AUKUS military alliance: The chaotic sharpening of imperialist rivalries

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After 18 months of secret negotiations, Australia, Britain and the US officially announced the creation of a military pact named AUKUS, an acronym of the three countries. This will establish a strategic force in the Indo-Pacific region, enabling the US to reinforce its position towards China.

Acceleration of imperialist chaos

While American power continues to weaken on the world arena, AUKUS was conceived with the explicit goal of blocking the expansion of China in the region. In response to China’s militarisation of the islands in the South China Sea and development of its naval forces in the region, the USA has been stepping up its arms supplies to its allies and flexing its muscles with spectacular joint military exercises. At this level AUKUS is a clear confirmation that the rivalry between America and China is getting sharper and is tending to move to the forefront of the international scene, obliging the US to reorganise its forces on a global scale (as witness the retreat from Afghanistan) and re-centre their military presence in the Pacific.

With this new alliance under US tutorship and limited to three countries without any participation from continental Europe, the US has clearly decided to accentuate its demonstration of strength. Under Donald Trump, the Indo-Pacific zone officially became “the principal axis of American national strategy”. This was not of course a complete novelty since Obama had already announced the “pivot” of US military forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But if anyone thought that with the arrival of good old Joe Biden to the presidency, the provocative and warlike policies of Trump would come to an end in favour of a more “diplomatic” approach, they would be sorely disappointed: Biden, perhaps in a less overt manner, has backed up and even aggravated the warlike approach towards China, further destabilising the world imperialist situation.

But this can only wrack up tensions and push China to react. Since the fall of the eastern bloc, China has become the main rival to the US, even threatening its economic dominance. The “Peoples Republic” has demanded a whole series of territories, going from a few coral reefs to Taiwan, taking in its “historic claim” to the whole of the South China Sea. China wants to boot the Americans out of the region, which has seen an important US presence for some time, but particularly since the end of the Second World War. Beijing is thus seeking to weaken and undo the USA’s military alliances, putting itself forward as a reliable partner, a benevolent Asian “big brother” with very full pockets. In the Indian Ocean, China is advancing its pawns and is extending its “New Silk Road” through concessions on the use of ports, but also through new transport and telecommunication infrastructures. In the Gulf of Aden, it has profited from operations against piracy to train its still inexperienced naval forces. In 2017, it even set up a base in Djibouti.

The initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region moved even further ahead with the Covid pandemic, through the multiplication of military manoeuvres around Taiwan, between Taiwan and the Philippines, and in the Himalayas. The military confrontations in the region of Ladakh showed very concretely how these tensions could turn into armed confrontations.

With the expected arrival of American nuclear submarines, Australia will be able to have much more powerful weapons and technology at its disposal than it would have got through the French diesel submarines. With the supply of enriched military uranium, the US is potentially providing Australian with the means to produce nuclear weapons, with all the risks of proliferation in the region. India has also said it is interested in obtaining French nuclear submarines and strengthening its airforce with Dassault Rafale fighter planes.

The reconstitution of blocs is not on the agenda

Some people see the US and China moving towards the formation of new military blocs in the perspective of a Third World War. This is clearly not the case: the new strategic partnerships in the region, which could certainly lead to unforeseen violent outbreaks, is not at all the expression of a tendency towards the reconstitution of blocs.

These are essentially circumstantial links or alliances (as is the case, for example, between Japan and South Korea), ephemeral military alliances which, like AUKUS, are not heading towards a solid alliance and the setting up of new blocs, as was the case during the Cold War.

Whatever one might think of the choice of Australia, the new imperialist confrontation in the Indo-Pacific region is not limited to a confrontation between the US and China. On the contrary, the intensification of this confrontation has swelled the ranks of dissident and distrustful opponents. You can’t create blocs by excluding or humiliating potential allies, as with the economic sanctions imposed since 2017 on Germany and other European countries in response to their deal with Russia on the North Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Germany and Russia via the Baltic, or the humiliation of France in the submarines affair.

France continues to define itself as a “Pacific power”, up till now mainly via its cooperation with Australia and India. The French state has even made the sale of military equipment a pillar of its strategy in the Asian Pacific. These sales have enabled it to attain two objectives at the same time: one, obviously, enabling it to find commercial and industrial outlets; the other, having a bearing on the efforts to counter the influence of China. France is trying to perform a balancing act by adopting a more conciliatory stance towards China, while at the same time affirming its interests in the region through an economic-military alliance with Australia. But by announcing the AUKUS pact and slapping France in the face, the US and Australia have confirmed that in their eyes Paris is not a major player in the region’s security. The semi-unilateral policy of the US towards its allies in itself runs counter to the perspective of forming a bloc. At the same time, by reneging on its contract with France, Australia is paradoxically strengthening the interests of second or third rate imperialist sharks outside the US umbrella. This is particularly the case with Indonesia and, of course, for France itself which is ready to reinforce its links with India.

At the same time, in a region which gave birth to the so-called “non-alignment” principle, other regional powers maintain their own imperialist ambitions. Notably Indonesia and Malaysia greeted the AUKUS pact very coldly, since it upsets their own little apple carts. It’s the same for New Zealand, which immediately announced its refusal to allow the Australian nuclear submarines in its territorial waters.

As for the perspective of a possible imperialist bloc around China, there has been no movement towards this from any of the local powers. Even if China has many links, particularly commercial ones, with both distant and neighbouring countries, the isolation of China at this level is almost total. Even Russia understands the danger of a partnership with China, which could hamper its own return as a player on the world imperialist arena. Only North Korea looks like a potential client, and that says a lot. So there is no movement towards a “Chinese bloc”. The dynamic of centrifugal forces and every man for himself in imperialist rivalries has become an even more weighty element in the situation.

This chaotic imperialist situation, involving an increasing number of heavily armed actors, is full of danger for the future. As an illustration of these palpable dangers, under the Trump administration certain official spokesmen declared that there would be a direct confrontation between China and the USA before 2030. And even if France has lost a market with the cancelling of the Australian submarines contract, from 2013 six Corvettes will be delivered to Malaysia from 2023; Aster missiles are already going to Singapore, helicopters to numerous countries like Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Pakistan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. Not to mention other arms supplies from America, Russia, Israel Germany, China, Sweden…and so on.

This is the reality of aa capitalist world in full putrefaction, which can only engender chaos and barbarism.

Stopio, 9.10.21