The President of the United States (US) Joe Biden has suffered huge reputational damage following the secret pact signed between Australia, the UK and the US, which has become known by its acronym, AUKUS. While the world was still trying to make sense of the events in Afghanistan; the AUKUS Security Pact was presented to the public by the three Anglophones.
AUKUS will allow the UK and the US to assist Australia to acquire nuclear powered submarines. The pact is regarded by many as a move by the US to counter Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific region and has raised a number of concerns and angered France, which was initially granted the tender by Australia.
In 2016 Malcolm Turnbull, the then-prime minister of Australia, signed a 50 billion Australian dollar ($36 billion) deal with the partly French government-owned company Naval Group. The company was commissioned with designing a new generation of submarines, known as the Attack Class under the “Future Submarine Program”, scheduled to replace the Collins-class.
When AUKUS was announced, France was infuriated by the decision by Australia to change course and it withdrew its ambassadors from Australia and the US in protest. It was perhaps the most serious diplomatic spat in the history of these countries.
AUKUS is now also likely to create new mistrust within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and other multilateral platforms where these countries work together. The new security pact between the US, UK and Australia is an “insult to a Nato partner” and US President Joe Biden is treating allies in the same way his predecessor Donald Trump did, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s longtime foreign policy adviser.
The European Union (EU) has also criticised the US and the UK, saying they threatened a relationship of old allies. Biden’s actions in Afghanistan and the recent signing of AUKUS will likely isolate him and the US from the traditional allies.
The American president has already vowed to resuscitate a number of treaties, including the Paris Accords and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a move that could backlash against the US at it tries to reposition itself after a disastrous four years under Trump.
There are a number of observations which arise from AUKUS, not least why did the three Anglophones – who are part of a number of multinational bodies – decide to act secretly?
Having left the EU, the UK has continued to rally support along tribal lines, signing the first post-Brexit deal negotiated from scratch with Australia in June 2021. This tribalism could create a troubling environment during a time where the world needs solidarity on a number of urgent issues that threaten the globe.
AUKUS will further expand the trappings and dangers of the Military Industrial Complex. Coined by former US president, Dwight Eisenhower, the term describes a complicated relationship between politicians and arms manufactures. Eisenhower warned that the United States must “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex,” which included members of Congress from districts dependent on military industries.
The former president believed that the weapons industry tended to promote policies that might not be in the country’s best interest (such as participation in the nuclear arms race), and he feared that – left unchecked – its growing influence, could undermine American democracy.
There are growing concerns that the US’ hasty exit from Afghanistan was in preparation for a new military involvement in the Indo-Pacific region. Leading many to believe that the South China Sea will be the next ground for the Military Industrial Complex. In recent years, Beijing has been accused of raising tensions in disputed territories such as the South China Sea.
With the new deal, Australia will likely alienate its neighbours as it paves way in the Indo-Pacific region for new players.
There are also those who believe the war in Afghanistan has been nothing but profitable for all nations involved. Afghanistan was an incubator to test the latest weapons, with its tough arid plains, including the mountains of Kandahar, providing the perfect testing grounds for military technology. Afghanistan, they argue, generated much more than the $2 trillion US officials reported was lost during the invasion of the country.
Biden’s political mantra when he started his presidency was “America is back”. It presented new levels of optimism in reviving multilateralism and global diplomacy. However, the manner in which the US left Afghanistan and the secrecy of AUKUS have dented those hopes and the image of the US.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.