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Australia to Acquire Nuclear Submarines

On Sept. 16, 2021, President Joe Biden announced a deal to share nuclear submarine technology and equipment with Australia during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. The deal is intended to help Australia develop the ability to build its own nuclear submarines. This deal represents a huge break with previous American and U.K. foreign policy, which kept their respective nuclear submarine technology classified, only sharing information between the two nations.

The submarine deal was part of a much broader initiative covered by a new Australian-United Kingdom-United States agreement. The AUKUS Trilateral Agreement will see to it that the three nations align more closely in military and foreign policies. Although not explicitly stated, it is seen largely as a way to combat the rising power of China. According to CNN, Australian officials see the agreement and the sub deal as critical steps in the drive to increase the Australian Military’s capabilities and, as a result, allow it to operate at a much higher level. 

The Biden administration sees the deal as necessary for ensuring Indo-Pacific security and a crucial part of their initiative to pivot to a more Indo-Pacific-centered foreign policy. In addition, the sub deal will help enhance AUKUS strategic interests and reassure American allies of their commitment to the region and global security and stability.  

The international response has been a mix of condemnation and support. According to CNN, the spokesman for the Chinese embassy in the U.S., Liu Pengyu, stated that the three powers of AUKUS “should shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice”. The Washington Post received a statement from Chinese Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian saying that the move “undermines regional peace and stability” and warned that they would do their worst to Australia in retaliation for accepting the deal.

France has also objected to the deal, which resulted in Australia canceling a 60 billion dollar deal to build conventional submarines with French shipbuilder Naval Group. According to CNN, French officials were surprised by the deal announcement and felt that the move was a stab in the back. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated that such a move “is not done between allies” and is reminiscent of the Trump Era. In response, France has recalled its Ambassador from the U.S.  and canceled a ball honoring U.S. and French Naval cooperation.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, chimed in expressing concern over nuclear proliferation and the environmental impact but welcomed increased U.S. and U.K. involvement in the Indo-Pacific. Meanwhile, Singapore and Japan have expressed strong support for the deal, seeing it as essential to ensuring regional security and preventing Chinese expansion. Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, welcomed the agreement and increased Australian involvement in regional security. India also sees it as opening the possibility of gaining a similar sub deal for themselves as members of the Quad alliance (an alliance between Japan, Australia, India, and the United States). It remains to be seen whether such a deal will materialize.