Panel: Pacts like the AUKUS agreement, a quadruple key to countering China in the Pacific

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An F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, assigned to the ‘Wake Island Avengers’ of Marine Strike Fighter Squadron (VFMA) 211, launches from the flight deck of the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R-08 ), while the ship sails alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force JS Kaga (DDH-184), as ships transit the Bay of Bengal as part of the Maritime Partnership Exercise (MPX) Oct. 17, 2021. US Navy Photo

The most remarkable thing about the agreement between Australia, UK and US [AUKUS] Sharing cutting-edge technologies, including nuclear propulsion for submarines, is Canberra’s pledge “to play an antagonistic role with China,” a former undersecretary of state for political affairs said on Wednesday.

“If we’re smart, we’ll take advantage of it,” Thomas Shannon said at a US Naval Institute history conference on the military’s role in diplomacy.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner. But for several years, Beijing has punished Canberra with blockades on imports from Australia and high tariffs on its goods. China sees it as part of a wider dispute over its investments in critical sectors of Australia’s economy and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Retired Admiral Harry Harris, who served as US Pacific Command Chief and later Ambassador to South Korea, said: “AUKUS is here; I think that’s great … it’s actually a defense alliance.

Looking at the deal this way, he said “we now have a separate group” to counter China’s ambitions. The United States already has five formal treaty alliances in the Indo-Pacific. They are with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Australia-New Zealand.

The US strategy in the Indo-Pacific “has been to surround China with democratic countries,” said Shannon, as Beijing has become more adept and sophisticated in diplomacy around the world through its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Road. At the same time, China continues to intimidate its neighbors in territorial and trade disputes to achieve its ends.

“The quad [the U.S., Japan, India and Australia] is important ”in this regard, but“ it is still not defined ”as to what the four democratic nations will do together economically, diplomatically or militarily in the Indo-Pacific, Shannon said.

“We are not going to win the strategic competition with China by suppressing the Chinese [or] “Russian the Russians,” he added, referring to their threats to act militarily and their use of gray area tactics ranging from disinformation campaigns to cyber attacks on infrastructure. “The power of our example is much more powerful” regional influence in upholding the rule of law in litigation.

In his keynote address, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that “we have done well” historically in showing other nations American values. “The most important strength we have are our values,” he said.

The Biden administration made the right choice “right out of the fall” when she took office, placing a new emphasis on alliances and diplomacy, Harris said at the roundtable.

“The Quad is not NATO, will never be NATO,” said Panetta. But like NATO, it can expand. Harris said the size of the Quad doesn’t have to remain static at four limbs. “I compare it to American college football, the Big Ten with 14 teams, the Big 12 with 10.”

He suggested that the four agree on a secretariat to act as a gatekeeper as to who should be members.

Retired Lieutenant General Charles Hooper said the four countries have already agreed on a number of working groups to address common security concerns. One is the interoperability of their armies, as evidenced by the exercises that ended last fall off India.

“What we need is a more networked approach” where communications can be shared and exchanged between the four and command and control arrangements involving all participants, he said.

AUKUS, on the other hand, emphasizes the military in the deal. With that in mind, added Harris, “we hope to be able to put an Australian-colored nuclear submarine [to sea] in a decade. “

The panelists agreed on the need to better harmonize efforts between the Defense and State departments down to the embassy level.

For years Deborah McCarthy, now at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative and former ambassador to Lithuania, said the State Department’s budget was “flat and now includes all of our essential development assistance” for other countries. .

There was also an exodus of experienced diplomats under the Trump administration, she added.

Shannon said “we need more people… to handle everything like religious freedom” or arms control. McCarthy echoed this and said the State Department must look to the Pentagon as a model to ensure its diplomats receive training throughout their careers to be ready to lead at higher levels.

The key to success for State Department diplomats working with other parts of the administration beyond the Pentagon “is to share information with as many people as possible” to buy into and bring the project to fruition, Shannon said.

“The biggest threat to diplomacy right now… is the inability to put ambassadors on the ground,” he said. Shannon noted that only one candidate for the Biden administration, Ken Salazar as U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has been confirmed. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slowed down the process in a dispute with the White House over a Russian gas pipeline to Germany.

Panetta, in her lunch speech, echoed the current hyper-partisanship of politics. “Today Washington is at its worst,” he said, adding that the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill “sends a message of weakness” to adversaries, allies and partners.

Leadership “is not about the party before the country, but the country before the party,” he said.

Panetta added: “Too often in recent times we have been ruled by crisis.”

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