AUKUS and the road to world war III

17 September, 2021

Biden, Morrison and Johnson present AUKUS
Biden, Morrison and Johnson present AUKUS

The “US, Australia and UK make a deal against China” headlines in the official European media warned without sparing details about the danger of the AUKUS agreement and how it would signal the entry into a new stage of nuclear proliferation. True, it is a step closer to war, but the only reason it draws a line is because the European powers have been excluded by the U.S. from the ancillary weapons business they had been counting on until Wednesday. However, the organization of AUKUS as an “Anglophone bloc” is neither new nor limited to weaponry. It is the core of a bloc for trade and for war.

Table of Contents

Australia: “An alliance for the next generations”

Australian navy in the South China Sea. The AUKUS agreement turns bilateral imperialist tensions into the beginning of a war-oriented struggle between imperialist blocs.
Australian navy in the South China Sea. The AUKUS agreement turns bilateral imperialist tensions into the beginning of a war-oriented struggle between imperialist blocs.

The most significant thing about this agreement is that it represents Australia’s definitive move against China in a long-term alliance with the US. The Australian press following Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks of “a deal for life” that would be “destined to last for generations.”.

Over the past three years Australia had been trying to maintain an imperialist direction of its own… with decreasing success. On the one hand its most basic industrial supply routes were being more openly challenged by China, its main international buyer. On the other, attempts to seek a regional alternative in routes and markets within the U.S. attempts to create an Indo-Pacific alliance of its own were frustrated by Indian reluctance.

The fuel supply crisis of 2018 – possibly a low-key Chinese signal – clearly signaled to the Australian bourgeoisie that something was amiss. Australia is supplied by Asian refineries (China, Singapore and South Korea, above all). Even if it switched suppliers and developed refineries of its own, it would need a “safe corridor” from Japan to the Persian Gulf.

The problem is that the economic-military dimension of that corridor, QUAD, the partnership of Australia, Japan, India and the US, was attractive to Australian capital primarily as a form of balancing Chinese exports with ones to India… but as soon as Trump raised regional tensions, Modi – fearful of playing bloc against Beijing – distanced India quickly from it. Evidently the opening soon after of negotiations with the EU for a free trade agreement was in turn trying to compensate for the loss of the prospect of Indian markets. But neither the possible volumes nor the negotiation times, nor even the transportation costs, make it comparable.

Australia and the trade war (in Spanish), 8/23/2019

That’s the framework for the – necessarily unsatisfactory – 2019 EU rapprochement. Australia –which at that time is already experiencing a blockade on its coal and wine exports to China – looked to Europe for an agreement to develop its submarine fleet because it does not want to opt for an open conflict yet. That is why its first candidate supplier is not even France. Germany aspired to build the 12 submarines for the Australian navy, even though Paris finally won the contract.

France, the EU, and the “deal of the century” broken by AUKUS

The aim of the "deal of the century" was to expand the Australian diesel submarine fleet... leaving a door open to their nuclear conversion. Now it will be done under AUKUS and with nuclear engines from day one.
The aim of the “deal of the century” was to expand the Australian diesel submarine fleet… leaving a door open to their nuclear conversion. Now it will be done under AUKUS and with nuclear engines from day one.

The U.S. announcement of the birth of AUKUS came last week, just as the EU was presenting its “Indo-Pacific Strategy”. The new strategy involves expanding and making permanent the presence of a European navy in maritime conflict zones. A dangerous game of challenges and pressure on Beijing in which both France and Germany had been playing a leading role. The “coincidence” did not go unnoticed by the Europeans.

The French government called AUKUS and the consequent cancellation of the submarine deal “backstabbing” and Borrell, on behalf of the EU, “regretted” that the US had left the Europeans out of AUKUS implying that relations with Washington would never be the same again.

