Asia Pacific region: International Security Centre

The Asia-Pacific region is moving towards a security dilemma given the high volume of arms imports, rising military spending, and the modernisation of the armies and navies of regional countries. Economic and military developments coupled with strategic competition may shortly lead to instability in the Asia-Pacific region. Should this happen, regional countries will seek to increase security through coalitions, or increase their military capability to counter regional threats and instability, which realists refer to as the security puzzle. All of this is happening right now in Asia-Pacific. The question arises as to whether the increase in military spending and the growth of arms imports in the region, along with land disputes, lack of a precise mechanism for resolving disputes, and the lack of security integration among countries in the region, have the potential to shape the security dilemma and conflict between the US allies and China shortly?


The Aukus Pact

The signing of a new defence pact between Britain, the United States and Australia, which appears to be a line-up against China, also sends the message to the European Union that it faces a new rival: the English-speaking world. The formation of this coalition – more than China – is a wake-up call for the European Union.

On 15 September 2021, the American, British and Australian leaders announced the formation of a new coalition for cooperation in the diplomatic, security, and military fields in the Indo-Pacific region.

Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison announced the formation of the Aukus Pact in a tripartite video conference. One of the primary goals of Biden’s government in forming this coalition is to increase military and arms cooperation with Australia as a member of the Western bloc in the Pacific region, which it believes could play an essential role in countering China.

The United States provided nuclear submarine technology to Australia in an unprecedented move under the Aukus partnership with Britain. Since 1958 to date, Washington had given the secret nuclear technology to Britain only as a strategic measure.

Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines in the port of Adelaide with technical assistance from Washington and London as part of the Aukus agreement, cancelling the purchase of 12 conventional submarines purchased from France. Thus, for the first time, a country with no nuclear weapons will be equipped with nuclear subs. Currently, only the major atomic powers plus India are fitted with nuclear-powered submarines. Australia is an exception.

The Biden administration’s move on Australia underscores the importance of the country to US security strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. At the same time, it highlights the price that Washington is willing to pay to confront China. “Building a nuclear submarine for Australia is a turning point in the arms race in East Asia,” said CNN correspondent Steven Jiang. The United States adheres to double standards in the use of military nuclear technology by nations. The Biden administration’s action shows that, from Washington’s point of view, equipping its ally, Australia, with military nuclear technology is flawless. Such a move by Washington has not been opposed by US lawmakers, violating the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) charter and considers its safeguards contrary to the provisions of the NPT. Importantly, equipping Australia with nuclear submarines will encourage other countries in the region to acquire similar capabilities and intensify the arms race. This is an issue that the Director-General of the IAEA has emphasised in his recent remarks. At the same time, equipping Australia with nuclear submarines will further undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a deal aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons.

The purpose of the NPT is to reduce the world’s arsenal and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons. Any action taken against this practice would run counter to the spirit of this important arms control treaty. The significant point in the pact is that the United States and Britain have agreed to provide super-nuclear submarines to Australia. While the deal provoked China’s reaction, France in turn was outraged, because Australia had already signed a contract with France in 2016 for 12 diesel-powered electric submarines. France summoned its ambassadors from the United States and Australia, calling it a stabbing in the back. France and the European Union see the Aukus Pact as a profound blow to the Atlantic Alliance. Thus, as the European Union prepared to announce its strategic document on the Indian and Pacific oceans to the world, the news of the US-British-Australian tripartite security treaty exploded like a bomb.

The EU is concerned that the current US administration is pursuing Trump’s policy of keeping Europe on the sidelines. Another concern for the Union is that it did not know about Aukus beforehand. It should be noted that the United States was also accused of not coordinating with its European allies under their military alliance before withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. The US actions create the impression that it wants to keep the EU on the sidelines of issues in the Pacific and Indian oceans. On the other hand, Britain seems to be regaining its role after leaving the European Union under the so-called “Brexit” deal.

Nigel Farage, former leader of the Brexit Party who played a crucial role in Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, is quite pleased with the Aukus Pact. In an article in Newsweek, Farage stressed that China has more than tripled its naval capacity in the last 20 years. To Farage, known for his anti-EU political stance, Aukus symbolises the most important agreement of the 21st century between countries speaking ​​the same language. Expressing hope that China will interpret Aukus correctly, Farage concludes his article by claiming that the contract was readjusted to protect freedom worldwide. Malaysian President Ismail Sabri Yaakob analysed this agreement as significant; he said Aukus would launch a nuclear arms race in the region. Noting that Aukus encourages other powers in the region to take aggressive action in the South China Sea, he believes that the waters of the Pacific should remain an area of ​​peace, freedom and neutrality.

