Sam Roggeveen has a razor sharp critique of the new AUKUS security framework in War on the Rocks.
In fact, I have only become more skeptical of AUKUS since it was announced by Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson, and President Joe Biden. I argued at the time that these were the wrong submarines for Australia’s needs, and that the AUKUS deal raised Australia’s reliance on an increasingly unreliable ally.
Ouch. But it is a valid concern. The United States has not exactly exuded trustworthiness over the last years, and this is not the time for American partners to concentrate more eggs in one basket.
Roggeveen’s arguments can be boiled down to three points:
- It is far from certain that Australia will ever get the nuclear submarines that are so central to the deal. It is such an ambitious project that a myriad of things could go wrong.
- AUKUS is a weak signal of American commitment to security in the Indo-Pacific. They run no risk whatsoever but get a beneficial arms deal out of it.
- Having nuclear submarines gives Australia strategic assets that they may have to commit in a conflict, even if they don’t want to. It will be really hard to decline an American demand to deploy these submarines if the United States gets into a crisis with China.
All of Roggeveen’s arguments trace back to the assumption that the United States cannot be trusted. This is the sole difference from Shoebridge’s five “nots” of AUKUS that I linked to the other day. It says something profound about the state of international politics that Australian and European scholars now base their arguments on assumptions about whether or not the United States is a trustworthy partner.