The Platform


“Nuclear Armageddon in the Indo-Pacific” — is the gory tale told by recent developments in the political world. Here’s what happened.

On September 17th, French President Emmanuel Macron recalled the French ambassador from the United States — a decision viewed apprehensively by observing nations. Not only was this the first time that America’s oldest ally had ever done so in their two-hundred-year-old alliance, but the recall also marked one of the biggest divisions amongst Western allies since 2003. For many countries, the decision was only one among many in the fast-paced modern environment. The geopolitical climate, however, created much more controversy.

The diplomatic breakdown resulted from the formation of AUKUS, a defense compact in which Australia will be provided with nuclear submarine technology. This had severely angered the French, as they had previously signed a deal with Australia towards a similar nuclear goal, but was now “stabbed in the back” by America, causing France to lose thousands of new jobs as well as billions of dollars in revenue. However, one should not be worried about this minor fallout, as this dispute will only cause Washington to be more involved with Paris in future agreements.

Both nations have a vested interest in maintaining the Franco-American alliance, which can be recently seen with the French ambassador returning to Washington. The more critical concern is that of the receiving country, Australia, now possessing nuclear facilities and capabilities in the most paramount region on Earth, the Indo-Pacific.

Although no statement on this was given out to the media, it is presumed that AUKUS was formed to try and regulate China’s military muscle in the region, particularly with their recent maritime border disputes in the South China Sea and growing arsenal of advanced military technology.

Even before AUKUS was established, Australia’s relationship with China was slowly diminishing. Canberra had previously called out China for human rights abuses, growing their influence within Australian politics, and most recently, called for an independent investigation into the COVID-19 origins without consulting Beijing.

Despite the immense profitability of the Chinese-Australian trade market, bringing in tens of billions of dollars annually, these factors still led to the gradual deterioration of economic relations between the two. This was very important, as, from a geopolitical perspective, Australia was one of the few influential nations left in the Western world to have a friendly relationship with China (other than some European countries).

Australia had a chance to amend relations before, but now, because of AUKUS, it indirectly states that Australia senses China as a threat. No matter if Australia was coerced by the United States and the United Kingdom to form AUKUS, Beijing will only recognize the final product: Australia having nuclear technology to use against China if necessary.

The formation of AUKUS reveals that Australia wants other countries to see them differently on the world stage. Canberra wants to be known as a military power that is one to be reckoned with, especially through their “forever partnership” with the United States, where Australia will likely join military conflicts that its American allies are part of, including one with China.

However, there are many other differentiating views on AUKUS, particularly with Southeast Asia. If an armed conflict were to ever break out between the United States and China, air and naval attacks between Australia and China are much more bound to happen, with ASEAN countries being caught in the midst of it. Even Australia’s closest ally in the region, Singapore, has hinted concerns, especially as much of their trade comes from the two nations, and many of Singapore’s citizens can trace their ancestry to China and Australia, which may cause internal tensions within the country itself.

Other ASEAN countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have also condemned this action, as hundreds of millions of people live on these islands, millions of whom can instantly die when surrounded by two nuclear powers on either side. With Australia’s new incentive to be at the forefront of modern geopolitics and global military affairs, Australia won’t easily back down, meaning more possible deaths for innocent Southeast Asians who are caught in the middle, and directly opposing ASEAN’s ideals as a “zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality.”

Other than countering Beijing, AUKUS was also formed, to a lesser extent, to hinder another military giant: Russia. Although AUKUS is just a risk, and not exactly a threat towards Moscow, the formation of the defense alliance shows the Kremlin that they can also spread their own nuclear-submarine technology to other countries, particularly to those in Asia and Eastern Europe, as they have had a long-lasting political influence on these nations for decades.

Because the West cannot exactly monitor Moscow’s actions all the time, who knows what can happen if Russia starts to market this nuclear-submarine technology to the wrong hands. If a smaller NATO country in Eastern Europe is attacked by some of this submarine technology that got in the wrong hands, all the other NATO members will be forced into action, including the United States, which means that Australia will also be pulled into the war due to their “forever partnership.” This may cause China to start mobilizing, believing Australia is preparing to attack them, which will just lead to another stage of unnecessary stand-offs on the other side of the world.

For all of the reasons aforementioned, the implementation of AUKUS is a massive miscalculation by the U.S., the UK, and Australia, as it had more negative effects than it had positive. First, AUKUS motivated Beijing and Moscow even further to develop more defensive and offensive capabilities, which becomes more devastating as the world globalizes. This also angered many governments, including close allies like India, Singapore, and Malaysia, who are worried about the consequences that a nuclear war in the Indo-Pacific can have on their own nations. Although not as impactful, AUKUS also caused a massive dispute between the centuries-old allies of France and the United States, causing some analysts to point fingers towards the possibility of the transatlantic alliance getting weaker.

All of these geopolitical problems could have been avoided if AUKUS was never announced, as the United States already has an array of (non-nuclear) defenses in the Indo-Pacific region in various nations. The possible outcomes as a result of AUKUS are numerous and considering the geopolitical climate of the Indo-Pacific, decision-makers must act immediately to diminish tensions in the volatile region. If the Indo-Pacific was a balanced scale, we can only hope AUKUS won’t be the final nudge.

Sanjan Kanajanavar is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley pursuing a double major in Political Economy and Global Studies. Sanjan's previous roles include serving as content director of a foreign policy organization, where he oversaw the production of over 170 articles. His passion for learning more about the world is evident with his research articles and love for travel. Sanjan speaks fluent English and Kannada, has limited proficiency in Chinese, and is currently learning French at his university.