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Can Aukus ward off a new threat of cold war in the Indo-Pacific region?

The Indo-Pacific region is under tremendous pressure as tensions continue to rise. China’s open aggression against Taiwan and its frequent intrusions into Indian territory in violation of border security agreements are quickly threatening to become potential hotbeds for a new round of conflict. But even without the threat of conflict, China’s global and regional domination ushers in a new era of cold war. The development would pit China against the then preeminent superpower, the United States.

It was following such a tense political scenario that the UK, US and Australia announced their new nuclear submarine deal on September 15. This move would see Australia transform into a major geopolitical partner for the United States and a major regional military power. to combat the growing Chinese domination of the region.

Australia, with its order for eight nuclear-powered submarines, would be among a select group of nations capable of producing such war machines, despite the lack of a civilian nuclear base. The United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, and India are all currently capable of manufacturing and deploying nuclear submarines around the world.

But the deal was not without obstacles. France, the European Union and China came to criticize the agreement for various reasons. Analysts and political theorists have also warned of the start of a nuclear arms race in the region.
France had signed an agreement with Australia to supply them with nuclear submarines, but the French agreement was scuttled in favor of the new agreement. China, meanwhile, accused the three countries of “seriously undermining regional peace and stability, intensifying the arms race and harming international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.”

Michael Shoebridge, director of defense and national security at ASPI, said by CNBC: “There have been enormous changes in the strategic environment of the region in just five years. In 2016, the Australian government failed to see the need to address the sensitivity of nuclear submarines, let alone their complexity and expense. “

Shoebridge also said the UK and US would not have shared this technology at the time. “China’s actions since that time under Xi Jinping have fundamentally changed the environment and made nuclear submarines a very smart choice for Australia.”

But the other big issue with the deal is the timing. The deal only exists on paper so far, details such as where the submarines will be built and the particular class of the submarines have yet to be inked.

In any case, the submarines will not be deployed before 2040, compared to the 2034 date that France had set for its delivery of submarines. In the meantime, China is only expected to increase military spending in the region to challenge the balance of military power in the region.

If AUKUS can work with regional powers like Singapore, South Korea, Japan; and other strategic allies like France, India and others, will be essential in deciding the effectiveness of the new “alliance” in subduing the dragon.

But for many countries in the region, their priorities remain to keep the sea channels open in the region while not getting caught up in an arms race between the two superpowers of that time in a new cold war.

(Edited by : Shoma bhattacharjee)


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