North Korea has said that US “hypocrisy” over its new security pact with Australia and Britain could “trigger a nuclear arms race” in the Indo-Pacific region. Last week, the United States formed a tripartite security alliance, including British technical assistance to Australia, to build eight nuclear submarines. The deal comes as recent missile tests by North and South Korea have heightened regional security sensitivities. Experts have described the new coalition, known as the Aukus Pact, to be a move against China while supporting North Korea and keeping a solid presence in the South China Sea.

“These actions are highly undesirable and dangerous, upsetting the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and launching a nuclear arms race,” North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement. North Korea, which has nuclear weapons, said it will “retaliate accordingly” if it notices the “slightest” threat to its security. Recent missile tests and the formation of the Aukus alliance have exacerbated the hurdles on the region’s nuclear disarmament path. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed to move towards nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula in talks with former US President Donald Trump. At the same time, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog stated in his speech at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly that North Korea was pursuing its nuclear programme “with all its power”.

China and France are disappointed with the signing of the pact. France had previously signed a € 31 billion deal to modernise Australia’s submarine fleet. It was to deliver conventional-powered submarines to Australia based on its nuclear submarine model. The deal was met with increased costs and delays, and Australia eventually turned to France’s competitors under the same pretext.

Meanwhile, China sees the US-British move as a prelude to military intervention and instability in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. In an official statement, it called on those countries to abandon the Cold War mentality.

At least two crises can be identified in this story. The first is the relations between China and the English-speaking countries. The second is the exclusion of France as the only nuclear power in the European Union and, in fact, the entire union and military cooperation in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Besides, the US must also consider the role of Australia in putting pressure on China. These developments can be summarised as the unification of English-speaking countries against China and the isolation of Europe.

The French foreign minister blamed Australia’s decision, calling it a “stab in the back”, an action that took a lucrative contract away from this country. In the current economic situation and rising unemployment, France was in dire need of this agreement. Now, American and British companies are the winners of the game. In another statement, which is rare in diplomatic practice, the French foreign minister said he was “angry” with the situation.

This development is significant, because it shows that the decisions of the Donald Trump era against China and the isolation of Europe are not unusual and that this is the same US policy currently being pursued by the Biden administration. It is now clear to Europeans that Biden’s policies are not much different from Trump’s. “This unilateral and unpredictable decision is very similar to what the Trump administration could have done,” said the French foreign minister.

The government-owned French shipbuilding group was to build 12 conventional submarines for Australia. The United States and Britain have now signed an agreement with that country to deliver nuclear submarines. The critical point is that the United States, in forming a coalition against China, has concluded that it must equip Australia with nuclear subs. A nuclear submarine can remain underwater for a long time and be undetectable because it has less need to surface. This feature of the nuclear submarine makes it a strategic weapon.

The Australian prime minister told French President Emmanuel Macron that he was not sure a conventional submarine would meet Australia’s defence needs.

The military agreement between the three countries was concluded without prior notice to the European Union. The European Union, which planned to announce the details of its defence strategy on the Pacific and Indian oceans on Thursday, just the day after Biden’s press conference, was taken entirely by surprise. EU officials in Brussels are outraged by another decision to bypass them again on strategic issues. Biden  recently withdrew US troops from Afghanistan without consulting his European allies, complicating the situation for the EU and NATO.

“We regret that we were not informed and that we were not a party to the talks,” said acting EU foreign minister, Josep Borrell. However, Biden stressed that relations with the United States had improved significantly since Trump, perhaps with unrealistic optimism. Biden believes the defence pact between the United States, Britain and Australia further highlights the EU’s need for a joint regional strategy. In this statement, he is looking for an independent European defence and military strategy, or an EU Army.

The Situation in Europe

The three English-speaking countries’ announcement of a military-defence pact lined up solely against China marginalised the EU strategy in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and now the military alliance of the three English-speaking countries could send a message to Europe that it is facing a new rival, the English-speaking world. The defence pact between the three countries is, in addition to a warning to China, a warning to the European Union. Europe will likely reconsider its strategic relationship with the English-speaking world.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says his country has not sought to provoke France. However, this statement is unlikely to alleviate anti-British sentiments in France as the only remaining nuclear power in the European Union. Some French analysts in favour of the country’s exit from the European Union are reminding Emmanuel Macron that, before Britain and the United States, it was Germany and Sweden who tried to undermine the submarine contract by lowering prices. This, if true, indicates a deep rift between countries within the EU.

