One Question Quiz

PoliticsMay 13, 2024

I don’t know what Aukus is and at this point I’m afraid to ask


The USA and China are beefing, Winston Peters is getting sued by some Australian guy, and Helen Clark and Don Brash are friends now? Here’s everything you need to know about Aukus but were too afraid to ask.

What is Aukus? 

Aukus, which stands for Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is a military partnership between those three countries. In short, the UK and US will help Australia buy some nuclear submarines. It also includes a promise to co-operate on military technology, surveillance and information sharing.

Why does it exist? 

Because the USA and China are mad at each other. Particularly, they’re having a bit of a tussle over who has more influence in the Pacific region. The Pacific ocean is an important shipping channel, the islands are strategic military locations if there is a conflict in the region, and the bits of ocean around the islands (exclusive economic zones) could be valuable for deep-sea drilling or other exploitation. The tussle naturally doesn’t involve a heap of thought about the people within these areas.

China has been getting friendly with several Pacific nations recently, wooing them with gifts of loans and infrastructure. It seems to be keen to establish a military base somewhere in the region. The US doesn’t like that, so they’re puffing out their chest and telling China to back off. 

Why isn’t Aukus… Anzukas? 

New Zealand is a Pacific nation too, so Aukus seems like something you might expect us to join. But the deal is centred around nuclear submarines, so it is a non-starter in New Zealand. We’ve had a strong anti-nuclear policy since 1984, and nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships aren’t allowed in our waters. We used to be part of a similar deal with Australia and the US called, you guessed it, ANZUS, but they kicked us out in 1986 because of our stance on nuclear ships. 

Foreign minister and fan of Aukus, Winston Peters. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

What is this ‘pillar two’ that I keep hearing mentioned? 

Even though New Zealand isn’t part of the main Aukus deal, we do have the option of signing up to a lower-level part. The nuclear submarine bit is known as pillar one, while pillar two is focused on cybersecurity, information sharing, and developing hypersonic missiles.

New Zealand is currently thinking about whether it wants to join pillar two. The government hasn’t officially made a decision, but foreign minister Winston Peters has been using increasingly positive language about the idea and seems pretty keen to work closer with the United States. 

So far, no other countries have signed up to pillar two, but there has been speculation that Japan, South Korea, India and Canada could all potentially be interested. 

What are the potential problems with joining pillar two? 

First of all, China might get mad at us. China is our biggest trading partner and buys lots of milk. Aukus was specifically created to counter China, so signing up would be a big middle finger to our best customer. That’s part of an even bigger question about New Zealand’s international identity. Do we want to keep aligning ourselves with the UK and the other former British colonies just because they’re part of the Anglosphere, or should we be trying to form closer alliances with Asia? 

And even though pillar two doesn’t require us to support nuclear submarines, it is still part of a nuclear-focused deal, so it raises some questions about whether it is in line with our anti-nuclear policy. 

What are Helen Clark and Don Brash going on about? 

Former prime minister Helen Clark really doesn’t want New Zealand to join Aukus. In fact, she co-wrote an opinion piece in the NZ Herald alongside her old rival Don Brash. Basically, they want New Zealand to remain independent rather than picking a side in the increasingly hostile turf war between the US and China. 

And what’s going on with Winston Peters and Bob Carr? Actually, who is Bob Carr? 

Bob Carr is a retired Australian politician and, most relevantly, the former Australian foreign minister. He doesn’t like Aukus and doesn’t think New Zealand should join. 

Winston Peters was asked about Carr’s comments in an interview on RNZ. In response, Peters made allegedly defamatory statements, which included allegations about Carr’s closeness with ChinaCarr has since said he intends to sue Peters for defamation. 

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