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AUKUS and Beyond: A Multi-Pronged Approach for Indo-Pacific Stability

07 Apr 2024

AUKUS and Beyond: A Multi-Pronged Approach for Indo-Pacific Stability

07 Apr 2024

The March 2023 rollout of the AUKUS plan in San Diego, with its focus on Australia acquiring nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), has triggered discussions about its impact on regional stability. While some hailed it as a game-changer for regional security, others questioned its hefty price tag and potential to ignite an arms race. This controversy was intensified even more in March 2024, when it was revealed that the U.S. is currently unable to fund the construction of the agreed-upon number of SSNs in the near future.[1] But beyond the submarines themselves lies a more fundamental question: can AUKUS, in its current form, truly ensure a stable Indo-Pacific for Australia? This insight delves into the challenges that AUKUS faces and explores alternative pathways for Australia to navigate a complex maritime security landscape, ultimately arguing that a multi-pronged approach that complements AUKUS rather than solely relies on it is necessary for a truly secure region.

AUKUS: Beneath the Surface Goals, Challenges, and Uncertainties 

The plan

As unveiled in San Diego in 2023, Pillar 1 of AUKUS, the AUKUS SSN roll-out plan, has three key phases:[2]

  • From 2027, four U.S. Navy SSNs and one Royal Navy SSN will start rotating through Western Australia (which will first receive a facilities upgrade so that maintenance can be performed on the submarines). During this phase, Royal Australian Navy personnel will jointly crew the U.S. Navy SSNs to give Australia the beginnings of the capability for phase two.
  • Pending U.S. Congressional approval, in the early 2030s Australia will acquire 3-5 older U.S. Navy Virginia-class submarines as a way of bridging the capability gap as the incumbent Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarines are retired. Australia will also invest its own money into U.S. SSN production facilities at this time.
  • Phase three involves the construction of a new AUKUS-class submarine based upon the Royal Navy Astute-class model, but with U.S. input. While these submarines will eventually be built in Adelaide, Australia, the first boat, which will come online in the late 2030s, will be produced in the UK, with the Adelaide-built boats coming online in the 2040s.

The estimated cost of the AUKUS submarine plan for Australia is currently AUD$368 billion over three decades,[3] and the consolidated Australian defense budget for the period from 2022 to 2023 was approximately AUD$48.6 billion. In other words, approximately 26% of the entire Australian defense budget, if the budget remains the same, will go toward the submarine component of AUKUS over these thirty years.

Aside from the submarine component, AUKUS focuses on defense and security sector technology transfer from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific theater.[4] This constitutes “Pillar 2” of AUKUS and is aimed at bolstering the technological edge of the member states and enhancing their collective ability to address future security threats in the Indo-Pacific region.[5] The specific areas of focus within Pillar 2 encompass:

  • Cyber capabilities:Strengthening cyber defenses and offensive capabilities to counter cyber threats.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Developing and integrating AI into military applications for enhanced decision-making, logistics, and intelligence gathering.
  • Quantum technologies:Exploring the potential of quantum technologies for advancements in areas like cryptography and communication.
  • Undersea capabilities:Collaboration on advanced underwater technologies for submarines and other subsea applications.
  • Hypersonic and counter-hypersonic weapons:Research and development of hypersonic missiles and countermeasures against them.
  • Electronic warfare:Developing advanced capabilities to disrupt or deceive enemy electronic systems.
  • Innovation and information sharing:Encouraging joint research and development efforts and fostering a framework for the secure exchange of classified information.

The announcement from San Diego and the broader discourse surrounding AUKUS have not addressed in detail how AUKUS will contribute to the consolidation and even growth of regional stability. So, given the reality that AUKUS is now in motion, the question is: how can the bloc ensure this stability? Given the lack of public discussion, here are three likely purposes of the alliance, particularly from Australia’s perspective:

  1. Ensuring the U.S. remains actively involved and invested in the long-term security of the region.
  2. Reinforcing confidence in the U.S.-led security framework and coalition in the region as a responsible and respectful partner that prioritizes the interests of regional nations, thereby serving as a vital pillar of regional stability.
  3. The prevention of rising Chinese assertiveness—whether it be with regard to Taiwan or the South and East China Seas—in order to maintain an open and unrestricted Indo-Pacific region.[6]


It is obvious that achieving these three objectives will require a lot of work. Specifically, the second objective presents an immediate challenge. If proactive accompanying measures for the bloc are not undertaken, AUKUS is likely to make Australian foreign and security policy look like a direct offshoot of the Anglosphere.[7] It will also serve as a weighty and constant reminder to Australia’s Southeastern Asian neighbors, in particular, of an enduring cleavage in both sides’ heritages.

