidable capabilities they require.
The commercial sector will play an important part in the AUKUS initiatives. We have witnessed firsthand the value of excellent systems integration partners like Accenture in delivering capabilities vision in a timely and effective manner.
The new and the same
Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States already collaborate on cyber and intelligence issues. The Five Eyes alliance, which includes New Zealand and Canada in addition to the other three members, has been in place since 1941. English-speaking nations share intelligence to counter many potential dangers.
Previous partnership experiences will spur future AUKUS collaboration. Aside from the English language, the teams in the various jurisdictions have strong cultural and technological links.
The deal will be focused on military capabilities, distinguishing itself from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing cooperation, including New Zealand and Canada. While Australia’s submarines are the main attraction, AUKUS will also entail the exchange of cyber capabilities and other undersea technology.
China's Mission of World Domination and Taiwan Acquisition: Where Does it Stand With This New AUKUS Alliance?
AUKUS was developed in direct reaction to China’s recent attempts to modernize and extend its nuclear capabilities. Western democracies are likewise concerned about China’s expanding engagement in the disputed South China Sea areas.
The alliance reflects the widely held opinion among foreign officials that China’s efforts pose a direct challenge to American and British dominance in the area and must be vigorously opposed.
The AUKUS alliance is also expected to have significant ramifications for Southeast Asia, located in the core of the geographical region – the “Indo-Pacific” – that is the primary focus of the new collaboration. So far, the region’s governments have remained silent on the announcement.
There is reason to believe that their reaction to the new effort, whether in public or private, will be extremely ambivalent.
Officials in certain countries, notably those on the receiving end of China’s rising military strength in the South China Sea, like Taiwan, are likely to be discreetly supportive of the move, which will impose higher costs on any military adventure by the Chinese.
The announcement is a calculated step that will take several years to complete. The new agreement does not jeopardize Chinese Communist Party rule within China or seek to devastate the Chinese economy, which would be counterproductive. However, the actions announced on September 15 will complicate China’s efforts to project power at sea and control critical communication lines. As a result, future Chinese efforts to intimidate neighboring countries will be hampered, gradually persuading them to adopt more compliant postures. In a nutshell, the move is intended to deter or thwart any future Chinese wager for regional hegemony.
The announcement of the new security alliance coincides with a deterioration in the US-China relationship. Beijing has taken issue with Biden administration officials repeatedly criticizing China for human rights violations in the Xinjiang region, the crackdown on democratic activists in Hong Kong, and cybersecurity breaches arising in China and Beijing’s managing of the coronavirus pandemic and “coercive and unfair” trade policies.
Even though White House officials have repeatedly spoken out against China, administration officials say they want to collaborate with Beijing on issues of mutual interest, such as containing the pandemic and combating climate change.
It is logical for China to react sharply to this news and, given its recent behavior toward Australia, to respond punitively in terms of trade. The ramifications are likely to be numerous.
It would be interesting to see how Australians react to the nation’s direction being decided today without their awareness or consultation. If the last 70 years of living under the ANZUS pact are any guide, emotions will be fierce and starkly split.