Regarded as “the best wall” against China’s aggressive moves or as “the worst deal in Australia’s history,” the AUKUS submarine deal should be considered a very logical strategic decision to reassure at least one regional player – India – to continue betting on the nuclear. France could then take revenge.
UKUSA and AUKUS, two sides of the same medal
Distance should not erase history. Australia has always been a key player in the US strategy in the Pacific. Key to the reconquest of the Pacific during World War II, Australia has remained a centerpiece of the US containment strategy devised by George Kennan.
If NATO has been described as an alliance “to get America in, get the Soviets out, and sink the Germans,” its recent expansion into the Asia-Pacific area could also be described as “get America in, get the Soviets out.” Chinese and sink the allies.
Signed in March 1946 on the legacy of SIGINT cooperation during World War II, the UKUSA Communications Agreement between the US and the UK has truly laid the foundation for a powerful and intimate alliance between the ‘two cousins.’
The UKUSA Treaty, first announced in the 1970s and extensively recorded in the 1990s, was ratified in 1948 with the addition of Canada and in 1956 with the addition of Australia and New Zealand (1956). Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were included in the “UKUSA Cooperating Commonwealth Countries” list in a revised agreement in 1955.
Australia is a member of the covert and very effective “Five Eyes” collaboration, which operates the global Echelon network of listening and analysis stations.
As such, UKUSA and AUKUS are essentially two sides of the same coin, as sharing certain nuclear secrets will not be as sensitive as sharing intercepted daily information.
The nuclear option: an “obvious” question
As a propulsion option for future submarines, the Australian “SEA-1000” project rejected the nuclear option for local political reasons.
Some experts, such as Tom Lewis, a naval officer, primarily an intelligence analyst, wrote in the Australian Naval Institute columns (on June 6, 2021) that Australia should “drop the project now, and buy 12 Virginia-class nuclear ships from the US.”
A position held much earlier (in 2012) by Simon Gowan, an analyst at the Center for Independent Studies, in whose paper (“Future Submarine Project Should Raise Periscope for Another Look”) the Virginia-class solution was first proposed as the best viable choice.
In a word, betting on nuclear energy is the only operative solution; it’s so obvious and so simple that, given Australia’s location on a map, it really is the typical ‘no-brainer’ choice. Not surprisingly, India has also gone nuclear.
India: France’s revenge?
Following the AUKUS statement, India fell silent. This silence is not at all a sign of perplexity. Daily, the Indian Navy must contend with a rising and increasingly assertive Chinese naval presence in its own neighborhood (Indian Ocean).
Equally important is the fact that the Indian Navy will operate two independent aircraft carrier groups (INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant) – SSNs will be required to protect and scout their paths.
Until now, India relied on Russia to lease an SSN as part of the past contract to replace the previously leased INS Chakra by 2025. This deal was closed long before the Ukrainian war, and India adhered to the payment routine.
But leasing is a temporary option: the “Make in India” policy advocates another solution with another partner.
If India and the United States have become more than partners, Washington is not exactly seen as a trusted friend, as Russia and France have been for decades. With Russia relegated to the background by its war in Ukraine, France is the only obvious solution (“no-brainer”). The AUKUS pattern should be easily reproduced in India by New Delhi and Paris:
— If India does not tolerate any basic rights for French SSNs (even temporarily), an increase in joint operational deployments of Indian and French submarines could be envisaged; so far, India will rely on its new Scorpène fleet, which will later be fitted with AIP modules for longer deployments: this should encourage submarine cooperation and pave the way to the next level: nuclear cooperation;
— In a second step, and as lot one, a contract for 4 French-Barracuda could be concluded between France and India. During construction in Cherbourg, France, local content should essentially focus on supporting the future SSN fleet and developing an Indian naval reactor (by DRDO and Indian Navy).
— As a third step, the “Brazilian” solution would be applied: an Indian nuclear reactor to be installed in a hull made in India with French technical assistance (Naval group and MDL), paving the way for a lot-two with local Indian content ( BrahMos, subsystems…).
AUKUS means “open bar” for the region
Chinese diplomacy is partly right in saying that the AUKUS has unleashed regional nuclear proliferation because India will go nuclear, but in fact, it will be the only country to go in that direction; thus, the Anglo-Saxon agreement has relaunched the regional need for submarines. Pandora’s box was already open, but now the (nuclear) genie had come out of the bag.