Such an outcome would complicate the ability of Australia to build and strengthen the necessary partnerships with the Indo-Pacific states necessary to achieve sustainable security for Australia, particularly in a maritime sense, in the long term. This is because a purely Anglophone AUKUS could be perceived by Indo-Pacific nations as a lack of commitment to regional inclusivity, potentially pushing them toward other security partners or approaches. Foreign policy is the pursuit of building relationships and shaping the global landscape in a way that safeguards the state’s security, prosperity, and values at the lowest possible cost and with the greatest number of options for future action. If Australia doesn’t proactively work to address the aforementioned issue, Canberra won’t be ensuring it has the range of options available it could, some of which are likely to cost a whole lot less than $368 billion.


The necessity for Australian proactivity to this end is further illustrated by the uncertainties concerning the future efficacy of AUKUS. The first of these uncertainties is pointed out by recent analysis, which indicates that there is a 75-90% potential that nuclear submarines will become detectable by technological developments by the 2050s.[8] Second to this is the fact that it is a very large ask for the Royal Australian Navy to jump from having no experience on any nuclear platforms to being capable across two nuclear platforms (the Virginia-class submarines and the AUKUS-class submarines) in the short period allotted in the above-mentioned timeline. Third is the fact that Australia can’t be completely certain that future U.S. administrations won’t sour at the prospect[9] of transferring up to 8%[10] of its entire SSN fleet to a country, Australia, in which the U.S. is not 100% sure shares the exact interests or matching commitment over key strategic issues like Taiwan.

But while those just-mentioned uncertainties are, by definition, not inevitable, what is certain is the need for Australia to commit serious effort to assure its regional neighbors that Australia’s approach to regional security is not merely extending, or relying on, the Anglosphere and is instead an approach of inclusivity that looks to partner with its neighbors.[11] The available reactions of Asian states to AUKUS thus far point to this need, as while Japan has expressed support for AUKUS, the rest of the region has typically produced either critical or rather muted responses. Malaysia and Indonesia have expressed concerns about AUKUS’ potential for spurring an arms race and undermining existing non-proliferation treaties.[12] India’s response has been subdued, even standoffish, with New Delhi worrying that AUKUS will undermine the Quad framework going forward.[13] Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam have provided cautious support, tacitly acknowledging the rationale behind AUKUS.[14]

If AUKUS remains an exclusive Anglosphere club, or if Indo-Pacific states perceive it as such, five key issues emerge. The first is that of deepening regional divisions. An AUKUS limited to the U.S., UK, and Australia would be seen as an attempt to establish an Anglophone-centric security architecture, potentially alienating other regional powers. This could exacerbate existing divisions and create a sense of exclusion among non-member states. The second is that of undermining regional mechanisms. AUKUS, as an exclusive club, could bypass, and thus undermine, established regional security mechanisms like the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM+) or the East Asia Summit (EAS). The third is that of limited effectiveness. The current three-member grouping could well lack the collective military and economic might to effectively address the complex security challenges of the Indo-Pacific. Issues like maritime security threats, transnational crimes, and territorial disputes require broader regional cooperation. The fourth is that of even worse tensions with China. An AUKUS that remains exclusive to the UK, the U.S. and Australia that acts according to a tight Anglosphere strategic logic could escalate Chinese threat perception and containment sentiments, thus leading to an escalation of the rate of Chinese militarization and the likelihood of flashpoints in the South China Sea and nearby regions. The fifth is that of reduced legitimacy. An Anglophone-centric club might struggle to gain widespread legitimacy within the Indo-Pacific, as other regional states might view AUKUS’ actions with suspicion, hindering its ability to foster a sense of shared responsibility for regional security.

