by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 17
September 2021
Response
17:27

AUKUS is a risky bet on American hegemony

How confident should Australia and the UK be that US dominance will last?
by Aris Roussinos
Joe Biden (c) with Boris Johnson (R) and Scott Morrison (L). Credit: Getty

The announcement of the new Pacific AUKUS security triad has naturally given rise to a great deal of technical speculation: on whether the Australians will choose a British or American SSN design, what degree of nuclear infrastructure the Australians will acquire, and what timeframe the partnership will take to materalise. Fundamentally, though, the AUKUS alliance is a political one: a statement not just of Australia’s desire to maintain its autonomy in the face of China — by far its largest single trading partner — but also of its commitment to an American-led international order.

The United States is the greatest single beneficiary of the announcement, in that AUKUS is a major vote of confidence in its ability to win the coming challenge. It is, as a senior Biden administration official announced:

Designed not only to strengthen our capabilities in the Indo-Pacific but to link Europe, and particularly Great Britain, more closely with our strategic pursuits in the region as a whole… a fundamental decision — fundamental — that binds decisively Australia to the United States and Great Britain for generations.
- White House Official

Whether or not binding yourself to the US will pay off in the long term is another question. As veteran Australian strategist Allan Gyngell observes: “the agreement is a big Australian bet on the future of the United States, and at a more uncertain time in American politics than at almost any point in the history of the alliance,” in which “American expectations of Australian support in almost any contingency, whether it involves China or not, will grow.” As he notes, Australia’s PM Scott Morrison asserts that “This is a “forever partnership”… assuming a perpetual alignment of interests between our three countries and forgetting chunks of Australian diplomatic history,” when “even America’s “forever wars” lasted only 20 years.”

As Australian defence analyst Sam Roggeveen suggests elsewhere,

Australia is gambling that, over the 30- or 40-year lifetime of this submarine fleet, our interests will remain solidly aligned with those of the United States… we don’t know is exactly what limits Washington plans to set on China’s ambitions. Is the US prepared to live with a much bigger and more powerful China, and effectively share leadership? Or is the US preparing for a long contest for dominance? If it’s the latter, then Australia has just signed on to a closer military partnership that increases the prospect of war between the US and China. And as China’s military modernisation accelerates, it becomes increasingly clear that this is a war the US would lose.
- Sam Roggeveen

The outcome of a potential conflict is not predetermined: perhaps China will shrink from open confrontation, and even if it doesn’t, America could potentially emerge victorious from the contest.

But in either case, it would be reassuring to know what exactly Britain is committing itself to in the Pacific: there is a strong moral and political case for committing ourselves to Australia’s defence, whatever the risks involved. Taking on a subordinate role in defending America’s increasingly contested military hegemony in the wider region is another matter entirely, especially when there is little clarity from the United States over whether or not it intends to defend Taiwan.

These questions are unanswered in Washington, let alone Canberra or London. Before signing open-ended commitments to unknown goals, we should demand some clarity from the government over what we are committing ourselves to, and what precisely our desired aims are.

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Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago

American dominance will last if the world believes it does. The West is being undermined psychologically, from within and without, by bad actors who have learned that the most effective ways to destroy a culture are through ideology and demographics rather than tanks and bombs. China and Islam have both been playing the long game and only now are some western governments cottoning on to this. To me it’s a simple choice. Who would you rather be dominant? Authoritarian China, the Middle Eastern Mullahs or the Yanks? For me it’s a no brainer. It’s the USA and the West, for all our flaws, every day of the week and twice on Sunday. We either regain our self confidence and stop navel gazing, or we die. Simple as that.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Well said. “and only now are some western governments cottoning on to this”: more’s the pity. The direction of travel has been clear for at least thirty years but our useless politicians and other parts of the new establishment have ignored or encouraged things.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

From the tenor of Mr Roussinos’s recent articles I get the impression that he would even prefer the Taliban over the “Evil Empire” of America.
He toes the standard Guardian/Corbynista anti-American line on virtually all major issues.

