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Advancing AUKUS through a new collaboration: Security & Defence PLuS

Dr Maeve Ryan

Co-Director for the Centre for Grand Strategy

04 October 2022

On the evening of 15 September 2021, the date of the announcement of the AUKUS trilateral defence agreement between Australia, the US, and the UK, I had the good fortune to be standing outside an Oxford pub with a few dozen of the world’s leading thinkers on Indo-Pacific defence and security, assembled for a three-day symposium hosted by the University of Oxford. At 10pm, we huddled in small groups around mobile phones like so many little wirelesses, listening together to the livestreamed press conference where President Biden and then-Prime Ministers Johnson and Morrison outlined the principles of the deal. For the rest of the evening, we pored over the detail of what we had heard; what we knew; what remained to be seen. We speculated about the likely risks and opportunities that would emerge from AUKUS, and the anticipated regional and global responses.

In the tumultuous year that has passed since the AUKUS announcement, some things have come into sharper focus. As Professor Alessio Patalano in our Centre for Grand Strategy has argued recently, it has become clearer what AUKUS is - and what it is not. It is not a security alliance aimed at nuclear deterrence, but “a technology accelerator agreement for the purpose of national defense, that is designed to allow three countries to work closely together to translate the promise of today’s maturing technologies such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence into tomorrow’s military edge.” The progress that has been made so far under Pillar 1 (submarines) and Pillar 2 (advanced capabilities) supports this conclusion, with key successes to date including an Australian commitment to establish a new naval base in eastern Australia, the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement, the expansion of the Pillar 2 to include hypersonics, counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare; and progress in the integration of commercial technologies.

Nevertheless, AUKUS is still in its infancy, and much work remains to be done to build the sinews of an effective and lasting partnership. Much of this success will depend upon how effectively AUKUS partners can manage a complex three-way relationship, and how effectively they can work with other stakeholders and potential partners.

An important element of the venture’s success will be the rigour and quality of external expert input, and the ability of academic, industry, and think-tank experts to support its the research and innovation requirements.

Inspired by AUKUS, colleagues from the School of Security Studies at King's have come together with our PLuS alliance counterparts at Arizona State University and the University of New South Wales to form a new collaboration: Security & Defence PLuS. This is an academic research and educational initiative which will provide independent, original knowledge and understanding of national and global security issues.

Following a project kick-off meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, earlier this year, we have recently launched two important new resources. First, the AUKUS Briefing Book, an essential one-stop resource that collates all key agreements and official documents relating to AUKUS. This briefing book will continue to be built out over the coming months and years, as the agreement matures, deepens, and perhaps in time, widens.

Second, we recently launched a series of expert essays by leading thinkers on AUKUS, including Jennifer Moroney, David Kilcullen, James Stavridis, Shirley Scott, Paula Thornhill, David Whetham, Deane-Peter Baker, and many other distinguished contributors. These essays seek to identify and discuss key questions in the evolution and implementation of AUKUS. Topics range from AUKUS and Pacific Grand Strategy to AUKUS and Cyber Capabilities; the Maritime Foundations of National Security; and the relationship between AUKUS, NATO, and Euro-Atlantic security post-Ukraine. Other contributions consider AUKUS special operations forces in strategic competition, integrated deterrence, and campaigning; AUKUS and the rules-based international order; and the strategic interplay between AUKUS, the NPT, and the rules-based international order. The central question of the AUKUS submarines is addressed: how we got here and why it matters; and a case is made for why “AUKUS is not the new Asian NATO, nor even a start at one”. Keep an eye out for further essays, which will be added in the coming weeks and months.

That pleasant September evening in Oxford last year, as Indo-Pacific watchers debated the merits of the AUKUS deal, one thing that was quite clear was the key assumption that underpinned it: that the security, stability and prosperity of the future depended upon safe and secure shipping lanes and intact underwater sea cables, and that the vulnerability of the maritime foundations of international order to state coercion would need to be addressed, and quickly. We at the Centre for Grand Strategy are delighted to play a role in supporting this endeavour. We look forward to the formal launch of Security & Defence PLuS in Canberra next month, and to the opportunities the coming year will bring to deepen this collaboration and support the wide variety of policymaking and practitioner communities working across our three countries.

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Maeve  Ryan

Maeve Ryan

Reader in History and Foreign Policy

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