Sunday, June 23, 2024

For New Zealand, the benefits of joining AUKUS Pillar II outweigh the costs – The Diplomat



I recently mentioned The case for New Zealand joining Pillar II (PII) of AUKUS, which relates to the sharing of the most important state-of-the-art high technologies. While in most cases these technologies are only in their infancy, they will prove important for emerging fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

Despite the immense benefits of joining PII, the case against it has been heavily publicized in the New Zealand media, including by high-profile former government officials. Some commentators seem inclined to acknowledge the immense benefits of engaging in PII. Without a counterbalancing position, the New Zealand public is unable to appreciate the benefits and risks of each position.

The motivation for my article was to provide a perspective on the advantages of PII, and I have now received a number of criticisms. In this article, I answer these in order to promote the quality of public debate. Overall, I firmly believe that the arguments for AUKUS being included in PII are stronger than those against it.

Critique 1: AUKUS makes war in the region more likely


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Arguably, AUKUS reduces the likelihood of war. There are many reasons for this, and it also pays to extend our view beyond AUKUS to the broader geostrategic development.

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First, Australia is eventually going to have eight nuclear-powered submarines. Before that it will buy five Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines. It will also have the most state-of-the-art capabilities among all its forces that will be interoperable with its AUKUS partners. Beijing must consider these strategic capabilities when it calculates whether a war, even a limited one, can be won in the coming years—not only the US military (more on that below) but Will also face the Australian Army.

Let’s elaborate further. The US military will increase the rotation of air, land and sea assets through Australia in the coming years. In short, US forces are becoming permanently embedded in Australia to secure the southernmost part of Asia. This is another consideration that China should keep in mind.

Furthermore, in surveying the region, Beijing sees that Japan has about 50,000 US forces and South Korea 20,000, and the United States is refurbishing its military bases on Okinawa, Guam and recently built new bases in the northern Philippines. Baseline access is achieved (just 100 miles off the coast of Taiwan).


Also, Japan has approved a doubling of its military budget by 2027 (making it the world’s third largest military power by spending). It will support military modernisation, acquisition of long-range missiles and replacement of naval ships.

And then Beijing needs to recognize that the US military is redeploying to fight in the Indo-Pacific and consider the emergence and development of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). Officially it is an informal (read: eventually formal) grouping (read: rescue alliance) consisting of the United States, India, Japan and Australia – the four major maritime liberal democratic powers of the Indo-Pacific. In the middle of their (Winky) geographical diamond is China.

Does all this increase or decrease the likelihood of war? This is hardly a judgment call. Consider that China’s military expansion and actions have, until recently, been largely unchecked (allowing China to claim ownership of the South China Sea and militarize despite an international tribunal ruling finding it illegal), Generally, as a state’s relative military power increases, so do its chances of successfully conducting military operations. The United States’ broad regional response – in which AUKUS plays only one role – increases the costs and risks of letting China use its military forces. Strategists in the US, Australia and Britain are likely to reach this conclusion.

Overall, it seems more logical that AUKUS as one piece of a larger counter-balancing strategy decreases rather than increases the likelihood of war and maintains peace and stability in the region.

Critique 2#: AUKUS is a major driver of the militarization of the Indo-Pacific region

A militarization cycle is underway whether we like it or not, and it is to be expected that New Zealand will respond to AUKUS regardless. The way AUKUS was loudly announced in the region led it to acquire a kind of talisman status, but it did not fire,

We have a kind of action-reaction cycle in this area. It’s not great, but hopefully the competing parties will be able to recognize each other’s defensive motivations over time. From there stabilizers can be established (arms control agreements; confidence building initiatives; track I and II diplomacy; regular summits; military hotlines, etc.).

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Facilitating this is logical for New Zealand, and is not inconsistent with AUKUS being involved in PII. Indeed, this is in line with New Zealand’s independent foreign policy which seeks to make decisions in the national interest while balancing relationships with multiple – even competing – partners.

Critique #3: New Zealand will receive emerging technologies without joining AUKUS

First, I recommend reading the “Advanced Capabilities” section of AUKUS Factsheet, These are important 4IR technologies, and the document declares that work on them will proceed on a tripartite basis. Existing partners (US, UK and Australia) will integrate, test and experiment with these technologies, and accelerate their adoption and subsequent improvements. The key to this is sharing sensitive information and establishing specialist workstreams. Industry-industry linkages will develop.


