AUKUS agreement: In a major development, Britain has called India to join the QUAD-like trilateral security pact called, AUKUS, with an aim to secure the Indo-Pacific region from soaring Chinese aggression. AUKUS -- which is a security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- was announced in September 2021 to counter the threats posed by the Xi Jinping-led Chinese government. Besides, the main aim of the AUKUS is to equip Australia -- which is surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans -- with nuclear submarines in order to avert any potential threats by Beijing.
Ever since it was materialised in 2021, US and UK wanted to incorporate India in the security pact but were never announced or offered officially by either side. However, in an unforeseen turn of events, the chair of the UK’s defence select committee recently suggested expanding the pact, with India and Japan playing a key role in the trilateral security agreement, Sky News Australia reported.
What is AUKUS?
It is a security pact which is similar to Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). Although unlike, QUAD-- a multilateral dialogue platform between Australia, India, Japan and the United States-- which aims to discuss shared ideas in the Indo-Pacific region, the AUKUS is a "security pact" between the trio.
The AUKUS deal was brokered by US President Joe Biden and then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on September 15, 2021. In a joint statement, Washington, and London agreed to provide hypersonic missiles to Canberra. Although neither of the three had mentioned China behind the grouping, it was obvious that the intention was to safeguard and ensure a free Indo-Pacific region.
It is worth mentioning France had signed a multi-billion contract with Australia for a dozen conventional diesel-electric submarines. The deal was worth at least $66 billion. However, in September 2021, the deal was abruptly cancelled by Australia, resulting in billion of losses to France.
According to multiple media reports, President Biden reportedly insisted Canberra ditch the deal and persuaded the then Australian PM Scott Morrison to purchase America-made weapons.
Irked by the cancellation of a multi-billion dollar contract, French President Emmanuel Macron had even lambasted the Australian PM and said he lied to him and added he was secretly negotiating a submarine deal with the United States and Britain. Answering a reporter’s question about whether he thinks Morrison lied to him, Macron had said, "I was stabbed by my allied partners".
Later in June last year, the newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese agreed to pay a fair and equitable settlement of 555 million euros ($584m) to France, thus ending a 10-year-old multibillion-dollar submarine contract.
Why US and UK want India to join the AUKUS pact?
The Indian Navy aims to procure new nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) under Project 75 Alpha which costs around $15 billion-$20 billion. On several occasions, France offered New Delhi to assist in developing the mega project under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's most touted 'Make in India' initiative.
As of now, Russia remains the first choice for India in terms of procuring defence equipment. However, with the wretched performance of Russian weapons in the ongoing war with Ukraine, it is likely New Delhi would explore its alternate options. Also, Moscow is currently facing multiple international sanctions, which eventually make it harder for Russia to deliver India's aspirations on time.
France, which is the second-largest arms supplier to India, wants to grab the opportunity of getting a big-ticket arms deal from New Delhi. Notably, it has already signed multiple contracts with the Government of India in the past. The Rafale fighter jet contract is one of the biggest arms deals that Paris currently has. Macron would likely visit New Delhi in the coming months in order to offer India some great deals.
On the other hand, the US wants to sideline its biggest arms competitors -- Moscow and France -- and finalise a multi-billion deal with India. Therefore, it wants India to join the AUKUS agreement.
Will India join the AUKUS deal?
Although India supports the trilateral agreement, it is unlikely that New Delhi will join the pact. It is worth mentioning that India needs new nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) at the earliest. Besides, it is unlikely that the mega project will be given to Moscow amid the fact that it has been facing international sanctions and pressure from the ongoing Ukraine war.
Moreover, it is also far-fetched that New Delhi to hand over the project to the American defence industry amid the fact it would be engaged in manufacturing the orders from Australia until 2033-34. Therefore, there is a high chance that New Delhi would offer its ambitious deal to France.
On the other hand, if India joins the agreement -- which seems impossible given the geopolitical setting, it would be a "drastic step" as it would definitely attract criticism from its most trustworthy ally, Russia. Besides, joining the alliance means increasing New Delhi's dependence on the USA's defence manufacturing industry, which certainly India would not.
Also Read: China’s aggressive actions caused India to join Quad: Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo