The US has begun bolstering its allies in the second island chain in a bid to counter China, academics said on Thursday after Australia, the UK and the US inked a pact that includes helping Canberra to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
On Wednesday, Canberra announced the AUKUS deal, which Washington and London confirmed a day later.
AUKUS unites the three countries’ industry, technology and armed forces to “deliver a safer and more secure region that ultimately benefits all,” US President Joseph Biden said in a news release.
Institute for National Defense and Security Research assistant research fellow Paul Huang (黃恩浩) said that Australia only has one experimental nuclear reactor, so building a nuclear submarine would mark a paradigm shift in its security strategy.
Diesel-electric submarines have a short operational radius and need to resurface for air, while nuclear submarines, which can remain submerged almost indefinitely, would project power from Papua New Guinea to the South China Sea, Huang said.
This capability would be a boon to the UK and the US, which are committed to maintaining a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, he said.
The US appears content with its deployable military strength on the first island chain and is therefore working to improve its second line of defense, he said.
For the US, arming Australia would significantly enhance the defensive capabilities of the second island chain, while Canberra would be able to project power on a strategic level and deter China, he said.
Australia has been a military ally of the US since World War I up to campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Alexander Huang (黃介正), an associate professor of international affairs at Tamkang University.
The three countries’ long history of alliances and shared Anglo-Saxon heritage make them natural allies with little in the way of ethnic or linguistic barrier, he said.
Being able to deploy a nuclear submarine would be a game changer for the roles the Royal Australian Navy could play in the Indo-Pacific region and significantly reduce the burdens on the US, he said.
Notably, Biden has repeatedly asked US allies to increase their military spending to alleviate the strain on the US, as did former US president Donald Trump, Alexander Huang said, adding that Washington would ask Canberra to do the same.
Taiwan should seek the development of military and intelligence cooperation with Australia toward building a security dialogue, he said.
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