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Monday 8 November 2021

Webinar Video + Report - The AUKUS Security Pact and its Implications for the UK and Japan

Webinar Video + Report - The AUKUS Security Pact and its Implications for the UK and Japan

On Wednesday 3 November 2021, The Japan Society’s Chairman Bill Emmott hosted the latest edition in our ongoing weekly free webinar series, this time focusing on the AUKUS Security Pact. The pact consists of a trilateral security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, centring on the supply of eight nuclear-powered submarines. To discuss this agreement and its implications for both Japan and the United Kingdom, Bill Emmott was joined by two distinguished scholars: Kiichi Fujiwara, Director of the Security Studies Unit of the Institute for Future Initiatives and Professor of International Politics at the University of Tokyo, and Alessio Patalano, Professor of War & Strategy in East Asia at King’s College London.

The webinar began with opening remarks from both speakers as they fleshed out the background to the AUKUS agreement and Indo-Pacific relations. Patalano focused on three crucial aspects in understanding the UK’s broader perspective on the topic: the Europe Indo-Pacific Nexus (in particular the UK Indo-Pacific geopolitical framework), the Prosperity Security Nexus, and the Military Constabulary Nexus. Regarding the Indo-Pacific Nexus, Patalano flagged up how AUKUS is a recognition of the Indo-Pacific’s importance in international geopolitics and highlighted its relation to Technology and Maritime Order. The Prosperity Security Nexus relates to the UK’s belief that while both prosperity and security sit in the same space, one cannot exist without the other. In other words, both concepts matter equally, with the correct course of action being a question of prioritisation, rather than selecting one over the other. Finally, the Military Constabulary Nexus represents a down payment in terms of the possibility to rebalance the operational space; speaking to the military dimension of the Indo-Pacific issue, as well as providing a political commitment and road map for the implementation of an Indo-Pacific tilt.

Fujiwara then laid out a Japanese perspective on the agreement. AUKUS is a welcome development for Japan because it broadens alliances in the Indo-Pacific region and, crucially, involves Australia, with which Japan has a security agreement. However, Japan remains without access to much of the defence information shared by countries such as Canada, US, New Zealand, UK and Australia, and therefore will wish to develop a defence agreement with the UK. Fujiwara also showed reservation about AUKUS bringing about changes to China’s behaviour. He stated: “Strengthening an alliance is different from what we call coercive diplomacy. Changing the behaviour of others is different from preventing the other of doing something else. I doubt if AUKUS (…) will have an effect in changing China’s policy to a more western friendly position”. Finally, he iterated that Japan’s position regarding trade and the economy is quite contradictory, in the sense that while Japan wishes to impede China’s possible actions, it is still reliant on a trade agreement with China.

The discussion then moved to a Q&A session, with the Japan Society Chairman fielding a number of questions from the audience regarding AUKUS. When asked about the success and implementation of the nuclear-powered deal, Fujiwara replied by reminding the audience that many details of the agreement are still being worked out, therefore it is not yet possible to make accurate predictions regarding its success or failure.

On the topic of how the inevitable worsening of relations between the AUKUS members and China and France should be handled, Patalano responded by first stating that the UK had assessed the risks and determined that advancing with the deal was worthwhile. He added that China’s response is less important than France’s reaction to the deal, due in large part to the Lancaster agreement (a defence and cooperation agreement between the UK and France). Regarding the handling of the situation, Patalano clarified that more time is needed, in particular because of the upcoming French Presidential Election, which could change the tone of the current situation. Moreover, there is a contrast between the political narrative and the reality of the situation. He stated: “at the surface, the political narrative is one of outrage and betrayal, and at the substance level the working relationship continues”.

Finally, the speakers were questioned on the possibility of AUKUS opening the door to other agreements in the Indo-Pacific. Fujiwara remarked that AUKUS could indeed be the beginning of several defence plans, as every nation wishes to be included in an alliance and therefore strengthen their power.

Report by Gonçalo Navega

Watch the Webinar Highlights

Webinar Full Video

The full video of the webinar is now available on the Japan Society YouTube channel. You can find all the details and more recordings from the webinar series here.