Taken together, these issues represent a potentially fractured regional security architecture with competing power blocs, in which stalemates on crucial security issues could occur with otherwise likeminded partners due to a lack of collective action. All in all, this is not the ideal stable and secure Indo-Pacific environment.

Navigating New Courses: Potential Trajectories and Opportunities

There are several ways Australia can start addressing the aforementioned imperative of reassuring its neighbors that its approach to regional security is inclusive and that it looks to partner with its neighbors. None of these options are mutually exclusive, and indeed, they could and likely should all be pursued jointly.

1. Expand AUKUS to either directly include, or build ancillary partnerships with, more Indo-Pacific countries within Pillar 2 of the Alliance

The UK’s Indo-Pacific strategy already explicitly emphasizes empowering Indo-Pacific states to secure the rules-based order in the region, with the strategy including a specific focus on inclusion and partnership building with local states, particularly India and Japan.[15] While India may not be a likely candidate in the near term due to its strong focus on strategic autonomy and distance from exclusive security blocs, Japan presents a more compelling case for direct membership in AUKUS Pillar 2. Shared concerns regarding what is needed for a stable Indo-Pacific, particularly regarding the East and South China Seas, and existing cooperation on security matters like the ban on Huawei[16] make Japan a promising fit. Japan, Italy and the UK have already signed a deal to co-develop a new fighter jet.[17] Furthermore, Japan’s technological advancements align well with AUKUS’ focus on Pillar 2, as already envisioned by the late prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2021.[18]

It does not mean that the integration of Japan into Pillar 2 will be easy. For instance, discrepancies in national security protocols and classification systems between Japan and AUKUS members could pose hurdles to information sharing, and export controls of AUKUS members regarding sensitive technologies would require complex negotiations and potential adjustments to national policies. However, such issues are not insurmountable.

Pursuing ancillary partnerships within Pillar 2 could be an easier starting point than immediately pushing for direct memberships. Singapore, a supporter of AUKUS,[19] could be a strong first candidate in this context, as it already actively collaborates with Australia and the UK (including Malaysia and New Zealand) through the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA).[20] FPDA facilitates joint military exercises between the members and thus presents a strong foundation for further, broader security cooperation.

Aside from addressing the issues arising from AUKUS remaining a purely Anglophone-led security bloc, the heightened focus on technology sharing and Pillar 2 within an expanded AUKUS could balance out the current emphasis on nuclear submarines, thus potentially setting AUKUS on less of a confrontational path dependency or trajectory with China. Furthermore, a more inclusive structure fosters a sense of regional ownership and responsibility for security matters.

2. Encourage Indo-Pacific states to treat AUKUS as a catalyst spurring intra-regional and inter-regional security partnerships

Since AUKUS was first announced in 2021, many Indo-Pacific states have been more motivated to advance their own bilateral or multilateral strategic and security relationships, both with intra-regional and inter-regional partners. Australia, where possible and appropriate, could look to encourage, and perhaps even contribute, to those partnerships. AUKUS’ emphasis on a “free and open Indo-Pacific” resonates with the strategic goals of many of these emerging partnerships. Accordingly, such an approach from Australia would not only further the aims of AUKUS itself but would also demonstrate Australian commitment to Asian-owned security and strategic arrangements, thus potentially generating greater animus amongst the region’s states for seeking greater alignment with AUKUS over time. This would contribute to the sustainability of the framework.

