dr. John Lee*
On 16 September 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States called AUKUS.
AUKUS builds on the long-standing and permanent bilateral ties of the three countries and will allow the partners to significantly deepen cooperation in a range of new security and defense capabilities. This follows a 2017 decision to allow Australia and the UK to join the US National Technology and Industrial Base.
The first major AUKUS initiative was the announcement that the US and UK would help Australia acquire nuclear-powered (non-nuclear) submarines. The transfer of any nuclear-powered technology would continue to comply with the long-standing commitments of the US, UK and Australia to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
AUKUS justification is justified and based on urgent and important events. As outlined in the 2020 Defense Strategic Update, Australia’s strategic environment has deteriorated more rapidly than previously anticipated and the Indo-Pacific region has become a focus of military competition.
The Indo-Pacific region is undergoing its most powerful strategic realignment since World War II, with trends including military modernization, technological disruption and the risk of state conflict complicating the strategic interests of Australia and the United States.
AUKUS is caused by China. It is the only major power in the region that demands submission and threatens to review borders and maritime territories by force.
China is not standing still either. China has experienced decades of the fastest military buildup in peacetime history. It spends more on its military every year than the rest of Asia and Oceania combined. As the gap continues to widen, there is no prospect of the stability that comes from a balance without the US, and America needs the territory and help of regional allies to stay in Asia. For most regional countries, the concern is not the creation of AUKUS, but the possibility that the agreement will be less than promised.
Regional countries fear Chinese coercion, but cannot afford to be on the losing side. They are watching and reacting to whether the US and allies such as Australia can provide an effective check against Beijing when it is not standing still. The American and allied calculations are that the longer we wait to counter and rebalance, the harder and more expensive it will be to do so in the future.
Australia’s nuclear submarines are not expected to be built and operated for at least a decade. Before that, Australia wants to work with the US and the UK to develop long-range strike weapons and asymmetric assets such as hypersonic missiles, unmanned attack drones and offensive cyber capabilities. Australia hopes these military assets will allow it to work with the UK and allies such as Japan to deter China from using force in East Asia, mainly across the Taiwan Strait.
Here is a to-do list to deliver the intended effect of AUKUS and ensure that Australia can make a meaningful contribution to a military balance in East Asia that favors America and its allies:
1. America needs to change the way it thinks about controlling technology.
Although the intelligence relationship between the US, the UK and Australia is very close, this does not extend to the exchange of defense technology. The latter is subject to a complex and often intractable regime of restrictive policies, regulations and laws that were designed for a different strategic period. Currently, three agencies—the Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury—have the authority to issue (and deny) export licenses. The US often requires applicants to apply to two or even three of these agencies.
The technology control regime should not only be simplified for AUKUS members, but should also become tolerable. The extent of military technology exchange should be commensurate with the level of deep intelligence cooperation between the three countries.
2. The US Congress must be active in export and technology control policy.
Export controls and regulations governing information sharing are not only unnecessarily burdensome to trusted allies, but also a maze, with the responsibility of enforcing them falling across multiple government departments. Congress should require the US government to identify existing barriers to defense technology sharing among AUKUS members, develop measures necessary to overcome those barriers, and recommend executive or congressional action to remove or reduce them.
*About the author: Dr. John Lee is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute
Source: This article was published by the Hudson Institute