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AUKUS: A New Paradigm in Indo-Pacific Security Cooperation

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Dennis Ros 

Security cooperation refers to collaboration between two or more states with the aim of maintaining regional or global security. The concept of security cooperation has been applied throughout history, and remains an important aspect of international relations today. Historically, security cooperation has taken the form of military alliances, such as NATO, or bilateral partnerships between states. More recently, security cooperation has expanded to include broader areas of collaboration, such as counterterrorism efforts, cybersecurity and disaster response.[1]

Security cooperation has been an important aspect of international relations throughout history. Military alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty of Defense (NATO) are essential for maintaining regional security and preventing conflict. Bilateral partnerships between countries are also important, especially during periods of tension or crisis, when countries need support from their allies.

Since the 18th to 19th centuries, the European continent has carried out a series of defense cooperation to defend territory and sovereignty. This is not a new concept in political life between nations. Germany, Spain, Russia, Prussia, and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula had started wars and defense cooperation long before the First and Second World War.

In the modern era, security cooperation has evolved to cover a wider range of areas, such as counterterrorism, cyber security and disaster response, among others. These issues require international cooperation and coordination to be effectively addressed. Security cooperation has become an important tool for countries to address common security challenges, build trust and confidence, and promote stability and democracy around the world.

However, it is important to note that security cooperation is not without its challenges. Countries may have different priorities or approaches to security issues, and finding common ground can be difficult. There may also be concerns around sovereignty and independence, which can limit the scope of security cooperation. Nonetheless, security cooperation remains an important aspect of international relations and is vital to maintaining global peace and security.[2]

Likewise, the formation of the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United State) defense alliance in the Asian region has become a new pattern in the history of security cooperation, especially for the ASIA Pacific region, this is because this agreement is different from previous agreements, both from the purpose of its formation, the contents of the agreement, and its controversy.

History of AUKUS: Why AUKUS Exists

Aukus is a three-way defense strategic partnership between Australia, the UK and the US. Its initial aim is to build a class of nuclear-propelled submarines, but also to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific region, where China’s rise is considered an increasing threat. The partnership will conclude Australia’s contract with France to build 12 diesel electric submarines to replace the existing fleet of Collins submarines. It is also the first time the US has shared nuclear propulsion technology with an ally other than the UK. [3]

This trilateral security pact known as AUKUS was announced on September 15, 2021 by the United States, United Kingdom and Australia in response to growing concerns over China’s expanding military influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The pact involves cooperation in a range of areas, including security and defense, as well as the development of advanced military capabilities and technologies, such as SSN-AUKUS submarines, intended to provide a deterrent to China’s increasing presence in the region.[4]

Australia switched suppliers because it perceived a growing threat from China in the Indo-Pacific region. Nuclear-propelled submarines have a wider range, are faster and harder to detect. Aukus also aims to further technology development and collaboration on defense capabilities.

In 2023, AUKUS (Australia-UK-US Partnership for Nuclear Submarines) was formally announced on March 13 and implementation of the partnership has begun. From 2023, Australian military and civilian personnel will work with the US and UK Navies to develop nuclear-powered submarines. AUKUS is seen as a major investment in the national security of all three countries and has received mixed reactions in the region. There have been discussions about the possible inclusion of India and Japan in the partnership, and in July 2023, the AUKUS Undersea Defense Act was introduced in the US Congress. This legislation aims to establish a framework to support the development and deployment of AUKUS submarines.[5]

The AUKUS announcement elicited different reactions, with France criticizing the three countries for scrapping a pre-existing agreement on submarines. However, the pact is considered important for several reasons. Firstly, it represents a strengthening of the alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Second, it is an indication of the growing perceived threat from China in the region, and the commitment of the three countries to work together to address this challenge. Finally, it has reinvigorated discussions about the relationship between the major actors in the region and their priorities in protecting their national security interests.[6]

The pact involves cooperation in a range of areas, including security and defense, as well as the development of advanced military capabilities and technologies, such as SSN-AUKUS submarines, intended to provide a deterrent to China’s growing presence in the region. The agreement has several phases, including at least one U.S. sub visiting Australian ports in the coming years and concluding with a new class of submarines built with British design and American technology by the late 2030s. In addition, the pact marks a significant increase in the strength of the alliance between the three countries, and has revived discussions regarding the relationship between the major actors and their priorities in protecting their national security interests.[7]

In a simpler explanation, the emergence of AUKUS reflects the shifting balance of power in the Asia-Pacific and the perceived security threat caused by China’s military expansion in the region. AUKUS is a clear indication of the strategic military partnership between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, which aims to promote peace and stability and deter regional aggression from China and other emerging nations.

What is the impact of the presence of AUKUS in Southeast Asia?

There have been various reactions to the presence of AUKUS in Asia. Some Southeast Asian countries feel bypassed by the AUKUS and have concerns about its impact on regional stability (Indonesia and Malaysia) while other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and philippines are cautious before making official statements against the AUKUS presence in the region.[8] ASEAN countries have different positions on the Western military presence in Southeast Asia, and the implementation of AUKUS could have implications for strategic security in the region. However, the US considers Southeast Asia a priority region and has invested new diplomatic, economic and military resources there as part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy.[9] If most Indo-Pacific countries support AUKUS or refuse to condemn it, it may have more geostrategic and military implications. The AUKUS also defines emerging alliances at sea, which will have implications for the South China Sea dispute.

