- Was there any need for the US state department to make a categorical statement that India and Japan will not be added to AUKUS, keeping in view that the Indian PM was on an official visit to the USA to meet the POTUS, attend the QUAD summit and address UNGA? It could have been done after the PM's departure.
- Is the US trying to convey a message about validity/importance of QUAD vis-à-vis newly created AUKUS?
- Will/can the AUKUS treaty result in retaliation by China and result in China ‘gifting’ nuclear submarine/s to Pakistan and/or Iran creating a non existing threat till now become a reality for India and Israel? A nuclear capable Iran poses existential threat to Israel.
- Will the AUKUS treaty result in proliferation of nuclear weapons?
- Canadian desire to acquire nuclear submarines from France/UK in 80s was scuttled by the USA.
- After 9/11 USA has spent billions of dollars to convert research reactors supplied to various countries from using highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) as fuel in nuclear submarines. HEU can be used to produce nuclear weapons.
- Although US congress has repeatedly desired that US Navy submarines switch over to LEU as fuel but US Navy has vehemently opposed the proposal on ground of non-operational status of submarines during fuel replacement process, which may take about a year. France, however, has reduced the refueling time to a few weeks due to adoption of robotic refueling.
- The USA has shared nuclear propulsion technology with only one country, the UK , about seven decades ago.
- Will the US offer India the same technology, India and the USA being part of QUAD?
After vacating Afghanistan the ‘international policeman’ was out of job. In order to maintain its unblemished record of placing its foot in mouth with uncanny regularity intact, a treaty like AUKUS was in consonance of practicing strategic bigotry without considering its effect on global strategic scenario.
What is even more significant is the fact that a ‘nuclear’ Australia will not be able to prevent China’s expanding envelope of influence because China adopted ‘debt trap diplomacy’ rather than ‘direct military threat’ as its most potent weapon of war. On the contrary ‘direct military threat/intervention’ has been the stated policy of White House occupants.
A nuclear propelled submarine is different from conventional diesel-electric submarines on two counts. Endurance of a nuclear submarine at sea is many times more than diesel-electric submarine, which enhances its war potential exponentially.
The second difference is a threat to global security because it allows nations possessing nuclear submarines, which use HEU for its propulsion to ‘sell/use’ bomb grade uranium for producing nuclear bombs.
All US and UK nuclear propelled submarines use highly enriched uranium (HEU), which is very close to weapon grade uranium required for a bomb. While technical details of the deal are not yet known, it would be safe to assume that even the Australian nuclear submarines will use HEU.
Consequences of making weapon grade uranium available to Australia might/will lead to smaller ‘threshold nations’ also trying to acquire similar technology, may be from Russia and/or China. South Korea, Iran, and Taiwan fall into the category of ‘threshold nation’.
Production of a new submarine for Australia by the USA will take at least a decade, maybe more. Keeping in view the prevailing Chinese threat (due to which AUKUS has come into existence), USA/UK might/will provide currently operational submarines from their existing fleet. As mentioned earlier, it might lead to China exercising a similar option and providing nuclear submarines to Pakistan and Iran.
Techno-legal aspects of the AUKUS treaty highlight the professionally profligate aspects of all three member countries, two being members of UNSC. As per the deal Australia will acquire eight nuclear powered submarines by way of technology transfer.
The much touted Non Proliferation Treaty terms and conditions were suitably tailored to introduce a techno-administrative loop hole due to which a non nuclear weapon state could divert fissile material for peaceful purposes. Submarine propulsion is considered a ‘peaceful’ activity. Such diversion of fissile material is not under the purview of IAEA inspection.
The Biden administration will be trying hard to mend the broken bridge with France, member of UNSC, sooner than later. Biden/Macron telecom has already resulted in the French ambassador rejoining duty in the USA. The USA might even ‘request’ France to join in the fabrication of Australian submarines.
But it will be a while before French-Australian relations recover. President Macron has declined/refused to take the call from the Australian PM after the announcement of AUKUS and cancellation of deal with France.
Since two members of QUAD and AUKUS are common, India’s interests/position as a quad member merits a look into. Cryptic but categorical US assertion that India and Japan will not be part of AUKUS tends to convey that AUKUS will take precedence over QUAD when viewed in the context of the role of Australia and USA.
It is quite evident that the USA has concluded that QUAD could not have contained China’s developing global threat, hence the need for AUKUS. With nuclear Australia, China's vulnerable underbelly is exposed. No wonder then that China has reacted so angrily.
Fall out of AUKUS treaty might lead to:
- Iran walked out of the NPT regime resulting in suspended JCPOA becoming redundant.
- Iran to exercise nuclear option.
- Israel would almost certainly try to destroy Iran's nuclear facility.
- Chances of Chinese offensive against Taiwan increasing manifold.
- China will, almost certainly, consider a quantum increase in its nuclear warheads.
- The EU will decline to enter into a free trade agreement with Australia.
Ongoing trip of our PM to the USA merits a mention because the timing and implications of the AUKUS treaty affects India directly. Of significance has been PM and Dr Vivek Lall (General Atomics Head) meeting. Having known Vivek personally, he might have succeeded in convincing the PM to buy more UAVs. US defence industry honchos were not part of the US techno heads, who met the PM. Would Lockheed feature in PM-Biden bilateral?
In a few months of his presidency with the AUKUS treaty Joe Biden has caused greater damage to USA-EU relations than Trump in his entire tenure.
About the Author
Gp Capt. Tej Prakash Srivastava has served in Iraq and is a graduate of both DSSC and AWC. He was Directing Staff at DSSC and Chief Instructor at College of Air Warfare. He Served at Air HQ, commanded a MiG-21 Sqn and headed the IAF establishment of Strike Corps during 'Operation Parakram'.
He has authored a book titled 'Profligate Governance – Implications for National Security'. He has written extensively on international and strategic affairs and Defence Procurement Procedures. The IAF officer graduated from the NDA in June 1970 and trained at AFA with 107th Pilots Course. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]