Australia's decision to join a special alliance, known as Aukus, with the United States and United Kingdom, and an accompanying announcement of the transfer of front-line nuclear submarine technology to Canberra, has set off a frisson in global strategic circles. France, originally contracted to build diesel-electric submarines for Australia, found its contract scrapped. That triggered widespread anger and embarrassment, prompting Paris to recall its envoys in Washington and Canberra for consultations - a rare diplomatic rebuke to those host nations. Paris says it was kept in the dark until the final hours before the announcement - and clearly felt this is not how friends would act.
Not surprisingly, China, which sees itself as the unmistakable target of the new alliance, called the move "deeply irresponsible". Official Chinese media warned Canberra that it would now be treated as an adversary. Notwithstanding Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's call to explain the decision to some regional leaders, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, a degree of wariness about the ramifications of Aukus persists. No one doubts that this presages an acceleration of the arms race. By some estimates, the Indo-Pacific's share of total global military spending has already risen in the past decade from 20 per cent to almost 30 per cent.