Washington DC: President Joe Biden has announced a new working group with Britain and Australia to share advanced technologies — including the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines — in a thinly veiled bid to counter China.
The trio, now known by the acronym AUKUS, will make it easier for the three countries to share information and know-how in key technological areas like artificial intelligence, cyber, quantum, underwater systems, and long-range strike capabilities.
Biden, joined virtually by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday, detailed the reasons for the trilateral effort.
“This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” Biden said from the White House.
“We must now take our partnership to a new level,” said Morrison.
“We’re adding a new chapter in our friendship,” Johnson added.
All three countries will work over the next 18 months to figure out how best to deliver the technology, which the U.S. traditionally has only shared with the U.K., the official said. U.S. officials and experts noted that Australia currently doesn’t have the requisite fissile material to run a nuclear-powered submarine, meaning the next year and a half of negotiations will likely feature nuclear-material transfer discussions.
Australia doesn’t seek a nuclear weapon, Morrison and Biden emphasized. Still, a senior U.S. administration official previewing the remarks Wednesday morning said of the nuclear-powered submarines that “this technology is extremely sensitive. This is frankly an exception to our policy in many respects. I do not anticipate that this will be undertaken in other circumstances going forward.”
There’s nothing explicitly about China in the three-way deal, but two U.S. officials noted that the subtext of the announcement is that this is another move by Western allies to push back on China’s rise in the military and technology arenas.
Canberra will abandon a $90 billion submarine deal with France and will instead acquire American-made nuclear-powered submarines, with help from the U.K. The French deal had long been in trouble, with the Naval Group, the French shipbuilder tasked with constructing the 12 submarines, and the Australian government sparring over design changes and cost increases over the past several years.