During the Trump administration, a major development took place that went under the radar. Only months after taking office, Donald Trump and his officials started referring to the Asia-Pacific as the “Indo-Pacific.”
This was not by accident. It was a highly strategic and calculated move, one that would kick-start new thinking in Washington. By using the phrase Indo-Pacific, the US was simultaneously pointing to India’s rise and placing new importance on a region that is rapidly becoming the world’s new center of gravity.
This phrase became even more “official” when the US military renamed its Pacific Command to “US Indo-Pacific Command.”
Jump to September 15, 2021, and the weight the US is placing on the Indo-Pacific is visible to the world. When President Joe Biden, flanked by the leaders of the UK and Australia, announced AUKUS, a new defense alliance, something else became clear: the new US geopolitical strategy for the next 50 years.
That is, Western Europe and the Middle East are no longer the priorities. Now, Washington is placing all its attention on, and marshaling all its resources toward, dominating the Indo-Pacific (read: take on China). And to achieve this, the US is turning to technology.
At the center of AUKUS are technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), quantum and cyber. The US, the UK and Australia want to use these technologies to build a new kind of footprint in the Indo-Pacific. This makes AUKUS a new technology-based geopolitical alliance, the first of its kind anywhere. And AUKUS has global implications.
But first, attention must be placed on how AUKUS is splitting the West. Already, France has accused the US of “stabbing it in the back.” A US$40 billion deal for Australia to acquire French submarines is now scrapped. The deal was referred to as the “deal of the century.” Through AUKUS, Australia will get nuclear-powered submarines from the US and UK.
Allies not happy
Meanwhile, the Canadian media are already questioning why Ottawa was excluded. Three Canadian government officials have said Canada was not even invited to the talks for AUKUS.
And New Zealand has drawn a red line, saying Australian nuclear submarines will not be allowed in its territorial waters. Also expect reactions from Germany, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, all of which may feel the US is no longer prioritizing European defense.
However, regardless of how the West reacts, AUKUS is going ahead. A new technology-based “beachhead” is being built in the Indo-Pacific that will give the US and its allies a new kind of power.
While the first area of work for AUKUS is providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, the canvas of the alliance is much, much broader. With the focus on technologies like AI and cyber, the possibilities are endless.
Could AUKUS establish a new AI-based cyber security shield? Or will AUKUS establish a new underwater surveillance system in the Indian Ocean using robots, similar to what Russia is building?
Equally important is what the new US-led geopolitical groups may morph into. Alongside AUKUS, there is the Quad – made up of the US, India, Japan and Australia. And US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the Quad is far more than just a defense group.
This leads to the possibility that the Quad might morph into the next G7. And AUKUS could morph into a new Asian NATO or the next iteration of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group.
The creation of AUKUS is also a sign that globalization, in its current form, is ending. In the past, the US – and the West – created groups that involved everyone, such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization. Now, globalization is becoming vertical.
With technology, the world is starting to divide and fracture. Governments are using technology to establish new walls and barriers between themselves and the rest of the world. In the vertical world, the new groups only involve like-minded countries, not everyone.
This creates a new “limit” for businesses. Some businesses, originating from certain countries, may be excluded from participating in AUKUS (or Quad) initiatives and projects.
Last, as AUKUS takes its first steps, it will not only remain a three-nation group. If the unstated goal is to take on China, the alliance has many options. AUKUS could invite Taiwan to the group, creating a new challenge for Beijing.
Or, AUKUS could invite Indonesia to join, a nation whose future power is largely ignored – by 2050, Indonesia will be the fourth-largest economy in the world.
Another way to use AUKUS is to interrupt China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially the Digital BRI, by involving Southeast Asian nations, or strategically selecting nations in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
The creation of AUKUS comes at a time when the world is in a period of massive transformation. And it comes as every nation is trying to become a technology power.
This new technology-based alliance fundamentally changes global politics. Now, groups like the Group of Seven or NATO carry less weight. And traditional US allies like Canada, France and Germany are becoming “outsiders” looking in.
With technology, AUKUS has the power to overcome challenges that have plagued other organizations. Whether it be ideology or territory, technology can transcend these differences and barriers.
But more than anything else, AUKUS signals that a new race has begun, underpinned by technology. Except, if before this race was only between the US and China, now it involves many more nations. With technology, the world is rapidly being divided into “new tribes.”
The question is, can these tribes co-exist with one another? And if not, what happens next? Prepare for a bumpy ride.