By Chan Kung
On September 15, 2021, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia announced the creation of a trilateral security partnership known as AUKUS. The new alliance also includes plans to foster security cooperation in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and undersea capabilities, and, most importantly, the nuclear submarine deal in which the U.S. and UK will support and help build up the Australian Navy’s nuclear submarine force. The Australian government then announced its decision to suspend a previous supply contract with the French naval group to procure 12 conventional submarines.
The geopolitical rationale for establishing AUKUS is clear, that is, to counter rising China in the Asia-Pacific region and the broader Indo-Pacific region. However, there has been considerable dissatisfaction in France over Australia’s decision to scrap its submarine contract without any prior communication with the French. “It was a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia. This trust has been betrayed,” the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after Australia tore up its submarine contract. In an unprecedented move, France withdrew its ambassadors from the United States and Australia. What began as a security alliance against China has dramatically morphed into a political and diplomatic event that has rocked relations within the West.
Researchers at ANBOUND believe the event will be far more significant and consequential than the commercial loss of a huge defence contract and could have major implications for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). We would like to point out that the main background of the trilateral agreement between the U.S., the UK, and Australia is the “Anglo-American Axis” proposed by ANBOUND three years ago. The current tripartite agreement between the U.S., the UK, and Australia is actually the concrete realization of such an alliance.
Many veteran diplomats and analysts are closely observing the development of this. Peter Ricketts, a veteran diplomat who served as Britain’s ambassador to France and NATO’s permanent representative, has warned that Australia’s tearing up of its submarine contract with France following a new deal with the U.S. and UK will “damage” the Western alliance and could push France and Europe as a whole to seek alternative sources of security. “This looks like a new geopolitical order without binding alliances,” said Nicole Bacharan, a researcher at Sciences Po in Paris. “To confront China, the United States appears to have chosen a different alliance, with the Anglo-Saxon world separate from France.” French grievances also include the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. According to Bacharan, the French were even more outraged when Joe Biden made his decision on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan with scant if any consultation of European allies who had contributed to the war effort. “Not even a phone call,” Bacharan said of the Afghan decision.
As a classic military and security alliance against the Soviet Socialist bloc during the Cold War, NATO has been the largest military alliance in the world since it was established by an agreement signed in Washington, D.C., in 1949. After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO remained and functioned many times. After several expansions, by 2020, NATO has 30 members, making it the largest military alliance in the Western world and a near “unipolar” military alliance in the world.
Figure: Member states of NATO
However, NATO is now facing a series of problems, which has cast a serious shadow over the organization’s future. These problems have manifested themselves in a number of geopolitical and military conflicts, including:
1) Other than verbal support from France, in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, NATO did not dare to support Armenia. This in fact pushed Armenia back to the side of Russia.
2) In the civil war of Ukraine, NATO refused Ukraine’s immediate accession to NATO and refused to provide substantial support no matter how much Ukraine begged for it. Obviously, NATO was afraid of being involved in a direct conflict with Russia. If this trend continues, the possibility of Ukraine falling back to Russia’s side cannot be ruled out in the future.
3) Each NATO member acts based on its own economic interests and objectively ignores the collective security interests of NATO. For example, Germany and Russia have built a crucial energy cooperation relationship.
4) The xenophobic nature of Europe has also been exposed. For example, the EU’s refusal to allow Turkey, which has been a member of NATO since 1952, to join the EU has incurred Turkey’s dissatisfaction. The EU’s refusal is certainly related to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political leanings, and Turkey’s complaint will be one of the factors in splitting NATO.
5) On the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the United States did not communicate with its allies in advance, and NATO countries were also forced to accept a large number of refugees without knowing it in advance. This has irritated EU countries and the UK, and they became the first group of countries to publicly criticize the decision of the United States.
6) The latest incident is the blatant dismantling of the submarine agreement between France and Australia by the United States, and France recalled its ambassador to the United States and Australia in protest, which has not only caused consternation among the allies but was also a joke around the world.
