The landmark pact of AUKUS signals the gravity of security challenges in the region, which finally has jolted the West out of its slumber. Greater cohesion and sharing of the most prized military advantage are not only necessary now, but remain the single most critical factor in the race against time for the most pervasive threat ever threatening the foundation of the rules based order and the resilience of the West since the great wars and the Cold War.
Efforts by the West to court greater responses and measures that can stand up to Beijing’s power manovures have been largely futile, as these regional players are too deeply embedded under Beijing’s orbit and economic grip to risk their future economic survivability and the ensuing internal political survival.
Seeing the subdued response by these players in lacking the seriousness shoring up their own capacities and defences, the West is left with no choice but to stem the tide early on. Having learned from past Cold War experiences and needing to protect the first line of defence, realistic measures of deterrence and containment are the natural responses.
This is reflected in Canberra’s truthful, open and honest acknowledgment of the threat it faces, and is mirrored in the needed actions that will assure its long term security and survival. It remains pragmatic and highly realistic on its current vulnerability, and has also made clear its intent to continue working with Beijing in an open, transparent and engaging manner that will further foster diplomatic and meaningful long term fruitful relationships based on mutual trust and respect. At the very least, it is mindful of its security needs and is doing the right thing, albeit the potential repercussions.
Australia and New Zealand remain the first line of Western presence and containment in the region, and they both cannot afford to fall under Beijing’s measures or power threats in deja vu domino effect. Both of them remain the face and frontline of the West. Expectations on ASEAN and regional conflict prevention mechanisms with various deterrence and confidence building measures have failed to lower the tone and depth of Beijing’s hard power actions and coercive efforts in the region that have fuelled regional fear and deepened regional trap.
Only a few players directly at the forefront of future crises and conflicts, especially Manila and existing Western allies including Tokyo and Seoul have charted a far more strategic, urgent and holistic early measures and deterrence approach through their various joint defence tie ups and reciprocal access agreements which have also attracted other players that acknowledge the realistic set up and trends on the ground.
For Malaysia, it has been unwilling to take bold, gigantic, decisive and long term security and hard power deterrence moves like AUKUS, fearing negative implications which it argues will backfire on its own security calculations. Consequently, Kuala Lumpur relies on a mixture of gradual defensive improvements without inciting risky reactions and fears especially from Beijing, and giving no pretexts for it to justify further escalatory tension. By relying on this gradual and seemingly “harmless” build-up of defensive measures including on LCS, radar improvement, the periodical purchase of assets including the FA-50 Korean jets and others, it hopes that these will be enough to safeguard its defensive needs all while at the same time reduce retaliatory justifications from Beijing and other powers.
By doing so and adhering to its neutrality, it hopes to play its regional leadership power by steering clear of the Sino-US conflict by giving no reasons for it to be sucked into the spiral of endless security dilemma and arms race, through rebuking escalatory moves especially AUKUS in accusing it of worsening risks of regional nuclear proliferation.
Despite all the rhetoric and foreign policy limitations, the reality remains that urgency of time is not on any regional country’s side, and that the fastest, most cost effective and most impactful deterrence and defensive measure will be to shift Malaysia’s defence and foreign policy alignment to bandwagon with the greater Western security counterbalance capacity. Just by moving closer to welcome these needed Western security assurances, either through opening up more access points and bases and integrating clearer intention to host assets and personnel in strategic locations, among many others, will be the safest and surest bet to gigantically secure Malaysia’s security and deterrence capacity against any future potential incursions or threats.
It will save the country millions if not billions of dollars in the long and costly process of revamping its security and defensive overhaul, and also saving it the crucial time and urgency. Alas, Malaysia’s own trap and pandering will seemingly make this impossible, at its future expense, while other regional players have been steps ahead in their strategic calculations and wise projections of navigating through these turbulent times with great urgency. Malaysia remains blinded in its ignorance and trapped in its perceived “consistent and influential” foreign and defence policy orientation that has “stood the test of time over decades” that it has been so proudly trying to preserve, despite the obvious changes and realities on the ground.
AUKUS is a natural inescapable reality born out of primarily Canberra’s open fear and acknowledgment of its vulnerability and being virtually a sitting duck against the might of Beijing’s long arm of hard power capacities. Canberra’s capability to take this route is also pillared by its Western identity and support, but other non Western players in the region are not limited by this advantage as they too, receive huge openings for Western security assurances but remained tied by their conventional policy option and regional norms.
The sheer willingness and commitment by Washington to extend the sensitive and most prized nuclear capacity in powering the submarines to allies, symbolises the integrated deterrence capacity at its pinnacle, and that Washington sees the future that is increasingly in need for a multifaceted and shared burden approach among trusted allies, which will give more rooms and cost saving measures for Washington to both strengthen its global primacy and leadership and in having a self propelling and self creating power extension momentum that will require minimal additional pervasive investment from scratch.
AUKUS remains inescapable, as the least the West can do to halt Beijing’s growing aggression in its plan of pushing the West out, and undermining the strength of its allies in the region. While critics have argued on the eventual fragile deterrence and limited depth of the threat and capacities of the submarines both in sheer volume and the lengthy timeframe for them to be operable, the real takeaway message from this venture alone is enough to alter the perceptive balance of power and to send the strongest message yet to both Beijing and Moscow, and regional players alike, that this region remains ground zero and that the West is now more united and committed than ever before in stemming this early on.
Both containment pursuit and the prevention of the domino effect are the top underlying justifications, and that AUKUS is just the start of further domino impact of similar nature in its own right in creating similar moves by players that have the most vulnerable setting to Beijing’s hard power agenda. Other players are realizing this inevitable reality, albeit too late in pushing for any significant impact in the near term period.