Challenges of AUKUS in Southeast Asia

Overall, there are various challenges and concerns surrounding the presence of AUKUS in the Asian region that need to be addressed through diplomatic efforts and clear communication among regional countries, including

1. Restrictions on Port Visits: Some countries in the region, such as New Zealand, have banned nuclear ships and nuclear-powered vessels from visiting their ports. While this will not affect the ability of the AUKUS submarine to sail in their waters, these port visit restrictions could create tension in regional relations.

2. Existence of Nuclear Free Zones: Some areas of the South Pacific, such as the area defined by the 1985 Rarotonga Treaty, are nuclear-free zones. While the freedom of navigation of nuclear-powered vessels remains guaranteed by this treaty, the presence of AUKUS submarines could raise concerns for neighboring countries regarding the region’s commitment as a nuclear-free zone.

3. Masalah Keamanan Maritim: Beberapa negara di Asia Tenggara, seperti Singapura, Malaysia, dan Indonesia, telah mencoba membatasi transit kapal yang membawa bahan bakar campuran ke Jepang melalui Selat Malaka dan Selat Singapura karena masalah bahan berbahaya dan nuklir. Meskipun hal ini tidak akan memengaruhi navigasi kapal selam AUKUS, kekhawatiran seputar isu-isu ini dapat meningkatkan ketegangan di wilayah tersebut.

4. Pembatasan Navigasi Kapal Perang: Beberapa negara di Indo-Pasifik memiliki pandangan yang berbeda tentang kebebasan navigasi kapal perang. Beberapa negara mengharuskan kapal perang asing untuk meminta izin atau memberikan pemberitahuan sebelum memasuki perairan teritorial mereka. Perbedaan pandangan ini dapat menimbulkan ketegangan dan kontroversi bagi TNI-AL ketika berlayar di wilayah tersebut.

5. Kemungkinan Terjadinya Konflik Bersenjata: Artikel tersebut menyatakan bahwa jika terjadi konflik bersenjata di wilayah tersebut, ada kemungkinan bahwa posisi yang beragam tentang kebebasan navigasi kapal-kapal yang terlibat dapat muncul. Hal ini dapat menjadi tantangan bagi AUKUS dalam mempertahankan hak-hak navigasi selama situasi konflik di wilayah tersebut. [10]

Brief Analysis of International Relations Theory

It cannot be denied that what is happening today has the same pattern as the previous times, only with different colors and conditions. The existence of AUKUS in the Asian region is basically the same as previous defense pacts that aim to balance other forces in the region, it’s just that the AUKUS model involves technology transfer with the characteristic of technological development which is currently dominated by robotic sophistication.

In a realist perspective, AUKUS can be interpreted as the result of a power struggle in the Indo-Pacific region. The countries involved in AUKUS (the United States, United Kingdom and Australia) work together to counter perceived threats from other regional powers, especially China. This power struggle is driven by each country’s national interest to maintain influence and dominance in the region.

Realism also explains that military alliances such as AUKUS are one way to enhance security and protect national interests. AUKUS reflects the combined power of three countries that want to ensure their hegemony in the region and demonstrate a commitment to facing challenges together.

From the point of view of liberalism, the AUKUS can be considered as an effort to promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The alliance reflects the values of democracy and freedom that are positively regarded by the countries involved. In addition, AUKUS shows a commitment to encourage the development of advanced defense capabilities, which is expected to help build trust and confidence among allied countries.

Ultimately, it can be concluded that the AUKUS reflects the complex dynamics of the international system. As China increases its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia find it necessary to form alliances to maintain a balance of power. The AUKUS also shows that tensions and rivalries in the region can affect security dynamics and change the way countries interact with each other.

[1] Indo-Pacific Strategy of The United State, White House, Washington, p. 4-18

[2] JP 3-20, Security Cooperation, 2017,  p. 1-4 pdf in link https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp3_20_20172305.pdf

[3] The Guardiance, What is the AUKUS allince and what are its implications? In link https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/sep/16/what-is-the-aukus-alliance-and-what-are-its-implications

[4] Brian Harding, Clara Freeman, Mirna Galic, Why the New U.S.-U.K.-Australia Partnership Is So Significant, United States Institute of peace, Sept. 2021 in link https://www.usip.org/publications/2021/09/why-new-us-uk-australia-partnership-so-significant

[5] Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS, The White House, March 2023 in link https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/03/13/joint-leaders-statement-on-aukus-2/

[6] James Blackwell, Issues in Australian Foreign PolicyJanuary to June 2022, Australian Journal of Politics and History: Volume 68, Number 4, 2022, pp. 612–630, https://doi.org/10.1111/ajph.12876    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/ajph.12876

[7] Centre for Stategic and International Studies (CSIS), Navigating Emerging Technology and Evolving Threads in the U.S.-Australia Alliance in link https://www.csis.org/analysis/navigating-emerging-technology-and-evolving-threats-us-australia-alliance

[8] Aristyo Riska Darmawan, East Asia Forum: AUKUS adds fuel to the South China Sea dispute in link https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2021/11/01/aukus-adds-fuel-to-the-south-china-sea-dispute/

[9] Ristian Aryandi Supriatno, AUKUS and Southeast Asia’s Non-Poliferation Concerns in link https://basicint.org/aukus-and-southeast-asia/

[10] Donald R Rothwell, East Asia Forum: AUKUS navigational rights are submerged in regional challenges in link https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2023/06/07/aukus-navigational-rights-are-submerged-in-regional-challenges/