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How India views AUKUS

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Dost Barrech

The inking of the AUKUS, a trilateral security pact among Australia, the UK and the U.S. on September 15, 2021, with an effort to counter China in the Asia-Pacific without Indian inclusion has taken back many experts. The AUKUS for the first time will be building nuclear-powered submarines; Canberra will be using technologies provided by Washington.

Some analysts are of the view that the AUKUS pact covering Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other sophisticated technologies appear to be the AUKUS members’ biggest defense partnership in recent decades. In such circumstances, the non-inclusion of India, a strategic ally of the U.S., in the containment of China from the pact puts New Delhi in a deep quandary. Within India, among the analysts, there have been mixed feelings as far as the AUKUS is concerned.

Some Indian experts who view Australia as a crucial ally of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) are content with the provision of top-quality nuclear submarine technology from the U.S. and the UK to Canberra, bolstering Australian position in the Indo-Pacific to counter China. However, others regard the AUKUS as the U.S. betrayal of France which New Delhi considers as a crucial partner in the Indian Ocean. Critics have strong remonstrations on the pact arguing that the U.S. should have taken France in confidence before signing the pact. Critics further reiterate that “it would have prevented an unseemly spat between friends, all big players in the Indo-Pacific region.” Opponents of the pact also say that the members of the AUKUS played a double game with France a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the same duplicity is round the corner with India.

Indian officials view the AUKUS from a different prism. Their apprehensions over the pact have been serious. The deal is highly likely to trigger a crowding of nuclear attack submarines (SSNs/submersible ship nuclear) in the Eastern Indian Ocean, diminishing New Delhi’s conventional underwater capability and regional supremacy. There is a prevailing speculation within India that New Delhi ought to seek France’s help concerning nuclear submarines. The skeptics say that Canberra’s nuclear submarine capability is likely to surpass India’s in coming years. Indian officials confer that Australia ought to reassess its strategic environment.

The AUKUS has been causing a great deal of rift and fissure among the U.S. allies, overshadowing the role of Quad. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the Indian Foreign Secretary, states that the deal is “neither relevant to the Quad nor will it have any impact on its functioning.” New Delhi tends to see Quad as an Asian North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but the former does not have any commitment to collective security. A recent summit of Quad, underlined cooperation on climate change, COVID-19 vaccine distribution, technology, and science. The summit remained absolved of any immediate responsibility to accelerate anti-China security framework. Unlike Quad, the AUKUS is a security pact; the non-inclusion of India intensifies New Delhi’s security dilemma vis-à-vis China.

The AUKUS is believed to have set a new precedent for sharing U.S. technology and material of nuclear-powered submarines with other countries. The U.S. sharing nuclear-powered submarines with allies will compel China to follow the same trajectory of providing powered submarines to its allies that probably will further escalate New Delhi’s security dilemma in the region. The U.S., under the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) offered technology to a state that is a non-nuclear-weapon state (NNWS).

Sharing nuclear-powered submarines and technologies in the great power competition between the U.S. and China will, arguably, put India in a disadvantageous position. While the AUKUS has enraged France, the pact has scuttled the $80-billion French-Australian submarine deal. Paris might find new partners in the region in a bid to sell the powered submarines. The nuclear-powered submarine race is likely to engulf the whole region emanating further security challenges for India in the near future. It is a matter of grave concern for the region; some Western nations have war-oriented economies. They flourish enormously by selling expensive weapon systems to non-Western countries. The oceans and seas of Asia will ostensibly become a battlefield for menacing warships and submarines threatening the whole region.

The AUKUS seems to be posing a grave threat to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that ultimately disturbs India’s Act East Policy. The Act is aimed at bolstering economic ties, strategic and cultural relations with ASEAN. Against the backdrop of this, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob expressed his fear that the AUKUS would “provoke other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea.” Within ASEAN some countries under tutelage of the U.S. have welcomed the pact while those under Chinese umbrella have serious reservations on the pact. The AUKUS has generated new security challenges for many of the ASEAN members, indirectly causing troubles for Indian partners.

After abandoning India in the mess of Afghanistan, the non-inclusion of New Delhi in the AUKUS is reckoned to be yet another betrayal by the U.S. The military pact, arguably, minimizes the role of Quad and India. More worrisomely, the pact was inked by three English-speaking countries, deceiving France. The U.S. indeed puts other non-English speaking countries India and Japan in deep consternation. In short, after Afghanistan’s conundrum, the AUKUS has further intensified New Delhi’s worries in the prevailing geopolitical landscape of the region.