Paris-Washington ties, which were damaged under Trump, were quickly affected by the announcement that the French embassy in Washington had cancelled a party in honour of friendly relations between the two countries on Friday.

China’s Position

Immediately after the announcement of the military alliance with Australia, China took a stand, calling it a factor in exacerbating instability in the region. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “The three countries have severely damaged the region’s stability, intensifying the arms race and undermining nuclear weapons control efforts.” According to him, China believes that regional mechanisms should not target a third country.

Australia’s southern neighbour, New Zealand, an English-speaking country allied with the United States, has distanced itself from the pact. New Zealand is said not to have joined the treaty because of laws passed in the country in the 1980s to keep it non-nuclear. The prime minister of New Zealand said that the government was not invited to participate in the agreement.

The director of the Australian Strategic Research Institute, Peter Jenning, sees the pact as a response to the Chinese government’s expansionism in the South China Sea and its threats against Australia, Japan and Taiwan. He says Australia’s first nuclear submarine should be named “Xi Jinping” after the Chinese President Xi Jinping, because he was more convinced than anyone else of having a nuclear sub. Thus, Australia will be the first non-nuclear country to have access to nuclear submarines.


Although Australia tends to play the role of an independent state, it should not be overlooked that its views on strategic and foreign policy issues are not separate from those of Britain. Also, although this country is a non-nuclear power in the defence sector, it cannot be believed that it does not benefit from the umbrella of British nuclear support. This suspicion is reinforced when we know that part of the production and testing of British nuclear weapons has taken place on Australian territory. Now that Australia is equipped with nuclear submarines, there is no reason to believe that the United States and Britain would not equip these submarines with nuclear warheads.

Given all this knowledge, it begs the question of why these three countries have chosen the present moment to announce such an issue. Does this have anything to do with EU policies in the Pacific? Is he going to intimidate the Chinese? Is it related to the expansion of the Shanghai Agreement?

Australia’s Special Situation

Australia is one of the countries that has rushed to the aid of almost every US-UK-led war anywhere in the world. Despite the long distance, the country sent troops to the region in World War I in favour of Britain. It was involved in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the 1991 [Persian] Gulf War, and the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The question is why a faraway country in the middle of the Pacific should participate in all the battles of Europe and West Asia. The reason may be related to this country’s young and unconventional national identity, formed through military interventions in the conflicts of the twentieth century.

The country has a national remembrance day called Anzac Day, commemorating its significant military casualties when the Ottoman Turkish army severely defeated the Entente Powers in the Battle of Gallipoli on the peninsula. This presence with the “central powers” forms the basis of Australia’s national identity. Australia sees itself as a remote, isolated and historyless country, trying to make up for this shortcoming by participating in the battles of the centre. Thus, over the past century or two, Australia has played the role of a military base to maintain the naval supremacy of the English-speaking world.

The signing of a new strategic pact between the United States, Australia, and Britain confronting China also confronts Europe with another inevitable reality, the Union of English-speaking countries. Unlike the European Union, which is more of an economic union, it also has a single military and defence policy. The formation of this coalition is more shocking and alarming for the European Union than for China.

The Arms Race

While South Korea says it intends to use “Nuri” missiles to launch satellites, the test is seen as part of its ongoing progress in weapons development. Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology.

North Korea has recently test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine. The country is also holding its largest defence show this week. A new fighter jet and guided weapons such as missiles are to be unveiled at the front. Meanwhile, North Korea is conducting arms tests. In recent weeks, the country has tested hypersonic and long-range weapons. Following the successful test of a hypersonic missile by China, the Pentagon reacted by calling it alarming. “We have clarified our concerns about the military capabilities that China is pursuing, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Fox News. “This is one of the reasons why we consider China a challenge.”

The Financial Times wrote that China tested a hypersonic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that orbited the Earth before accelerating towards its target, indicating an advanced space capability that surprised the US intelligence. “The Chinese military fired a missile carrying an ultrasonic glider that passed through the Earth’s orbit before moving toward its target,” five people familiar with the experiment told the Financial Times. This experiment shows that China has made fantastic progress in supersonic weapons and is much more advanced than US officials had imagined. “This experiment raises new questions about why the United States typically underestimates China’s military modernization,” the Financial Times wrote. “We have no idea how they did it,” a fourth source told the publication.

