The United States, Britain, and Australia are forming a trilateral security pact to counter China, which will involve assistance in developing nuclear-powered submarines in Australia.
The effort, dubbed AUUKUS, was introduced by U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. They framed it as the next important step in a long-standing partnership, The Guardian reported.
According to officials, the relationship will foster collaboration in various new and developing areas, including cyber, applied artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and some undersea capabilities.
“We’ll also work to sustain and deepen information and technology sharing, and I think you’re going to see a much more dedicated effort to pursue integration of security and defence-related science, technology and industrial bases and supply chains,” an official said.
Morrison stated that over the next 18 months, teams from the three countries would put up a collaborative plan for creating the new Australian nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which would significantly enhance the navy’s reach and capabilities over the current diesel-powered submarine fleet. With the completion of the project, Australia will become only the seventh country in the world to have nuclear-powered submarines.
None of the three leaders mentioned China. However, the move was unmistakably a response to China’s expansionist drive in the South China Sea and growing belligerence against Taiwan.
“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve, because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” Biden said.
Australia has relied on conventional submarines, which must surface regularly and have a restricted range. Now they are seen as being outpaced by China’s expanding maritime reach. However, by switching to nuclear power, Australia will gain long-range and stealth capabilities.
“They’re quieter, they’re much more capable; they will allow us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific,” one of the senior officials said.
On the other hand, Morrison emphasized that Australia is “not seeking to establish nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability” and that it will continue to meet its nuclear non-proliferation responsibilities.
The Australian Prime Minister addressed France’s “disappointment” at Australia’s decision to scrap a $90 billion contract to build 12 attack-class submarines there.
“We will not be continuing with the attack class submarine program and have advised Naval Group and the government of France and President (Emmanuel) Macron of that decision. I want to stress that France remains an incredibly important partner in the Pacific. There is few if any other country around the world which understands the importance of the Pacific and has been as committed to the Pacific as France,” Morrison said.
“I look forward and I hope to see us continue once we move past what is obviously a very difficult and disapointing decision for France. I understand that. I respect it. But as a Prime Minister, I must make decisions that are in Australia’s national security. I know that France would do the same. And I know ultimately that will be understood.”
The plan for Australia to cancel existing French submarine contracts and buy U.S. nuclear technology has been dubbed “China’s Worst Nightmare” in the region, with the potential to “tip the military balance in Asia,” according to news.com.au.
In June, Morrison met with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss mounting worries over the $90 billion submarine project, which would not have been completed until 2030.
The Australian Naval Institute has lately promoted the option as the best “Plan B” for Australia’s struggling submarine program.
“With regional tensions increasing, then building our own one-off type submarines which will arrive in the early 2030s is not good enough. We have no guarantee they will work,’’ the article stated.
“When we built the Collins-class submarines (at exorbitant expense), they did not work properly for several years. It is only now—after decades of operation—that they are reasonably functional.
“Submarines are the ultimate deterrent and attack weapon: their location is hopefully unknown, and they can strike at targets without warning. But we need to expand beyond the capabilities of the Collins and also the French Attack boats, which we should abandon.
“Instead we should buy 12 of a proven design which is already in the water. We want long-range hunter-killer vessels. We also want them to be able to stay submerged for long periods to avoid detection. Nuclear does this in spades.”
Mr. Ashley Townshend, director of foreign policy and defense at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre, tweeted: “This is surprising and a very welcome sign of Biden’s willingness to empower close allies like Australia with highly advanced defence tech assistance—something the United States has rarely been willing to do. It suggests a more strategic approach to collective defence.”
The agreement comes ahead of the first in-person summit of leaders from the Quadrilateral Dialogue or Quad—India, the U.S., Australia, and Japan—on Sept. 24 in Washington.