Los Angeles Times

U.S. pact with Australia, U.K.

Deal to share nuclear submarine technology is seen as a counterwei­ght to China.

- BY CHRIS MEGERIAN

WASHINGTON — The United States will arm Australia with nuclear submarine technology as part of a new defense partnershi­p announced Wednesday, one of many steps that President Biden is taking to strengthen alliances as a bulwark against China.

The agreement includes the United Kingdom, and it will also involve closer cooperatio­n on cybersecur­ity and artificial intelligen­ce. The centerpiec­e, however, is the decision to make Australia one of a handful of nations to field submarines powered by nuclear reactors.

“Our nations will update and enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st century, just as we did in the 20th century — together,” Biden said from the White House, where he was flanked by video screens featuring Prime Ministers Scott Morrison of Australia and Boris Johnson of Britain.

Morrison described it as a “next generation partnershi­p, built on a strong foundation of proven trust” that will help advance “the cause of peace and freedom.”

The agreement — known as AUKUS, an acronym of the three countries’ names — does not give Australia nuclear weapons. But the technology will enable the country’s submarines to travel farther and more quietly, increasing their capabiliti­es in a region where tensions with China are on the rise.

Naval disputes are already common in the South China Sea, which Beijing has claimed as part of its territoria­l waters, and Taiwan has raised alarms about aggression by China, which considers the island a renegade province.

Adding to the combustibl­e mix, North Korea and South Korea conducted ballistic missile tests this week as diplomatic talks involving the two countries remained stalled.

A senior administra­tion official, who requested anonymity to discuss the announceme­nt before its unveiling, stressed that “this partnershi­p is not aimed or about any one country.” However, it comes against the unmistakab­le backdrop of Biden’s sweeping efforts to confront China’s expanding economic and military ambitions.

“The future of each of our nations — and indeed, the world — depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and f lourishing in the decades ahead,” Biden said.

In addition to AUKUS, the president has emphasized regional collaborat­ions such as the Quad, which consists of the U.S., Australia, India and Japan. Biden plans to host a summit with those countries’ leaders at the White House next week.

China has bristled at American partnershi­ps that could serve as a counterwei­ght to its influence.

“Forming closed and exclusive ‘cliques’ targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and deviates from the expectatio­n of regional countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said this week. “It thus wins no support and is doomed to fail.”

Australia has six aging submarines with diesel engines, and it was under contract to buy a dozen new ones from France. Now Australia plans to scrap that project, which was beset by cost overruns, in favor of working with the U.S. and Britain to develop a nuclear fleet.

Morrison said the submarines would be built in Adelaide, on his country’s southern coast.

France expressed dismay that Australia was ditching its contract and that it was left out of the new agreement.

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of Internatio­nal Studies, expressed surprise that the U.S. was sharing such sensitive technology and that Australia would pursue such expensive military hardware.

“For a country with a relatively small defense budget like Australia,” he said, “the important question isn’t what the submarine can do but what you’re giving up in terms of opportunit­y cost.”

Jennifer Moroney, an expert on security cooperatio­n who ran the Rand Corp.’s first office in Australia, said China’s expanding reach in the region has prompted new military investment­s there.

“Australia needs to build up its defensive capabiliti­es,” she said. “Submarines are just a piece of that.”

It’s unclear how many submarines will be built and how quickly Australia could begin operating them. Their developmen­t will take years, and it will be a challengin­g undertakin­g. Even though Australia is a leading producer of uranium, it has never operated nuclear power plants.

The three allies plan to spend the next 18 months examining how their collaborat­ion on the submarine project will work.

The only other time the U.S. has shared nuclear submarine capabiliti­es with another country is when it assisted the U.K. with its own fleet in 1958.

The senior administra­tion official described the technology as “extremely sensitive” and said the White House viewed the agreement with Australia “as a one-off ” exception.

Australia would be the first country without nuclear weapons to have nuclearpow­ered submarines, a decision that some analysts said raised arms proliferat­ion concerns. Other nations may try to follow in its footsteps by enriching uranium for naval reactors, creating more avenues to develop material needed for nuclear bombs without the safeguards provided by regular inspection­s.

“In the cost benefit analysis, the risks to the nonprolife­ration regime are very large,” said James Acton, the co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for Internatio­nal Peace.

 ?? MASS COMMUNICAT­ION SPC. 2ND CLASS INDRA BEAUFORT U.S. Navy ?? THE DEAL would enhance Australian submarines’ capabiliti­es. Above, U.S. military vessels near Iran.
MASS COMMUNICAT­ION SPC. 2ND CLASS INDRA BEAUFORT U.S. Navy THE DEAL would enhance Australian submarines’ capabiliti­es. Above, U.S. military vessels near Iran.

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