Following the announcement of Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines, Indonesia expressed concern about the start of an arms race in the Asia-Pacific region. The Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a statement today that it was “deeply concerned” about the ongoing arms race in the area. It called on Australia to abide by its commitments to regional peace and stability, and international law.

Following the US decision to support Australia in the Asia-Pacific region and efforts to reduce China’s influence, Washington decided to provide Australia with the technology to build nuclear submarines. The move disrupted a submarine deal between France and Australia, straining relations between the two countries.

China’s permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Vienna told the IAEA Board of Governors that he was concerned that the US and British assistance to Australia gaining access to nuclear submarines was an apparent move to develop nuclear weapons. Wang Kun stressed that such explicit aid to Australia, a non-nuclear country, would lead to nuclear materials and technologies.

South Korea plans to send a probe to the moon by 2030. The Nuri missile was launched amid the escalating arms race between North and South Korea. Both countries have recently tested new weapons. According to the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, which oversees the flight, South Korea plans to launch four more Nuri missiles by 2027 to increase reliability. While South Korea is seen as a technology hub, it lags behind other countries in developing space exploration. Korea’s previous missile launch efforts in 2009 and 2010 failed.

Final Word

The Asia-Pacific region is moving towards a security dilemma due to the high volume of arms imports, rising military spending, and the modernisation of the armies and navies of regional countries. Economic and military developments coupled with strategic competition may shortly lead to instability in the Asia-Pacific region. Should this happen, regional countries will seek to increase security through coalitions, or increase their military capability to deal with regional threats and instability, which realists call the security puzzle. What is worrying about the future of Asia Pacific is the pursuit of an arms race due to the emergence of a security environment. The existence of such territorial disputes emerging between the region’s countries will be worrying. Given the above issues, one can ask whether the increase in military spending and the growth of arms imports in Asia-Pacific, along with territorial disputes, lack of a precise mechanism to resolve disputes, and the lack of security integration among countries in the region, will have the potential to create a security dilemma and conflict between US allies and China.

Disputes over the South China Sea and the East Sea, on the one hand, and the rise of China’s military capability, on the other, have led countries in the region to an arms race and, ultimately, to a security puzzle in Asia-Pacific. Accordingly, military spending and arms imports in the region, especially in Southeast Asia, are increasing day by day. This situation will lead to instability in the region in the future. China’s claim to sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands and its refusal to accept international arbitration to resolve the dispute has added to the region’s political complexities. The lack of a trust-building mechanism between China and its neighbours has made it more difficult to achieve security integration. Most of China’s neighbours are allies of the United States.

On the one hand, the US military presence in Okinawa and Southeast Asia, along with its military assistance to its allies in the China region, has led to the further strengthening of its military capabilities. Historical disputes in Asia Pacific are another security issue. Japan and South Korea, two important US allies in the region with advanced economies, have failed to achieve security integration due to unresolved historical issues, such as the issues of sex slaves and prisoners of war. Another security problem is that North Korea’s nuclear tests have destabilised Asia-Pacific.

The Asia-Pacific region hosts half the world’s population and growing class. The region also accounts for half of the world’s trade. But issues such as China’s increasing territorial disputes and the rebuilding of its military capability have impacted the region’s security and maritime security environment. They have pushed Asia-Pacific countries towards increasing military capability. On the other hand, from the perspective of US foreign policy in its “Return-to-Asia” strategy, the US presence in the region is essential to help maintain peace and stability and ensure maritime security for US allies in the region. To this end, US cooperation with allies and friends in the region has increased in recent years to meet shared security challenges, leading to increased military spending and imports of advanced weapons from Asia-Pacific.

The high volume of arms imports in Asia-Pacific reflects a sense of instability in the entire security environment. Disagreements in the South China Sea, conflicts between North and South Korea, and the growth of China’s military capabilities, have made everyone feel the need to strengthen and modernise their military capabilities in the region. Although some of these weapons are smuggled to provide internal security and deal with issues such as the fight against piracy and relief in natural disasters, an essential part of these weapons is to gain prestige and credibility.

ChinaIndia, and Indonesia see themselves as regional powers. To prove such a claim, they need to modernise their military with advanced weapons. What is worrying about the region’s future is the pursuit of an arms race due to the formation of a security environment.

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