Last edited 1 year ago by Eddie Johnson
Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
1 year ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

The timid men without chests have always been with us, never more than now.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

Ari is clearly pro European. That doesn’t necessarily make him pro US. Or pro Anglo American.

Last edited 1 year ago by Franz Von Peppercorn
David McDowell
David McDowell
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

And these insights are far more significant than anything in the article. Journalistic self-censorship is another of the ways that extremists rely on to destroy the culture.
Of course Roussinos isn’t alone in self-censoring these questions but we are entitled to better from Unherd.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

The USA can easily survive as a non imperialist power. The question is whether it wants to continue to be an empire.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

“…AUKUS is a risky bet on American hegemony…”

Well yes of course it is. But the question to ask is not if the UK should make this bet, but which bet it might make instead. Because not making this bet is also making a (different) bet, potentially a much riskier one. So then, which bet should the UK (and Aus and Canada and many others) make instead? Outside aligning with the EU (which doesn’t attract in all honesty) the only alternative to the US is… China. If this is a serious alternative that the author is implicitly suggesting we should be considering, then perhaps he should say so explicitly.

Matt B
Matt B
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

For sure. And France/EU is hardly reliable when it threatens (just for starters) to cut off UK energy supplies. Given this, would France have Oz’s back whilst grubbing for China business?

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt B
Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
1 year ago

They’re absolutely fuming over at the Guardian. For 5 years they’ve been constantly telling us how pathetic and insignificant Britain will be post-Brexit, as the magnificent EU grows in global prominence
This kinda punctures their narrative, and has completely blindsided ’em, bless

David McDowell
David McDowell
1 year ago

Little Owen is spitting feathers.

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
1 year ago

It may well turn out to be a risky bet. But not making it will have only one outcome, one that won’t be positive for us or for the West in general. At some point we either stand up to China, send her a strong signal that we are prepared to defend our interests, or we may as well just get used to kow-towing now.

M. Gatt
M. Gatt
1 year ago

The submarine deal is important. But it is more than that, it is also a new security agreement that excludes Canada and NZ. The Globe & Mail, a Canadian newspaper, says that Trudeau recieved a call about the deal only just hours before it was announced. Oh dear.

David George
David George
1 year ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

We (New Zealand) have an official Nuclear free policy so even a visit from one of these subs would be a serious problem. Pretty foolish when you consider that, absent any hitherto unimagined discovery or development, nuclear will be the go-to technology for shipping generally; there is simply no other viable technology to replace oil burning ships. 
I suspect the nuke powered subs thing is just an excuse for those with an anti American position but it’s pretty obvious that Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Indonesia and all of our neighbours in the Pacific have serious and justified concerns over a rampant, bullying China with a massively expansionist military policy.  

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  David George

Serious problem? And how would Jacinda intend to stop them? With pea shooters?

Matt B
Matt B
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Love is all you need. Give peas a chance.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt B
Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Sternly worded statement from the former head of the Student Socialist International, of course.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago
Reply to  David George

I forget when it was NZ decided it no longer needed jet fighters to defend its air space but seems like a long time ago. Very sad.

RJ Kent
RJ Kent
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill W

I think it was about the time NZ realised it had a population and economy about the size of Birmingham (not the one in Alabama) and that it couldn’t afford to defend itself in its own. A bit like Scotland…..

