What AUKUS Means to Britain: Appraising the Benefits and Challenges in an Election Year

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Abstract

In March 2024, British premier Rishi Sunak declared a “national endeavour” with a new fund to “secure the future of the UK’s thriving defence nuclear industry”, to the tune of nearly £1 billion over the next decade. In conjunction with the announcement, the Conservative-led government released its highly-anticipated Defence Nuclear Enterprise Command Paper, setting out, for the first time, what would be required for the UK to deliver its nuclear deterrent. This paints a vision of a long-term commitment to the country’s civilian and defence nuclear sectors, including upgrading key naval bases and other nuclear weapons infrastructure, the provision of nuclear skills training, and a pathway for the new Dreadnought Class submarine class. The Command Paper also gave a prominent role to AUKUS, the trilateral security agreement between Australia, the UK and the US. Ahead of a general election, this article takes stock of the implications of AUKUS for the UK, appraising the risks and rewards of the trilateral pact for the country, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Although the strategic rationale of AUKUS has never been formally articulated, there is general scholarly and policy consensus that it concerns the growing strategic challenge posed by potential adversaries, most notably China. Still, the impacts of AUKUS on a country level vary greatly between the three partners. Indeed, with the announcement on 8 April 2024 that Japan may potentially collaborate on the advanced capabilities aspects of AUKUS, differentiation may grow. Strikingly, it can be argued that the UK may have the most to gain and least to lose of the AUKUS partners. Some of these benefits stem from the integrative aspects of working in a tight coalition of trusted partners, enabling the UK to develop a strategic foothold in the Indo-Pacific. Yet there are a number of more prosaic benefits, including building a future nuclear workforce and developing economically deprived regions. At the same time, London will be cognisant that there are significant implications of playing a more strategic role in the Indo-Pacific, the nexus of sharpening rivalry between Washington and Beijing.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationSecurity and Defence PLuS Collected Essays
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2024

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