Not surprisingly, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have decided to deepen diplomatic, security and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including through cooperation with partners, i.e. likely Japan and India in the near future.
The announcement to support mutual security and defence interests and promote more intensive information and technology sharing, building on the long-standing bilateral relationship, must be seen in the context of an intensifying systemic rivalry between the US and China and the emerging bifurcation of the global system.
Together with QUAD and other Anglosphere formations, the partners will seek to promote deeper integration of security and defence-related relationships in the areas of science, technology, industrial bases, supply chains and security and defence capabilities. This is about hard power projection in the midst of an emerging second system pole in the region — China. But the trend towards new geopolitical and geo-economic constellations in the Anglosphere has been emerging for some time now. The QUAD, CPTPP and now AUKUS are increasingly seen as US-led counterbalance efforts against China’s own geo-economic and geo-political projects like BRI, SCO, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in the Indo-Pacific region. Perhaps Japan and India may join the AUKUS turning it into the hottest JA(U)KUSI in global affairs right now.
By contrast, the EU seeks to be a geopolitical player, however Brussels announced on the same day its new major geoeconomic project “Global Gateway” as a counterinitiative vs. China’s BRI without coordinating this step with its biggest partner, the US. Simultanously, the US announced the major security pact with the UK and Australia without coordinating it with Brussels, Paris or Berlin. The move by AUKUS was immediately perceived as a “stab in the back” by the main European ally in the Indo-Pacific region — France. It is believed to be one of the lowest points in US-French relations in the last two decades, which could also have implications for the future transatlantic approach to China.
Clearly, AUKUS mirrors the major geopolitical shifts towards the Indo-Pacific, which means bad news for the EU in general, but also for France as the main Indo-Pacific member of the EU in particular. Despite the latest positive developments linked to the launch of the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy and the strategic documents of France, Germany and the Netherlands regarding their bilateral approach to the region, it is obvious that the EU must first become a security actor in the Indo-Pacific in order to be taken seriously by its partners in the Anglosphere. Once again, the EU might overlook the geopolitical realities on the ground, namely that the global power competition is moving eastwards.
The West is clearly fragmented on this issue: the US and its European partners are not on the same page geopolitically. The trend points to a growing split between the Anglosphere and the EU when it comes to dealing with the “Dragonbear” (China and Russia) amid an emerging bifurcation of the global system. The fact that the US is willing to spend more political capital and invest in security and defence ties with the UK and Australia before reaching out to EU powers is quite revealing.
Hard conclusions need to be drawn in Brussels, Berlin and Paris as to whether they are not increasingly isolating themselves from their most important transatlantic partner due to their approach to the Indo-Pacific region and China in particular.
Against this background, we are witnessing a major geopolitical shift in this region amid the global power competition between the US and China, and the EU strategy of oscillating between Washington and Beijing will not be successful in the long run if EU powers like France, Germany and the Netherlands seek to have a seat in these fluid geopolitical formations. The EU and the member states must prevent a possible situation in which Europe becomes the geopolitical backyard of global affairs.