It is important to emphasize that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has virtually bankrupted the credibility of the U.S. In addition, NATO has been taken aback by a series of statements about China made by the U.S. military. All kinds of problems make NATO, as well as the EU, face a series of crises that will not pass in a short time and will manifest themselves in major events in the future.
For the future of NATO and its relationship with the world, ANBOUND’s researchers have the following prospective brief analysis:
First, the EU and NATO relations with China are based on ideology and values. The confrontation between China and Europe is due to the lack of positioning of diplomatic relations on both sides. Are they seeking common ground while shelving differences or irreconcilable? Once the positioning of such diplomatic relations is resolved, Europe-China relations will not be overly confrontational and will be confined within the scope of ideology and values. “China is a competitor, even a rival, but also a partner for the EU in terms of tackling global environmental challenges and trade with 1.4 billion consumers,” said President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union address on September 15. Obviously, realistic economic and other multilateral cooperation can be considered within the framework of ideology and values.
Second, unless NATO, as a military group, makes clear progress in building joint forces and forms an independent joint military force of more than 100,000 soldiers internally (because the total number of troops in the Russian army is only 280,000), otherwise, it will virtually be a mere diplomatic arena and diplomatic force.
It is worth noting that the establishment of a joint EU force has become a frequent aspiration of EU countries in recent years. In 2015, the then President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called for the establishment of a joint EU force. Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Minister of Defense at the time, was a big supporter, of it believing that “the children or grandchildren will usher in a Europe with its own military force”. On November 7, 2018, Emmanuel Macron invited defence ministers from nine European countries to a meeting in Paris to draw up plans for a joint force. The French Initiative, known as the European Intervention Initiative (EI2), aims to ensure that European countries can quickly deploy military forces in the event of a conflict or natural disaster. Europe already has NATO, why do they want to form a “European army”? Macron made it clear that this was to guard against Russia and the United States. “Russia is at our borders and has shown that it can be a threat. In addition, Europe should reduce its dependence on the U.S. for its own defence, given the comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump after he took office, especially the recent announcement by the U.S. to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,” Macron said.
Third, if the United States maintains maritime route great power strategy, it may not be stable and may continue to retreat, or even sharply shrink to the Pacific rim, which is only one step away from the prediction made publicly by ANBOUND in the last century that the final retreat of the United States would focus on Hawaii line. The reason for this situation is definitely not the lack of U.S. military power as well as military resources, but mainly because of the U.S. society and its political system. The U.S. society is now facing a huge contradiction, the social division provoked by the political parties, has put it in a process of social transformation and restructuring, and it needs to establish a new social order.
Fourth, U.S. allies are actually in the midst of a divide. This situation would be good for China, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, China seems to be providing a lot of factors that unite U.S. allies, either consciously or unconsciously. But even if this continues, it will be a fragile “solidarity” that will not reverse the fragmentation among U.S. allies.
Fifth, most of the post-World War II social science theories in this world are now in a state of obsolescence and are in fact being maintained in a reluctant and unreasonable manner. Postwar positivism as the general basis of the theory is in a period of great revision. However, such changes seem to have little to do with China, because China has long lacked relevant theoretical research in geopolitics and related social sciences, and it is unlikely to make up for it in the near future.
In the view of ANBOUND, the current world is actually in a state of “system failure”, and countries around the world are facing serious internal problems. The process of national restructuring and adaptation is far more serious and difficult than ANBOUND’s researchers had expected, so it could take a very long time. What is happening to one country is likely to happen to others. It may take a long time to overcome the shortcomings, problems, and challenges left by the process of globalization that began in the last century, and it will take a long time for the world order of the new century to take shape. The future of NATO has much to do with the changing world order.
Final analysis conclusion:
The establishment of a new trilateral security partnership between the U.S., the UK, and Australia, AUKUS, is a concrete form of the “Anglo-American Axis” as mentioned by ANBOUND in the past. This new trilateral security partnership is part of a shifting global geopolitical system that will have implications for the future of NATO. For China, the question of how to recognize, adapt and respond to the changing situation is an extremely urgent and realistic one. (All relevant analyses are from “ANBOUND 100+”)