The first of these partnerships that aligns with AUKUS is the EU’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy for Cooperation”, which has paved the way for increased EU engagement with key regional partners like India and Japan.[21] India and Japan hold immense potential for collaboration in crucial areas beyond pure military defense. The 2021 EU-India Leaders’ Meeting highlighted health preparedness, climate change, trade, and technological advancements as key domains for strategic collaboration towards a “safer, prosperous and a more democratic world.”[22] A joint EU-Japan statement in 2021 highlighted this similarly, emphasizing many of these same pillars. Both these EU-India and EU-Japan commitments were reaffirmed in 2023.[23]

Similarly, France has witnessed increased opportunities for cooperation with India following the AUKUS announcement. The 2021 commitment to a “Strategic Partnership” between the two nations underscores a shared interest in diverse sectors like trade, education, and clean energy, fostering a more secure regional environment.[24] The two nations have continued to build on their “Strategic Partnership”, with the 4th Ministerial Dialogue in November 2022 focusing on maritime security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, space cooperation, and the deepening of defense ties.[25]

The 2023 trilateral meeting between India, Japan, and Italy reiterated their 2021 commitment to ensuring “peace, stability, security, and development” through a “peaceful, open, equitable, stable and rule-based order” in the Indo-Pacific.[26] This aligns tightly with the EU’s vision for the region, opening doors for potential trilateral cooperation between India, Japan, and the EU.

The opportunities arising from this AUKUS-driven impetus for broader cooperation are notable, but the challenge now lies in progressing these abovementioned relationships past the rhetorical and into the tangible. If Australia could help contribute to that progress, then the greater shared ownership of the region’s security between Australia and its like-minded neighbors would be furthered.

3. Give equal focus to the Quad as a closely accompanying framework for AUKUS

While the Quad (the informal strategic framework between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that held its first ministerial-level meeting in 2019) is also primarily geared to ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, it represents a broader strategic partnership compared to AUKUS, and a more holistic approach to regional stability, encompassing various areas beyond just military cooperation.[27] The dialogue-driven, as opposed to treaty-driven, focus of the Quad aims to build a network of partnerships to address shared security and economic challenges, focusing on joint initiatives in areas like maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, critical technologies, and infrastructure development. This more holistic approach to regional stability is a natural, and indeed crucial, accompaniment to the institutionalized defense relations and defense hardware transfer nature and aims of AUKUS.

Indeed, it could be argued that the 2021 China-Solomon Islands security agreement, perceived by Canberra as perhaps the biggest single alarm for Australian maritime security in recent memory, was seemingly at least partly caused by the lack of a holistic approach to regional stability by the region’s leading powers. The 2021 China-Solomons agreement, which allows China to send police, armed forces, and other security personnel to the Solomon Islands upon request by Honiara, was revealingly added to in February 2023, when both nations signed a further agreement focusing on economic and social development cooperation, including infrastructure projects. Given that Australia and the Solomon Islands have an existing “Bilateral Security Treaty” that allows for the rapid deployment of Australian personnel to the Solomon Islands upon request, as well as the fact that Australia has previously sent troops and police there on several occasions, it is difficult to understand how Honiara could have agreed to the 2021 agreement with Beijing on the grounds that it could not rely on Australia as an external guarantor of domestic security support. As the 2023 economic and infrastructure agreement would seem to suggest, the reasons would appear to be more concerning given the fact that China offers the Solomon Islands a more complete package in service of the latter’s stability.

The China-Solomon Islands agreement thus exposes the limitations of relying on AUKUS’ focus on military deterrence as a strategy for pursuing Indo-Pacific stability. Accordingly, the Quad’s mandate should be pursued to its maximum in order to begin to ameliorate this limitation by pursuing a model of genuine regional cooperation that prioritizes sustainable development alongside addressing traditional security concerns. Here, the Quad can adapt its approach to address the soft power aspects of regional security, pursuing a broader Pacific partnership focused on not just military security but also economic development, disaster relief, and climate change initiatives. Such a move would not only provide a catalyst for domestic stability amongst the states in question but also an incentive for these neighbors and Australia to remain in lockstep with each other’s key interests—a key requirement for shared security.


The Indo-Pacific landscape is constantly evolving, and AUKUS, as currently envisioned, is not the sole answer to Australia’s maritime security needs. The uncertainties over the future efficacy of the Alliance’s hardware and the potential tensions that could grow from the Anglosphere nature of the bloc necessitate a more holistic and inclusive approach. Australia must be prepared to calibrate AUKUS, fostering broader partnerships and prioritizing soft power initiatives alongside the Quad’s focus on economic development. By remaining flexible and prioritizing regional cooperation, Australia can ensure AUKUS remains a valuable tool within a broader security architecture for a more stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.


