Those who persist in the belief that Brexit means Britain turning in on itself had a rude awakening when Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison revealed a defence partnership.
It puts real flesh on the bones of a global role for Britain, a vital new alliance with our traditional Anglophone partners to face up to the challenge of China and to defend our interests and democratic values in the vast and growing Asia-Pacific region, now key to the world economy.
But providing Australia with at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to protect its coasts and commerce from the threat of China’s burgeoning naval power is about so much more than tri-nation co-operation.
In recent years, the Aussies have been targeted by Beijing’s bullies as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spreads its potent mix of military power and economic influence further into the Southern hemisphere.
Those who persist in the belief that Brexit means Britain turning in on itself had a rude awakening when Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison revealed a defence partnership
Tactics have involved tough trade sanctions against Australian imports.
And expat Australians in China have been arrested on dubious charges, in effect being held as hostages.
But the Aussies – as anyone who plays cricket or rugby against them knows – are not easily intimidated. Backing off is not the way it is done down under.
While relentlessly calling out China’s transgressions on the world stage, Canberra has been boosting its own defence forces.
And now, it has upped the ante by uniting with two other classic naval powers in this Nato-style Pacific alliance.
In Europe we have become used to the security and stability that Nato – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation covering Britain, 27 European nations, the US and Canada – has provided.
AUKUS – as the Australia, UK and US link-up has been dubbed – could do the same on the other side of the globe.
And it is also a major signalling of Washington’s future strategy.
Providing Australia with at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to protect its coasts and commerce from the threat of China’s burgeoning naval power is about so much more than tri-nation co-operation
Any European allies hoping that ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden would let Nato members continue in an unruffled state of complacency and reliance on America’s super-power status will be more than a little alarmed.
Through AUKUS, President Biden is giving teeth to what has been dubbed the ‘pivot to Asia’ –the American military, diplomatic and economic rebalance towards the Pacific, first outlined under the Barack Obama administration.
Not everyone in the Anglosphere has welcomed this week’s developments, however. Every ‘woke’ Westerners’ heroine, New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern, who had already banned US nuclear-powered warships from her nation, said Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would be unwelcome, too.
But there is a ruthless commercial streak in Miss Ardern as trade has trumped human rights in her policy-making. Poaching former Australian agricultural export markets in China has been a key feature of her policies towards Beijing.
Some have even suggested renaming her country New XiLand in honour of their relationship.
In recent years, the Aussies have been targeted by Beijing’s bullies as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spreads its potent mix of military power and economic influence further into the Southern hemisphere
China, too, is not best pleased as the CCP hopes to split the Western democracies. Meanwhile, AUKUS sees post-Brexit Britain resume its traditional ‘blue water’ role globally via naval contributions.
Our army had only operated on the European continent when dictators – Napoleon, Hitler or Stalin –threatened to control it and use it as a base to attack our islands.
Now, as Nato holds Russia at arm’s length in Eastern Europe, a Pacific version could guarantee peace in the Asia-Pacific region, making it central to the future of world prosperity.
But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and his Whitehall mandarins have some decisions to make if we are to hold our own in this alliance.
Even if it takes well into the 2030s for the new sub and destroyer programme to be completed, the Royal Australian Navy will have more nuclear-powered subs and Type 26 destroyers on patrol than the Royal Navy.
Yes, we have two mighty aircraft carriers but we lack enough coastal patrol boats to even protect our shoreline on a day-to-day basis or the frigates and destroyers needed to protect Britain’s merchant shipping in event of a crisis.
Australia is leading where we should follow. France is, of course, furious about the scrapping of its deal with Australia to deliver 12 new diesel-powered submarines.
But perhaps president Emmanuel Macron could take this opportunity to turn a long-held French dream of leading a European army into reality.
Neither Americans nor the British are going to abandon their commitment to European security but it would make sense for France, the only EU nation with nuclear weapons, to act as the leader for European Nato.
Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford
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