RJ Kent
RJ Kent
1 year ago
Reply to  David George

Is anyone in NZ bothered about being sidelined by AUKUS and apparent demise of 5 Eyes? Mind you, guess the NZ navy’s speedboat is more than capable of detecting and reprimanding any AUKUS nuclear sub that encroaches into territorial waters, as well as deterring aggression by any actual enemy

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  RJ Kent

NZ would care more if Australia put up more barriers as a result of NZ being perceived as a back door for hostile entry.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
1 year ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

The fact that Trudeau and Macron were given little notice may explain why there was no prior leak. I’m amazed that a member of the UK civil service didn’t leak it long ago.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

That’s the most impressive thing about the deal. It’s caught both France and seemingly China off guard.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

Canada was woke before the term was invented according to my Canadian relatives.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

AUKUS is a major vote of confidence in its ability to win the coming challenge”
Is there any alternative? Before WW2 Australia depended on the U.K. for protection, and after it, the U.S. There is the long-standing ANZUS Treaty, the Five Eyes thing etc. so there’s nothing unexpected about this development, it’s a continuation of the historical trend. An upgraded role for the U.K. in the Pacific is a bit of a change, but Australia has long been a ‘deputy sheriff’ for the U.S. The submarines can be seen partly as a reaction to China’s military build-up, otherwise nothing much to see here.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago

I think it is more profound than you suggest. You may recall there used to be CENTO and SEATO. This agreement strikes me as a hopeful swing away from wishful thinking towards reality and the need for allies.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago

Yes, strategic considerations are important.
But also worth pointing out how awful the original submarine deal was.

Essentially paying close to nuclear sub prices for conventional subs

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
1 year ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

I’m not surprised that the French are outraged, but more surprised that they are prepared to make a bad situation worse – recalling ambassadors?
I heard one of our usual elite selected for broadcast on the BBC stating that we (UK) shouldn’t be upsetting the French, and that we should be seeking military support in Europe.
I’d say; invert this – why would France wish to upset Australia, UK, and USA? Does Macron show the slightest reluctance in upsetting the UK? How does this affect Europe, when the EU has no relevance in the Pacific and never will. Even NATO has little relevance that I can see, although both USA and Canada are Pacific nations.

Last edited 1 year ago by Colin Elliott
Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

I assumed it was the money: French companies who were going to get the $90 billion will be very upset, so the French President has to be upset. But American companies want the $90 billion too and I suspect Australia has been led to believe that it would be in our best interests to spend the money in the U.S. All U.S. presidents think that the business of America is business! Also, a bit of injured pride that the French subs weren’t seen as useful as the U.S. ones. Withdrawing ambassadors seems a bit of a tantrum.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago

The idea that a country as enormous as Australia could get by with diesel subs is odd.

RJ Kent
RJ Kent
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill W

Surely they can be equipped with wind power and geothermal generators for use in event refuelling tankers are unavailable / sunk?

RJ Kent
RJ Kent
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Make things worse? Our tricoloured ‘friends’ seem to be bent on doing exactly that. And they have sent their warships into our waters a number of times recently (Channel Islands Fishing dispute, escorting illegal immigrants). Without so much as a by- your-leave.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

The U.K. has little relevance either. It’s a small island in the Atlantic. Why would it have a presence in the pacific?

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

What I don’t understand is why the Australians ever thought they were getting the right type of subs and at the right price in the first place. Strange.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill W

Maybe it was positioned as a sweetener for an EU/AUS trade deal?

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
1 year ago

A bet? Unless other nations stand up to China all bets are off.

Dominic Campbell
Dominic Campbell
1 year ago

This is a conflict where we cannot afford to see the US lose. As one American once told his European counterpart during the Cold War: “If you think we’re bastards, wait till you see the next lot.”

David Harris
David Harris
1 year ago

“How confident should Australia and the UK be that US dominance will last?”
And the alternative is…?

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
1 year ago
Reply to  David Harris

Multilateralism.

David McDowell
David McDowell
1 year ago

Rather silly of Roussinos to predicate his position on this being a forever alliance when everyone knows there’s no such thing, only enduring interests.
What distinguishes this alliance from the alternative is the possibility of being on the right side of the big winner in the medium term. The alternatives are isolation or entrapment in a Eurocentric cultural and social mutual suicide.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
1 year ago

As long as Saudi and Iraqi oil is traded in US$ the USA is winning.

