US, UK, Australia Forge Military Alliance Against China | Australia News
The US, UK and Australia are establishing a trilateral security partnership to take on China, which will include helping Australia build nuclear-powered submarines.
The initiative, dubbed Aukus, was jointly announced by US President Joe Biden and Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, joined virtually by videoconference. They touted it as the next critical step in an old alliance.
Morrison said teams from the three countries will work out a joint plan over the next 18 months to assemble Australia’s new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, which will be built in Adelaide. The project will make Australia the seventh country in the world to have submarines powered by nuclear reactors.
“This will include a thorough review of what we need to do to exercise our nuclear management responsibilities here in Australia,” said the Prime Minister of Australia, referring to international treaty obligations on the handling of nuclear fuel. Morrison added, “But let me be clear. Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or to establish civilian nuclear capability. “
None of the three leaders mentioned China, but there was no doubt that the initiative was a response to China’s expansionist push in the South China Sea and growing belligerence towards Taiwan.
“We must be able to cope with both the current strategic environment in the region and its potential evolution, as the future of each of our nations and the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific,” sustainable and flourishing in the decades to come, ”said Biden.
Speaking from London, Johnson said the three countries were “natural allies” even though “we may be geographically separated” and said the alliance would create “a new defense partnership and create jobs and prosperity “.
Regarding Australia’s submarine building plan, Johnson said: “This will be one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world, lasting decades and requiring the most advanced technology.
A senior US official described the deal as “a fundamental decision, which decisively binds Australia to the US and Britain for generations.”
The deal ends a $ 90 billion contract Australia signed with French company Naval Group in 2016. The deal got bogged down in cost overruns, delays and design changes. It marks a setback for President Emmanuel Macron.
“The world is a jungle,” observed on Twitter the former French ambassador to Washington, Gérard Araud. “France has just been reminded of this bitter truth by the way the United States and the United Kingdom stabbed her in the back in Australia. That’s life.”
Naval Group, which had been tasked with building 12 state-of-the-art attack-class submarines, said the new agreement was a “big disappointment.”
Australia insists it has no plans to pursue nuclear weapons and will abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but critics said the move could still indirectly boost the proliferation of arms.
Any new nuclear-powered submarine, powered by enriched uranium, will take years – perhaps more than a decade – to develop. But once at sea, the goal is to put Australia’s currently diesel-powered navy on a technological par with the Chinese navy, the largest in the world.
In addition to cooperation on naval technology, the partnership will involve closer alignment of regional policies and actions, and greater integration of the military and defense industries of the three allies. The three also intend to work together on cyber warfare and artificial intelligence capabilities.
British officials have said they hope the UK will benefit from defense companies supplying technology to Australia. Rolls-Royce, based in Derby, supplies reactors for Royal Navy submarines, which are ultimately decommissioned in the UK when they run out. But it’s not yet clear how Australia’s reactors will be powered or decommissioned.
The formation of Aukus comes at a time of increasing tensions, particularly over the South China Sea and Taiwan. A new book on the final weeks of the Donald Trump administration said that at the end of 2020, the United States became concerned that China was increasingly convinced that it would be the target of a preemptive attack.
According to Peril, by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley twice called his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng, to reassure him that no attack would take place and that Milley give a warning if Trump issues such an order.
In July, the new British aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, arrived in the South China Sea, the focal point of US-China tensions, triggering denunciations from Beijing. The US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, welcomed the deployment at the time, but wondered “are there areas where the UK can be more useful in other parts of the world”.
A senior US official suggested that the UK government had pushed for an increased role in the region.
“Britain is very focused on the concept of a global Britain, and their inclination is to engage much more deeply with the Indo-Pacific and that’s a down payment on that effort,” the official said. .
Until now, the United States had only shared its nuclear propulsion technology with the United Kingdom, as part of an agreement dating back to 1958, but a senior American official said: “This is of a unique set of circumstances.
Nuclear power will allow Australia’s attack submarines to stay at sea for up to five months and operate quieter than the country’s existing Collins-class diesel ships, allowing them to better evade enemy detection.
Some critics of the deal warn that it sets a dangerous precedent for countries to exploit a loophole in the NPT. The treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon countries to build nuclear-powered submarines and remove the fissile material they need for submarine reactors from stockpiles monitored by the global watchdog, the Agency. atomic energy international, opening up the possibility that they could be diverted towards the manufacture of weapons. Australia would be the first country to use this loophole.
“My fear is not that Australia is misusing the nuclear material we give it and using the loophole to manufacture nuclear weapons,” said James Acton, nuclear policy program co-chair of the Carnegie Endowment for International. Peace. “What concerns me is that this sets a terrible precedent that other countries could abuse. “Iran is the obvious example here. We would be doing bullshit if Iran removed nuclear material from safeguards. “
David Cullen of the Nuclear Information Service said: “It has only happened once in history when the United States helped the United Kingdom develop its first nuclear-powered submarines.
“What’s interesting is that the US seems to have cast a bone in the UK by allowing Britain to help design and build Australia’s new submarines,” Cullen said. “The question will be how the Australians will be supplied and whether they want to develop their own nuclear capacity to enrich uranium fuel.”
British sources said the talks on the nuclear power deal were initiated by the Australians in March.