The leaders of the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia have released additional information regarding the security pact for Asia Pacific that was initially introduced 18 months ago. This deal, known as AUKUS, aims to maintain a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region. As part of the deal, Australia will acquire three American nuclear submarines. However, the announcement provides further details on how this acquisition will occur, highlighting these three nations’ commitment to strengthening regional security in the Asia Pacific.
The US, UK, and Australian leaders have revealed further information regarding their proposal to build a fleet of new-generation nuclear submarines. As part of the Aukus accord, Australia will be gifted with at least three nuclear-powered submarines from the US.#AUKUS #AUKUSAlbo pic.twitter.com/7ooXmncNUC
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) March 14, 2023
The latest development underscores the importance of cooperation and partnership in promoting regional stability and security. As the leaders of three countries gathered in California, they announced that Australia would have the option to purchase an additional two American nuclear submarines after the initial acquisition of three, which is scheduled for the early 2030s. U.S. Joe Biden, Australian Anthony Albanese, and U.K. Rishi Sunak issued a joint statement on Monday, emphasizing the significance of the security pact in maintaining a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region.
This alliance seeks to promote regional stability and counterbalance potential security threats by investing in strategic defense capabilities. Though China was only briefly mentioned, the agreement highlights the ongoing efforts of the three nations to address Beijing’s expanding military capabilities and increasing presence in the Asia Pacific. The security pact also involves a pledge to collaborate on developing cutting-edge technologies such as hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, and other advanced capabilities.
Biden Emphasizes Historical Significance of AUKUS Agreement in Promoting Peace
During a speech delivered from the Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, Biden characterized the occasion as an “inflection point in history,” underscoring the significance of the agreement’s role in bolstering deterrence and promoting stability. He emphasized that this collaboration would have a lasting impact on the potential for peace in the years and decades ahead. Biden expressed his pride in being a shipmate to Sunak and Albanese.
During the announcement, Albanese acknowledged the historical significance of the agreement, highlighting that it marked only the second time in history that the U.S. has shared its nuclear propulsion technology and the first time in 65 years. He expressed gratitude for this unique opportunity. Meanwhile, Sunak drew attention to the mounting challenges facing the international community, such as Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the increasingly assertive posture of China, and the destabilizing behavior of Iran and North Korea. These remarks highlight the urgency of strengthening regional security and the importance of international cooperation in achieving this goal.
Beijing Critiques AUKUS as Destabilizing
Sunak emphasized the critical need to fortify individual countries’ resilience in response to the emerging global landscape. He stressed that the defense of shared values ultimately depends on the quality of relationships with other nations. Meanwhile, China has repeatedly criticized the AUKUS alliance for adopting a “Cold War mentality,” warning that this approach could fuel greater regional tensions. This highlights the complex and multifaceted nature of the security challenges facing the Asia Pacific, underscoring the importance of effective diplomacy and collaboration in promoting the agenda.
According to Beijing-based analyst Andy Mok, the AUKUS agreement is destabilizing, demonstrating the U.S.’s fear and anxiety about China’s peaceful ascent. Mok, a senior research person at the Center for China and Globalization, told Al Jazeera that China’s strategy for expanding its influence involves a range of approaches, including diplomacy, economics, and investment. However, he suggests that the U.S. may rely solely on military measures. This commentary reflects the divergent perspectives on the best approach to regional security and highlights the challenges of finding common ground among nations with competing interests.
The recent sale of nuclear submarines to Australia represents a critical step in a long-term plan to expand U.S. nuclear technology beyond its traditional alliance with the U.K. In the short term, the agreement will integrate Australian military and civilian personnel into U.S. and U.K. naval operations and nuclear submarine bases. Additionally, there will be an increase in the number of nuclear submarines stops at Australian ports in the coming years, followed by more substantial forward rotations in the region. This strategy reflects the complex and evolving nature of regional security challenges and underscores the importance of multilateral cooperation in addressing them.
The comprehensive plan released by the three nations underscores their commitment to deepening strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region and promoting peace and stability in the face of growing geopolitical challenges. As part of a decade-long effort to support Australia in developing its nuclear submarine capabilities, the U.S. and U.K. will collaborate with Australia to establish essential infrastructure, technical capabilities, industry, and human capital. Subject to U.S. Congressional approval, the U.S. will sell three Virginia-class submarines, each with an estimated $3 billion, to Australia by the early 2030s.
Under the AUKUS agreement, Australia and Britain will commence construction of a new submarine model, leveraging U.S. technology and support. While the project may take years to fruition, it reflects a significant strategic shift for the three allied nations as they endeavor to address China’s increasingly formidable military presence in the Pacific region. The U.K. is anticipated to deliver its first domestically-built nuclear submarine by the late 2030s, with Australia slated to receive the new vessels for its navy by the early 2040s.
China’s military expansion and activities in the South China Sea
As China expands its military capabilities, it has invested in a more advanced navy and built artificial islands in the contested South China Sea, which experts say serve as military bases. The country has also deployed its coast guard and maritime militia in an area that is also claimed in whole or in the territory by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and has disregarded a 2016 ruling by an international court that its claim to the region has no legal basis.
In addition to its expanding naval fleet and building artificial islands, Beijing has become more confrontational in asserting its claim to Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island. The country has been conducting major military drills around the island, especially after the then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit last year. The recent participation of Australia in the AUKUS alliance has led to a brief disagreement with France, which saw Canberra withdrawing from a previous pact to replace its earlier fleet of diesel-powered submarines with French vessels.
Compared to the Collins-class submarines set to be decommissioned by Australia, the Virginia class is approximately double the size. It has nearly three times the number of crew members, with a capacity for up to 132 personnel on board. Moreover, American submarines can remain submerged for extended periods and launch formidable cruise missiles.
UK Prime Minister @RishiSunak and I have a shared vision of a secure and stable world.
And tomorrow we’ll have more to say on how we’re working towards that through AUKUS. pic.twitter.com/TNIat54vpz
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) March 13, 2023
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