But what stung most in Paris and Brussels was the breakdown of the contract to expand Australia’s submarine fleet. Australia had planned to obtain French technology to install its own domestic submarine production. The starting model was the Shortfin Barracuda, the diesel version of the French Barracuda nuclear submarine. Australia was gaining strategic autonomy by buying the production capacity, not the final product, and reserved the subsequent conversion to nuclear.

The amount of the bill initially estimated at 34 billion euros, suffered several budget cost overruns and months of delays, which aroused the ire of the local Australian press and the Labor opposition. Meanwhile, in addition to the radars, the United States interfered in the negotiations and torpedoed “the contract of the century,”proposing to supply the Australian navy with eight nuclear-powered submarines, capable of patrolling very long distances.

Submarine contract broken: “The United States has opened Pandora’s box,” in Marianne

From the Franco-European view repeated by the media, it seems that the US has excluded the EU from AUKUS just to “steal” the submarine contract from it. This is not the case. The choice of armaments generates operational links, allows the exchange and joint training of crews and facilitates the coordination and complementarity of operations. To choose armaments is to choose allies on the battlefield, to sell weapons is to favor future joint operations.

From the Australian point of view it is clear why a ready-to-go U.S. submarine has become more valuable than a European state-of-the-art shipyard on home soil. War in Asia looks ever closer, a matter of years, not decades. And the U.S. is a vector in it with far more troop and ship projection capability than distant, not-so-well endowed Europe.

The shifting alignments of the US against China in the Pacific and the origin of AUKUS

The "five eyes", now AUKUS
The “five eyes”, now AUKUS

An insincere “surprise” from Borrell and the European Commission.

For the US, AUKUS means giving up – out of desperation – on having as its main military and commercial vector in its confrontation with China the main Asian states. It takes a step back and decides to start with its “hard core” alliances with other English-speaking countries where its influence has always been overwhelming in order to continue advancing in the encirclement of China.

The specific goals of AUKUS, “deepening cooperation in fields such as cybernetics, artificial intelligence (AI) or quantum technology” by pushing for a “new security framework” in the Indo-Pacific are a development – and not a very dramatic one – of the “Five Eyes” alliance: the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This alliance, whose origins lie in the Pacific War, is a military intelligence club that has been running uninterrupted since the Korean War.

Over the past year and a half, the “five eyes” had been proposing themselves as the basis of an anti-Chinese bloc in the Indo-Pacific and China saw it as the core of an Anglo-Saxon bloc that was already coordinating on the trade war. But the US, for reasons of both economic strategy and political positioning in Asia, did not want the new “Asian NATO” to be born out of an alliance of Anglo-Saxon countries as AUKUS has finally been.

That’s why their primary goal, under both Trump and Biden, was to consolidate the QUAD (US, India, Australia and Japan) as a military alliance and economic trading bloc and on that core incorporate South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

But South Korea, in its own battle against Japan and with quite a lot of notable investments in China, was not for it and refused outright to be part of an expanded Quad. India also refused while Trump was president. If the US expected a change under Biden, it was wrong. The Modi government only participated in joint military exercises when it was clear that they would be under French leadership, which seen now takes on full meaning. And in April of this same year reaffirmed its alliance with Russia.

The US then considered including Japan in the “five eyes”. But when the fights between Japan and South Korea nearly dynamited the G7 it seems to have become clear in the eyes of Biden’s advisers that there was no relevant subset of Asian countries in which alignment with the US had more force than imperialist quarrels with each other. Japan for those purposes added Vietnam – something for which Washington needed Suga – but subtracted Korea and the Philippines.

The strategy for the creation of an imperialist bloc in Asia and the Indo-Pacific was being redefined in the White House: better to return to the safe territory of the “five eyes” -from which AUKUS was born- and group the rest of the countries confronting China on the basis of bilateral military agreements like the one recently reached with Indonesia.