Nowhere does the document say that these technologies, the information-sharing processes to advance them, and the broad economic benefits to be derived from them, will be readily shared with others, including NATO countries or close military allies such as Japan or South Korea. Therefore, it seems a risky bet to assume that they will be readily given to countries like New Zealand, given that it is a US partner, but not an ally.

Some technological advances are taking place in the private sector or have been adapted from military technology. Ergo, the critique goes, emerging technologies will be available to New Zealand on the open market. It is not clear to me that this will be the case across the board and, in fact, it is entirely reasonable to expect that Washington will offer strategically important technologies to AUKUS members first in order to ensure a first-mover advantage, and beyond which the spread can be inhibited or strictly controlled. Them.

If we – and possibly the UK and Australia – can guarantee access to these technologies outside of OCs, then why does PII even exist? My impression is that information-sharing protocols and communication channels between the United States and its closest partners (AUKUS nations) will be upgraded based on PII technologies. The way they are used and specially calibrated will mean that the New Zealand consumer cannot “plug-and-play” these systems using “off-the-shelf” technologies from the market Is.

Therefore, without engaging in PII, New Zealand will face major obstacles to staying within the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement and, ultimately, its military will struggle to interact competently with like-minded forces. It also means that New Zealand’s military will be less effective at responding to natural disasters at home and in the South Pacific.

Finally, PII is a mechanism to bring together the expertise and resources of AUKUS members; This will serve to foster innovation among them, while reducing bureaucratic barriers and knowledge gaps. Ultimately, the AUKUS nations are going to devote considerable intellectual and monetary resources to this, so I emphasize again – they are unlikely to give it all.

Critique 4#: New Zealand will give up its independent foreign policy

The foreign policy of any country, including New Zealand, is not truly independent. On some issues, like every state, it takes opposite positions with others, and on others it aligns. Occasionally the government makes significantly independent decisions, such as its anti-nuclear legislation in the 1980s and again when the Clark-led Labor government excluded New Zealand from the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq (although Wellington sent soldiers and engineers after the start of the American occupation).

However, these are notable and rare examples, and on many things New Zealand is not “independent” in an unfettered sense and is influenced by the changing regional and global situation.

Relatedly, some are concerned about New Zealand’s relationship with China. In view of this, Wellington should show extreme caution regarding AUKUS, lest the country face trade retaliation. I agree that saying “other markets will be found” is curt. Certainly it will not be easy to rapidly shift New Zealand’s exports to new markets (if it were, it would probably have already happened) and the short-term pain to the economy, and exports in particular, could be significant.

But losing trade with China is a worst-case scenario. The risk is not zero (as Australia, Norway, Sweden and South Korea have all discovered in recent years when crossing Beijing) but China, which currently trying to improve its global imagewould have to calculate that punishing New Zealand economically would do more harm than good, which China perceives as a “comprehensive strategic partner,

New Zealand also regularly calls for a diplomacy-first approach to international tensions. There is no reason, even if New Zealand does join AUKUS PII, why Wellington cannot reiterate its support for diplomacy as well as cooperation on trade and other matters. In fact, it should.

It is also fair that the Labor government fears the domestic political consequences of a deterioration in China-New Zealand relations. But allegedly standing up to US threats in the 1980s did not deter Labor. Will the Kiwis now respond similarly, or will they turn on their own government?


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Critique 5#: AUKUS will contribute to nuclear proliferation and undermine New Zealand’s anti-nuclear advocacy.

To be clear – New Zealand will not be a party to Pillar I of the Agreement which refers to nuclear submarines. This is in line with the country’s independent foreign policy. Will New Zealand’s anti-nuclear credentials be damaged yet again? It just can’t be ruled out; Nevertheless, either outcome can be controlled through judicious diplomacy.


Fundamentally, Pillar II of AUKUS is a high-tech/emerging technology and information-sharing agreement between the three current members. New Zealand is not currently party to it, nor are any other countries.

The potential benefits of joining PII are enormous – they are not just about the military, but about the future of New Zealand’s economic vitality, its desire to remain a First World nation, and the confidence that even the Northeast A limited war in Asia (over Taiwan or the South China Sea) would prove disastrous for global trade. Furthermore, joining New Zealand would not be in keeping with Wellington’s brand of independent foreign policy.

Although joining PII may complicate aspects of New Zealand’s diplomacy, the risk of significant consequences appears high, and the benefits of joining Pillar II outweigh the potential costs.