The Australian, US, and UK governments have jointly announced the formation of a closer trilateral military relationship, and that Australia will look to buy a fleet of nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed attack submarines.
The surprise announcement comes in the face of an ongoing build-up of People’s Liberation Army forces and capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region, and as the first initiative of the formation of a closer trilateral military arrangement between the three nations, dubbed AUKUS.
The announcement comes a day after a short-notice National Security Committee of Cabinet was called in Canberra, to which senior members of the federal opposition were also reportedly invited.
“As leaders of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, guided by our enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order, we resolve to deepen diplomatic, security, and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including by working with partners, to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century,” a joint statement reads. “As part of this effort, we are announcing the creation of an enhanced trilateral security partnership called “AUKUS” — Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
“Through AUKUS, our governments will strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defense interests, building on our longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties,” it continues. “We will promote deeper information and technology sharing. We will foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen cooperation on a range of security and defense capabilities.”
In the joint press conference with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Morrison said, “Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific. This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures. To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”
Mr Morrison said the formation of AUKUS will not affect Australia’s commitments to its existing international and regional agreements, including ANZUS, ASEAN, the QUAD, and 5 EYES.
The announcement of the new submarines comes in the wake of continuing delays and cost blowouts in the $90 billion Project SEA 1000 Future Submarine program, an issue which has been raised at the highest levels, apparently without a satisfactory resolution. The Attack class submarines are based on a French conventional-powered version of its Suffren class nuclear-powered boats, and it has been reported that Mr Morrison has trying to contact French President Emmanuel Macron to advise him of that project’s cancellation.
The Prime Minister said Australia would enter into an 18-month consultation period with the UK and US to work out the best way forward on the submarine, which suggests a design upon which to base the new boats is yet to be chosen. Both the US and UK are building advanced SSNs in the form of the Virginia and Astute classes respectively.
The PM also said Australia will “exercise nuclear stewardship”, that it “will meet its nuclear non-proliferation obligations”, and that Australia is not seeking to establish a civil nuclear capability.