• The announcement last week of AUKUS — a new security pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia — is making waves around the world. 
    • The announcement is significant not only because it involves the transfer of nuclear submarine technology to Australia but also since it implies the cancellation of an ongoing U.S.$90 billion project by France to manufacture conventional submarines for Australia.

About the AUKUS Pact:

  • Under the AUKUS alliance, the three nations have agreed to enhance the development of joint capabilities and technology sharing, foster deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains.
  • Under the first major initiative of AUKUS, Australia would build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and the UK, a capability aimed at promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Rationale behind the formation of this alliance:
    • The new partnership was announced in a joint virtual press conference. And while China was not mentioned directly, the three leaders referred repeatedly to regional security concerns which they said had “grown significantly”.
    • In recent years, Beijing has been accused of raising tensions in disputed territories such as the South China Sea.
    • Western nations have been wary of China’s infrastructure investment on Pacific islands, and have also criticised China’s trade sanctions against countries like Australia.
  • Why nuclear-powered submarines?
    • These submarines are much faster and harder to detect than conventionally powered fleets. They can stay submerged for months, shoot missiles longer distances and also carry more.
    • Having them stationed in Australia is critical to US influence in the region, analysts say.
    • The US is sharing its submarine technology for the first time in 50 years. It had previously only shared technology with the UK.
    • Australia will become just the seventh nation in the world to operate nuclear-powered submarines, after the US, UK, France, China, India and Russia.
    • Australia has reaffirmed it has no intention of obtaining nuclear weapons.

Reaction of France

  • France is indignant. Paris has recalled its Ambassador to Australia, accusing Canberra of “backstabbing” and betrayal. 
  • As per France Australia had been secretly negotiating a deal with the U.K. and the U.S. Beyond Canberra’s unceremonious termination of the submarine contract, France is angry because it was kept in the dark about the discussions surrounding the new pact.
  • India’s Status
    • For observers in India, the AUKUS saga evokes mixed feelings. Many are happy for Australia — a partner in the Quad (of India, the U.S., Japan and Australia) — to receive top quality nuclear submarine technology from the U.S. and the U.K., strengthening China deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. 
    • But there is no mistaking a sense of commiseration with France, India’s foremost partner in the Indian Ocean. 
    • Some Quad-sceptics see this as a sign of what the future might hold for India. If Australia and the U.S. could deceive France, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partner, they ask, what is to prevent them from doing the same with lesser allies?

Impact of AUKUS on India

  • There is apprehension that the deal could eventually lead to a crowding of nuclear attack submarines (SSNs/submersible ship nuclear) in the Eastern Indian Ocean, eroding India’s regional pre-eminence. 
  • The Indian Navy presently dominates the space, but its conventional underwater capability has been shrinking. An Indian plan to develop a fleet of nuclear attack submarines has elicited no offer of help from the U.S. that does not share its prized nuclear submarine technology with even its closest allies; all except Australia, evidently. 
  • Washington’s willingness to help Canberra build SSNs raises the possibility that Australia could deploy nuclear submarines in the Eastern Indian Ocean well before India positions its own. This is not merely hypothetical.
  • The Indian Navy, the principal security provider in the Eastern Indian Ocean, is not building submarines at a pace commensurate with needs. 
  • Notwithstanding shared concerns over China’s growing submarine presence in the region, however, Indian officials are not comfortable with the prospect of friendly SSNs in India’s backyard.

AUKUS versus the Quad

  • The agreement suggests preferential treatment on the part of Washington for a close Anglo-alliance partner. A senior American official who briefed the media about the AUKUS deal last week underscored the “very rare” nature of the arrangement and the “extremely sensitive” technology that will be shared with Australia. 
  • The technology pursuit: While it has rarely received any submarine technology from the U.S., New Delhi has been accepting of American discretion on the matter. India has instead relied on Russia for nuclear submarine technology, including in the construction of the reactor of India’s first SSBN/submersible ship ballistic missile nuclear (Arihant) and in the acquisition (on lease) of a nuclear attack submarine. 
  • The Indian Navy’s indigenous SSN programme, requires a nuclear reactor more powerful than the one installed in the Arihant (a non war-fighting platform). Following the deepening of Quad ties, some in India were hopeful that the U.S. would consider providing the Indian Navy with nuclear submarine propulsion technology. The clarification by Washington that the deal with Australia is a “one-off” puts paid to Indian expectations.

Mains Question

Discuss why China is concerned about the ‘AUKUS Alliance’. Also discuss what are the major impacts that can be viewed in India Ocean because of this alliance (250 words)
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