[1] Amy Remeikis, “Turnbull says Australia ‘mugged by reality’ on Aukus deal as US set to halve submarine build,” The Guardian, March 12, 2024,

[2] Prime Minister of Australia, “Joint Leaders Statement On AUKUS.” Office of the Prime Minister of Australia, March 14, 2023,

[3] Andrew Tillett, “All at Sea: Does $368 Billion for Nuclear Subs Add Up?,” Australian Financial Review, March 17, 2023,

[4] Brendon Cannon, “Technology and Trust Set AUKUS Apart from the Rest.” TRENDS Research & Advisory, April 19, 2022,

[5] Tom Howe, “AUKUS: More than Submarines.” The UK in a Changing Europe, March 15, 2023,

[6] Foster Cunliffe, “Can AUKUS Prove Its Critics Wrong?” Institute for Security and Development Policy, September 8, 2023,

[7] Darren Lim and Alan Gyngell, “Episode 111: AUKUS Plans, India & Red Alerts.” Australia in the World, podcast episode, February 20, 2023,

[8] Roger Bradbury et al, “Progress in Detection Tech Could Render Submarines Useless by the 2050s. What Does It Mean for the AUKUS Pact?,” The Conversation, March 14, 2023.

[9] Christopher Preble et al, “Is AUKUS Flawed by Design?” War on the Rocks, March 3, 2023,

[10] United States Navy, “Attack Submarines – SSN.” U.S. Navy, March 15, 2024,

[11] Foster Cunliffe, “Can AUKUS Prove Its Critics Wrong?,” op. cit.

[12] Dino Patti Djalal, “ASEAN responses to AUKUS security dynamic,” East Asia Forum, November 28, 2021,

[13] International Institute for Strategic Studies, “The Effect of AUKUS on India’s Foreign and Defence Policies,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, March 9, 2022.

[14] Ian Storey and William Choong, “The AUKUS Announcement and Southeast Asia: An Assessment

of Regional Responses and Concerns.” ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, March 29, 2023,

[15] UK Government, “Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,” Gov.UK, July 2, 2021,

[16] Simon Denyer, “Japan effectively bans China’s Huawei and ZTE from government contracts, joining U.S,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2018,

[17] Michael Auslin, ” Why Japan Should Join AUKUS.” Foreign Policy, November 15, 2022,

[18] Daniel Hurst, “Japan ‘Should Work with Aukus on Cybersecurity and AI,’ Says Shinzo Abe.” The Guardian, November 19, 2021,

[19] Gideon Rachman, “Commentary: AUKUS Is a Great Idea, but Its Success Won’t Come Easily,” Channel NewsAsia, February 28, 2024,

[20] Maj Pek Wee Kian, “The Five Power Defence Arrangements: A Contemporary Assessment,” Pointer, Journal of The Singapore Armed Forces 42, no.4 (2016): 1-10.

[21] Council of the European Union, “Council conclusions on an EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” Consilium, April 16, 2021,

[22] Council of the European Union, “Joint Statement – EU-India Leaders’ Meeting, 8 May 2021,” Consilium, May 8, 2021,,which%20underpin%20our%20Strategic%20Partnership.

[23] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “India – EU Joint Statement 1st Meeting of the Trade and Technology Council,” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, May 16, 2023, ; Council of the European Union, “EU-Japan summit, 13 July 2023,” Consilium, July 13, 2023,

[24] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Brief on India-France Bilateral Relations,” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, March 2022,

[25] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “India-France Joint Statement.” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, September 10, 2023,

[26] Government of Italy, “India-Italy Joint Statement during the State Visit of the President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic to India,” Government of Italy, March 2, 2023,

[27] Brendon Cannon, “Technology and Trust Set AUKUS Apart from the Rest,” TRENDS Research & Advisory, April 19, 2022, ; Talmiz Ahmad,  ““Quad” and “AUKUS” seek to redefine Indo-Pacific geopolitics … but throw up fresh options for India,” TRENDS Research & Advisory, October 12, 2021,

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