The USS Montpelier, similar to the nuclear rapid attack submarines that will be acquired by Australia from the United States, arrives at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut on September 19, 2021 (Joshua Karsten / US Navy)
Defense experts were stunned when the US and UK announced last week that they would deliver a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia as part of a new security partnership baptized AUKUS.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quick to point out when announcing at the White House on September 15 that AUKUS would strengthen already established partnerships, such as the Quad, a loose strategic grouping of the United States, of the Australia, Japan and India intended to counterbalance China’s growing military and economic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.
But the sharing of the closely watched nuclear propulsion technology among the three nations has left some wondering if the movement would suck all the oxygen out of the room for the Quad’s parallel regrouping.
Arun Prakash, once India’s top military officer, wrote in an editorial Wednesday that UKUS “puts a question mark on the continued relevance of this forum and its long overdue updating.”
“While the un-charitable comments on ‘Anglo-Saxon solidarity’ should be ignored, there may be substance in the belief that the ‘Anglosphere nations’ – who share common cultural and historical ties with the Kingdom United – inspire more trust in each other, ”Prakash wrote.
Whether AUKUS strengthens or hinders the Quad will likely become clearer after a White House Quad summit on Friday.
India has urged the United States in recent years to share more defense-related technologies, and the submarine deal could encourage India to push for such transfers under the auspices of the Quad Group.
India put its first nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant, into service in 2016, but it is a ballistic missile submarine that moves relatively slowly compared to submarines in India. quick general-purpose attack Australia gets.
India has in the past asked the United States to help it acquire such attack submarines, but has come to nothing with the requests.
“India is not an official ally of the United States, which calls into question Washington’s willingness to transfer such sensitive technologies as nuclear sub-propulsion to New Delhi,” said Collin Koh, business expert Pacific Naval Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International. Studies in Singapore, said in an email on Wednesday.
Richard Rossow, an expert on India at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, DC-based think tank, said he did not expect the AUKUS deal to raise unrealistic expectations in India. .
“Up close, India understands that our defense relationship with Australia and the UK remains well ahead of our defense relationship with India,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.
“The US Department of Defense has already created new spaces to initiate the sharing of advanced defense technologies with India,” he said. “This includes the creation of the US-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative, as well as the Indian Pentagon Rapid Reaction Force, which is accelerating technology sharing with India. The United States has also been more liberal in offering drone technology to India than any other nation outside of our security treaty partners. “
India could look to France for help in acquiring nuclear attack submarines, and following the announcement from AUKUS, the French may be inclined to do so.
French officials were furious that Australia had ended a $ 66 billion deal signed in 2016 to buy 12 conventionally powered submarines from France and would instead buy nuclear powered submarines from the United States and from the United Kingdom. AUKUS announcement.
President Joe Biden has taken steps to ease tensions with Paris, including an appeal with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday. But France could be a wild card in the future of Quad.
“The only way I see [AUKUS] interfering with American and Australian cooperation with India is if France doubles its efforts to win important new defense agreements with India, ”said Rossow. “In particular, France is pushing to sell its Rafale [fighter jet] platform to the Indian Navy in its imminent acquisition of 57 combat aircraft launched by aircraft carriers. Winning defense deals isn’t America’s primary focus in expanding defense ties with India, but it certainly helps build broad support in Washington, DC. “
Japan, on the other hand, is unlikely to seek a sub-deal similar to that obtained by Australia for several reasons, said Zack Cooper, an expert on defense policy in Asia at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Nuclear power is increasingly out of favor in Japan, let alone nuclear weapons,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Even civilian nuclear power is a hot issue, so I think the idea that a Japanese government could pursue military nuclear power is something that is politically difficult to swallow.”
But more at the heart of the matter, Japan doesn’t need nuclear-powered submarines, Cooper said.
“Japan has a very efficient diesel-electric submarine program, one of the most advanced in the world,” he said. “I think they feel pretty happy with what they have.”
The AUKUS deal, however, likely raised expectations in Japan, Cooper said.
“I think they’re a little envious that Australia got such a deep tech-sharing deal, so I think Tokyo will be looking to ink something similar – but not something nuclear.”