Matt B
Matt B
1 year ago

“Hegemon” – again?

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt B
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

Hopefully this meshes well with the Quad alliance. (India, Australia, Japan, US)

Alan B
Alan B
1 year ago

Of course it would be nice for countries to know exactly what they are getting into with these pacts, but it is impossible. That is why pacts are made (and broken). Also, you can pretty safely write off any pundit (e.g. Roggeveen) who claims to know who would prevail in a hypothetical future war.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
1 year ago

The discussions below the line are fairly indicative of how Anglo Americanism is triumphing over Ari’s idea of a European civilisation state. Brexit probably exacerbated that.

The problem is demographics and population. While China does have a low fertility rate, they also have the advantage of millions of internal migrants who have yet to move to cities and a government that can reverse the demographic trend. The west is in demographic free fall. In fact the ageing of western populations is the biggest issue of the day, it’s also something not really mentioned. It means that there really won’t be any money for imperial expansion in the future. Also non white populations maybe less inclined to empire. What used to link the US and Australia was a common heritage as well as a common ideology.

Also people don’t understand exponentials.

In 2003, when islam was the threat, nobody even thought of China. The iraq war was condemned by China. Nobody cared.. Back then China was 1/4 the size of the US, and historically that takes centuries to catch up. However China grew at a double digit rate, while the west stagnated and reversed in 2008. So China is now the same size as the US, more or less. Continue this to the relatively near future and China will be 4 times the size of the US. I’ve never read any convincing explanations why this wouldn’t happen. This isn’t a war, hot or cold, that could be won.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 year ago

XR and the Save the Planet posse celebrate the declining birth rate because humanity is the planet’s nemesis, egged on by social media bots doing the work of the West’s enemies.

Last edited 1 year ago by Douglas McNeish
Rickard Gardell
Rickard Gardell
1 year ago

I think you all comments are missing the point. Usa already had Australia. Why did it need to create a conflict with France which will lead to a conflict with EU? UK seems on the sideline anyway so probably irrelevant? Australia would always do what USA told them to do. The only thing that has changed is that usa, uk and Australia has a much worse relationship with Europe. Or did Australia make a purchase technology order mistake with France. There are different ways of addressing that.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
1 year ago

At some point in the next 10 years, the Americans will be forced to accept that China is their equal, or more than their equal in terms of economic and geopolitical power. That’s the point at which a sensible relationship between the West and China will become possible.

David George
David George
1 year ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

That realisation is already apparent I think Giles. The Asia Pacific countries recognition of the importance of maintaining a military and economic counter is evidence of that . You can’t even negotiate from a position of weakness or be naïve enough to rely on international law to haul in China’s neo imperialist ambitions.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 year ago
Reply to  David George

Yes. International Law without the enforcement of a strong advocate is utterly meaningless.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

China depends on the American thirst for cheap Chinese tat. Trump’s determination to bring manufacturing back to America was not altogether wrong.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Couldn’t agree more. I remember thinking exactly that in the run up to the financial crisis as low interest rates were explained away in part by China’s surplus and thought isn’t there a limit to the tat we buy.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill W

We’ve basically paid for China to build up its power and destroy us. How dumb are we?

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

It wasn’t wrong at all but far too late. I wonder how many people here were opposed to the free trade ideology that made China so powerful even 10 years ago.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
1 year ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

That’s a very dangerous outlook. Analogous to the Jews who returned to Germany in the late 1930s, rationalising that the worst was over and things would now start to get better. China under the CCP is an aggressive, expansionist and, frankly, a racist power. You don’t have “sensible relationships” with entities like that.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

At some point the world will have to recognise China is a threat at the same level as Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

Thankfully, unlike moronic US liberals, the countries surrounding China have no illusions about the threat.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

I am afraid they still don’t get it. A similar phenomenon to the West’s historic approach to oil producing states.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

“sensible”: a weasel word. Nixon made a big mistake, Clinton made it worse.