So important is ensuring the “governance” of the alliance that the US has left out of AUKUS Canada – with which trade disputes have not abated after Biden’s arrival – and New Zealand and its too-unwarlike prime minister in Washington’s eyes

AUKUS: a US blow to force the constitution of an imperialist bloc around the United States in the Southern Hemisphere

Destroyer USS McCampbell, armed with guided missiles, in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan appears to many to be the first AUKUS target.
Destroyer USS McCampbell, armed with guided missiles, in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan appears to many to be the first AUKUS target.

Not that the third leg of AUKUS, Britain, is unconditionally into the alliance either. The Afghan experience, in which the US left the British military in a compromised position by withdrawing without coordination or consultation, is very much in mind. And in the parliamentary debate yesterday, a Theresa May not at all suspicious of pacifism, asked Johnson whether entry into the AUKUS would not drag Britain into a war for Taiwan in the short term.

The issue is not an exaggeration at all. Washington has been concentrating pressure and weaponry in the Taiwan Strait for months. Beijing, especially since the last edition of the “two sessions”, has made it clear that it will not accept any change in Taiwan’s status that calls into question that the island is part of China. Both sides have been in permanent military mobilization for months and fantasize about the consequences of the other’s defeat without modesty or prudence.

Over the past four years we have seen the trend toward bloc formation grow stronger with each blow of the crisis. AUKUS is, at the very least, a step further. There was no priority change to be expected from the Biden presidency in that regard. And in fact what is now becoming clear is that persevering on the path to war is the main strategic common ground of the various factions in the U.S. ruling class.

Among the ruling class in the US the pre-war urgencies are serving as stitches in the fracture that the Trump administration represented. The internal logic of this situation fuels the acceleration of militarism and imperialist tensions with China.

The Biden administration justifies U.S. policy on infrastructure, the economy and even public services by the need to strengthen the country to better compete with China. U.S. foreign policy is increasingly organized as an attempt to counter the rising great power. President Joe Biden keeps saying that he had to get out of Afghanistan because China loved the U.S. being bogged down there. Take some of the biggest issues rocking Washington, the Covid-19 pandemic and the fight against climate change , and China is at the center of them. […]

The idea that [China] poses a threat is about the only issue on which Republicans and Democrats, Trump and Biden supporters can agree. Biden has put democracy promotion at the center of his presidency, no need to guess why.

CNN

This process has its immediate translation in the whole US imperialist policy and especially in the relationship with its “historical allies”, not only in Europe but in the rest of the globe.

When the French foreign minister described in France Info the formation of AUKUS and the breaking of the naval contract as “unilateral, brutal and unpredictable,” the implicit reference to Kabul sent a message to the other European states to which Paris will again present the idea of a European army in 2022: “the EU cannot rely on the US to defend its interests if it does not have a position it can defend itself.”

But when he insisted on the fact that the US pattern of behavior towards Europe “is very similar to what Mr. Trump was doing” he made it clear that Washington is not only still in the “with me or with China” phase, but is leaving less and less room for an independent imperialist policy to the European states. As said by the CNN:

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European Union leaders have been more cautious [vis-à-vis China than the US], apparently seeking a middle way between two great powers. The last few days show that making such a decision brings consequences

French capital has come up against a truism: the “with me or against me” policy already applies in Asia. AUKUS represents, in fact, a blow on the table on the most sensitive stage now for Washington in its quarrel against China. It is set up to forcibly accelerate the constitution of an imperialist bloc in the Pacific and to force all the states that want to play in the region to make a choice for or against it.

And that’s just the first step. In the rest of the world, even for countries on the fringes of the Indo-Pacific conflict, AUKUS is in all likelihood going to become the core of an “alternative” to China in a choice that will increasingly be “all or nothing”.

The Tension in Falklands and the Sea of Hoces has been a dress rehearsal – for the moment inconclusive – of what AUKUS may entail in the South American Southern Cone and Antarctica. But sooner rather than later we will see the alliance on the move throughout the Southern Hemisphere.