The AUKUS deal could help contribute to a dangerous military build-up in our region, making the chance of conflict even greater.

AUKUS is a major development in how Australia sees its future security.

With the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, the deal can be viewed as a clear act of what we security scholars call deterrence – the threat of the use of military technology or action to prevent one state being attacked by another.

It’s the same kind of thinking that characterised the Cold War, where the build-up of deadly nuclear arsenals and the idea of ‘mutually assured destruction’ reigned supreme. If one state launched a nuke at the other, it would be met with the same reply, turning whole cities to rubble.

AUKUS is meant to help contain China. It could instead provoke Beijing. Photo: sandsun/stock.adobe.com

In the past, deterrence has not been a cornerstone of Australia’s security outlook. That has recently changed as we, our allies, and other countries in our region look to contain a more powerful and forceful China.

The problem with this is that Australia’s deterrence strategy is increasingly based on militarisation — the stockpiling of weapons and preparation for future wars. Richard H Kohn also defines militarisation as a process that codes the degree to which a society’s institutions, policies, behaviours, thought and values are devoted to military power and shaped by war.

This is one of the major risks Australia now faces when it comes to AUKUS – the increasing turn to militarisation all across our region, which is not only rapidly expanding but has been largely left unchecked. By acquiring nuclear-powered submarines Australia is buying into a deadly game.

The other problem with deterrence is that it is built on the assumption that all states view things the same way and act in the same way. It’s like arguing everyone likes the same food because it is food. It’s a silly idea – and not grounded in reality or true to history. Simply put, what is deterrence for some states will look like escalation to others.

Another risk is that weapons do not always contribute to greater security. Look at the scourge of gun violence in the United States as a tragic reminder. As more guns are acquired, more gun-related deaths and injuries result; gun culture is both the cause and the effect.

As a counter-argument, we are told by important figures that the absence of conventional warfare in our region means that deterrence is working. But again this isn’t what we have seen historically.

In the past, military build-ups have signalled the beginning stages of warfare. Whether true or not, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine was sold as a deterrence against the threat of an expanding NATO – a military alliance of states that Moscow sees as a direct threat to Russia’s borders and sovereignty. The fact that this has led to an expansion of NATO shows the shortcomings of such thinking.

All of this raises two other important questions. Is a war with China predetermined or inevitable? And are we incapable of imagining non-military solutions to global conflicts? It is not sufficient to whinge, “But China started it!” The adults in the room should be able to imagine and articulate diplomatic and non-military alternatives.

One thing is certain, if the region continues to see the stockpiling of military technologies and capabilities, war becomes more likely. And that comes with a deadly price we can ill afford.

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