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AUKUS: Can It Constrain China?



The AUKUS alliance, comprising the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, has been a topic of significant global discussion and debate. A key element of this partnership is the provision of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, a move intended to bolster its maritime capabilities.


However, doubts about Australia's willingness to engage in a potential conflict with China have led to concerns about the effectiveness of this initiative as a deterrent against Chinese aggression.


The Skeptic's Perspective

Weakening of Deterrence: Critics argue that the sale of Virginia-class submarines to Australia could weaken deterrence if China perceives that Australia may not use these submarines as effectively as the US Navy would. This perception might embolden Chinese aggression, believing that Australia would be less likely to engage in conflict effectively.


Lack of Commitment: Australia's defense minister has stated that the AUKUS deal does not include any pre-commitments to the US regarding involvement in a potential future conflict over Taiwan. This lack of commitment raises concerns about the readiness of Australia to engage in conflicts that may not align with its interests.


Challenges in Submarine Production: The challenges faced by the US submarine industrial base in meeting its desired construction rate for Virginia-class submarines raise questions about the ability to build replacements for submarines sold to Australia. This uncertainty could impact the sustainability of the partnership.


Financial Constraints: The costs associated with acquiring, operating, and maintaining Virginia-class submarines could strain Australia's military budget, potentially reducing funding for other critical capabilities. This could have a net negative impact on Australia's overall military capabilities.


Sovereignty and Room to Maneuver: While Australia claims sovereign control over the submarines, some argue that the partnership diminishes its strategic autonomy by relying on US support.


Safety Concerns: The responsibility of another country in preventing accidents with US-made submarines may raise concerns about the safety of all US Navy nuclear-powered ships, potentially undermining their credibility.


The Supporter's Perspective

Enhanced Deterrence: Proponents contend that AUKUS sends a powerful signal to China, demonstrating the collective determination of the US, Australia, and the UK to counter China's military modernization efforts. The unprecedented sale of a complete SSN to another country underscores this commitment, making the deterrent signal stronger.


Accelerating Force Creation: The interim sale of Virginia-class submarines in the 2030s would rapidly enhance Australia's submarine capabilities, presenting China with a second allied decision-making center for submarine operations in the Indo-Pacific region. This would complicate Chinese military planning and enhance deterrence.


Ultimately, the success of AUKUS as a deterrent will depend on the ability of the member countries to work together effectively, manage the associated challenges, and send a clear message of collective determination to counterbalance China's regional ambitions.


The importance of AUKUS in shaping the future of the Indo-Pacific cannot be understated, and its effectiveness in deterring potential aggression from China will be closely watched by the international community.

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