Australia had informed India at the highest levels of the new enhanced trilateral security partnership with the U.S. and the U.K. -- AUKUS -- before it was formally announced, Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell said on Friday.
The decision for the partnership reflected a much more “challenging strategic environment,” which they shared with India, where “great power competition is intensifying,” and territorial tensions in the South China Sea, Taiwan and elsewhere were becoming “more challenging.”
Mr. O’Farrell stated in a virtual media briefing, “We want to contribute to strategic reassurance measures that ensure no one country believes they can advance their strategic ambitions through conflict. It’s not about seeking to provoke any particular regional power, rather it’s about ensuring we have the capabilities that contribute along with India and other countries to deterring the types of behaviour that threatens the peace and security in the Indo-Pacific today and in the future.”
The Australian Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers spoke to their Indian counterparts to inform them about the decision. However, it was not discussed during the inaugural India-Australia 2+2 ministerial dialogue, he noted.
AUKUS was unveiled on September 16 by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “significantly deepen cooperation on a range of emerging security and defence capabilities.” The first initiative under this is for Australia to acquire at least eight nuclear powered submarines (SSN) with cooperation from the U.S. and the U.K. “The decision has been taken after deep consideration,” Mr. O’Farrell pointed out.
This decision meant the scrapping of the plan to build 12 conventional submarines in partnership with Naval Group of France estimated at over AUS $50 bn when it was announced in 2016. France reacted sharply to the development, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back” and “a huge breach of trust”.
Indo-Pacific investment in military capability is proceeding in an unprecedented rate and that latter point is being driven by China, which has the largest military modernisation programme underway in the world, Mr. O’Farrell remarked. China too had responded sharply to the announcement.
Responding to questions, he said AUKUS would help improve Australia’s defence capabilities in line with the country’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and would not affect the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which is more of a diplomatic forum. The Quad comprising India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. is scheduled to hold its first in-person Heads of State meeting on September 24 in the U.S. The four countries also recently held naval war games under Exercise Malabar.
In addition to the nuclear-powered submarines, Australia has also announced that it would acquire acquire additional long-range strike capabilities for its defence force. These include the Tomahawk cruise missile on destroyers, extended range Joint Air-to-Surface stand-off missiles and long-range anti-ship missiles for fighter jets, continuing collaboration with the U.S. to develop hypersonic missiles and precision strike-guided missiles for land forces.
India, which has progressively deepened ties with the Quad countries as well as France in recent years in the backdrop of growing Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean Region, has maintained silence on the development.
With massive expansion underway by the Chinese Navy, India too has embarked on a major military modernisation and is in the process of procuring six new advanced conventional submarines, while a separate indigenous project for the design and construction of six nuclear-powered submarines is underway.