President Biden’s foreign policy initiatives have been consistently disastrous. From giving the Russians an extension to the New START Treaty on their terms to his pursuit of renewal of Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran and his debacle in Afghanistan which abandoned U.S. citizens and Afghan allies to the Taliban, Biden has done nothing right.
Given that predicate, it’s very strange to acknowledge that he has now apparently done something right. The new agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. (“AUKUS”) to enable Australia to share nuclear submarine technology with the UK and buy new nuclear-powered attack submarines will re-create the strategic equation in the Pacific region to China’s disadvantage.
Under the agreement, Australia will be able to share nuclear submarine technology which means everything from how to weld hull plates for nuke boats to communications and weapon systems. The Aussies will be able to build, in U.S. shipyards, eight Virginia-class attack boats, which are fast, silent, and particularly deadly. The subs probably won’t be deployable until the late 2030s.
The AUKUS deal will strengthen our alliance with Australia and give an incentive to the other “Quad” nations — India and Japan, the fourth member being the U.S. — to strengthen that nascent alliance. It will add another major element in opposition to China’s expansionist aggression in the Pacific, but — as we’ll see in a moment — also increase their threat to Taiwan.
China is angrily opposed to the AUKUS agreement and so is France, for entirely different reasons.
Australia canceled a $39 billion contract with France to purchase twelve diesel-electric submarines in favor of buying the U.S. nuke boats. The superiority of the U.S. subs — in speed, range, stealth, and overall technology — is obvious. The French-built boats, based on vastly older technology, would have been greatly inferior weapon systems. As such, they would have been a far lesser threat to China’s ambitions.
In reaction to that cancellation, France has recalled its ambassadors to both the U.S. and Australia. It is the first time France has recalled an ambassador to the U.S. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the action was “justified by the exceptional gravity” of the situation. It’s a huge diplomatic signal, which means it’s entirely ignorable. Le Drian called AUKUS a “stab in the back.” He also said that the deal was “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
French President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly livid, which is a collateral benefit to the AUKUS deal.
Why? Macron is angry that Australia, the UK, and the U.S. — three of the four “Anglosphere” nations, the other being Canada — could make a major strategic agreement without consulting France. (Imagine that. Excluding France from a strategic defense agreement in the Pacific just because they have a few troops sunning themselves on a couple of islands there.) That, of course, is in French minds secondary to the fact that French shipyards lost the money they’d have earned by producing the diesel-electric subs.
France is one of the NATO deadbeat nations that refuse to invest in their own defense. It would much rather earn the franc, the mark, the buck or the pound that makes its world go ’round by selling the weapon systems it produces. France’s dignity, based on its achievements in the Napoleonic wars, is a forgotten memory. For three of the Anglosphere nations to act without appeasing French interests appalls Macron and his administration.
More importantly, it also appalls China. The Chinese understand that the nuke subs will give Australia the ability to send its subs farther, for longer periods, and maintain them on-station far longer than the diesel-electric subs it now operates.
The Chinese are worried that, as part of the deal, Australia may allow U.S. nuclear subs — Virginia-class attack boats — to operate from Australian bases such as HMAS Stirling, near Perth on Australia’s southwestern coast. The Aussies should, and quickly.
Even without U.S. subs based in Australia, China will have to invest billions in its antisubmarine warfare capabilities. It will have to revise its strategy to cope with the threat the Australian — and possibly U.S. — subs pose.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, said the AUKUS agreement was “extremely irresponsible” and that it stemmed from “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality.” Think about that for a moment.
China is engaged in a three-decade old cold war against the Western nations, especially the U.S. Its aggression takes many forms such as its “Belt and Road” initiative, which is turning several nations in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa (such as Pakistan) into tributary states. Its establishment of military bases on islands in the South China Sea is well known. It is increasing its armed forces — especially its nuclear forces — at an alarming rate and is asserting economic dominance around the world. All of these forms of aggression have gone unanswered by the U.S.
China understands that the new Australian nuclear subs represent a threat to all of its warships and other vessels that now have free-rein in the South China Sea and the South Pacific. Were a war to erupt, the Australian subs could have a massive effect on China’s forces in the western Pacific. Which brings us to China’s intent to conquer Taiwan.
The only negative effect of the AUKUS agreement might be to accelerate China’s timetable to attack Taiwan.
The conquest of Taiwan has always been one of China’s top priorities. It regards Taiwan as a renegade province, not an independent free nation. China knows that President Biden won’t go to war to defend American allies, far less a quasi-ally such as Taiwan.
But by the 2030s, when the new Australian nuke subs are able to deploy, Biden — and hopefully Vice President Harris — will be long gone from our political scene. A new American president might have the backbone that Biden lacks and would likely defend Taiwan with military force.
That means that China — knowing the threat the AUKUS agreement poses — may try to conquer Taiwan before the Australian nuke subs can be deployed. If that happens while Biden or Harris are in the White House, there will be a lot of diplomatic outrage at the UN, but nothing else in defense of Taiwan.
We don’t know (and can’t, because our intelligence community isn’t capable of determining it) China’s timetable for conquering Taiwan, but it is probably very flexible. The temptation to attack Taiwan before 2028 may be greater than China can resist. If the Aussies are persuaded to base U.S. subs in their territory, the risk to Taiwan would diminish even before the Australian subs are built.
The AUKUS deal may also result in China’s acceleration of its other forms of aggression — both military and economic — around the world. It should result in our acceleration of efforts to strengthen the Quad Alliance with India and Japan. Japan is considering strengthening its missile defenses, which we should encourage and supply. India, the wild card, has been dependent on Russian and French arms sales for decades. We should attempt to wean them off those suppliers and encourage their own industries.
In short, Biden’s AUKUS deal is a major step in the right direction. It remains to be seen how quickly the Biden administration manages to muck it up.