The purpose of the AUKUS partnership is peace and stability in a challenging geopolitical environment. A powerful new initiative has been developed to enable that vision.

When the AUKUS agreement was announced last year, all headlines around the security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States focussed on the delivery of nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed submarines to the Royal Australian Navy. 

However, Professor Craig Stockings, UNSW Director of Security & Defence PLuS, said AUKUS is about a great deal more than technology and weaponry.

“AUKUS is a group of like-minded countries interested in maintaining the status quo in the Indo Pacific area,” he said. 

“The aim is to maintain peace.

“AUKUS is not about fighting. It's about deterrence and ensuring our way of life. Why are submarines necessary for that? They provide a deterrent to dissuade anyone from breaking the rules-based order.”

Professor Stockings acknowledges the threat from various geopolitical forces is real. AUKUS is a defensive reaction to those threats. “There is nothing stopping nations peacefully coexisting within an arena of competition,” he said. 

“It simply means we have to adjust our systems and thinking to accommodate that.”

The PLuS Alliance: The human factor

The PLuS Alliance, a collaboration between Arizona State University, King’s College London, and UNSW, is a means of doing just that. Its purpose is to combine the expertise of three leading defence research intensive universities with defence industry and government sectors, with a focus on solving complex military challenges.

The core initiative of the PLuS Alliance – Security & Defence PLuS – was launched at the Advancing AUKUS Conference on November 14.

Security & Defence PLuS expands upon the original PLuS Alliance partnership. It has a focus on advancing and supporting statecraft, research and commercialisation of competitive advantage capabilities for AUKUS defence forces, and policy in the spirit of the AUKUS partnership.

The PLuS Alliance, and Security & Defence PLuS, introduces the human factor that Professor Stockings believes is required in AUKUS.

“AUKUS is not a technological panacea,” he said.

“Wars involve people.”

“We sometimes view technology as a silver bullet. But a hypersonic missile is just a tool. What about the human dimension? I hope the Alliance will merge these streams - the human and the technological. They need to exist together.”

Rapid change: The consequential decade

Change needs to happen fast. 

Vice Admiral Professor Paul Maddison, Director UNSW Defence Research Institute, calls the 2020s “the consequential decade”. 

“I see AUKUS as an expression of a strategic desire to speed up our response to threats from the autocratic capitals,” Vice Admiral Professor Maddison said. 

“Decisions are being made now in Beijing and Moscow that are leading to some very difficult global challenges in this decade.”

“In addition to the critical transfer of nuclear-powered submarine technology to Australia, AUKUS is about Australians, Americans and Brits ideating together, discovering new ways to seize operational advantage from seabed to space, rapidly progressing to deployable prototypes, and then working with industry and governments to scale up to commercialised capabilities for the warfighter.”

“We need to identify and remove impediments to this process that are systemic, regulatory and cultural, in order to truly accelerate the change that all three nations need. This is not business as usual.”

Vice Admiral Professor Maddison said there is a strategic urgency around AUKUS that is being driven by “the pacing threat” - challenges presented to the post-World War Two rules-based international order by China and other totalitarian states.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a glaring example of the change,” Vice Admiral Professor Maddison said. 

“Likewise, the extraordinary build-up of the People's Liberation Army and the abuse of international law in the South China Sea is a signal that change needs to happen quickly.”

Peace, prosperity and regional goodwill

Regional competitiveness will never go away, Professor Stockings said. But he sees AUKUS and the PLuS Alliance as a peaceful means of promoting and maintaining long-term stability in the region. 

“While much good work has been done to date in Australia to bring academia, industry and the defence and policy community together to begin to frame answers to the questions that underpin the AUKUS initiative, the PLuS Alliance intends to go one step further, and to make AUKUS-related connections across all three nations,” he said.

It is this free flow of knowledge and expertise between nations, universities, industry and government that Professor Stockings sees as the solution to a significant global problem. 

“The ideal for me is that in five years, AUKUS has brought about a stable balance of power in the Indo Pacific region,” he said. 

“This stability is based on deterrence as well as peace, prosperity, economic exchange and learning to live with each other.”

Vice Admiral Professor Maddison said that through AUKUS, the three nations will develop capabilities that will be shared with our trusted partners and allies in the region. The core strength of western democracies, he said, is our shared commitment to freedom and international law, and our determination to defend them together, if ever deterrence fails.

“AUKUS has the potential to shape collective opinion in the Indo Pacific region around the desire to sustain an open and rules-based international order,” Vice Admiral Professor Maddison said. 
“It will also increase our deterrence capability to ensure our sovereignty and independence.”

“Finally, I see AUKUS as a catalyst to ensure that if Australia must respond to a threat, we have a ready fighting force that can defend and secure our vital interests and then return home, while sustaining its ability to shape a better world for us all.”