The United States, United Kingdom and Australia have announced a new military initiative, dedicated to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The first step in the alliance that appears to be directed against China is to supply Canberra with nuclear submarines.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison joined US President Joe Biden in a three-way virtual announcement of what Biden called the “New phase of trilateral security cooperation” between the former allies on Wednesday.
The future of the three countries and even of the world “Depends on the sustainability and development of the free and open Indo-Pacific in the decades to come”, Biden said, adding that AUKUS would be about making sure every nation has “The most modern capabilities we need”.
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The first concrete step in expanding and sustaining “Aging military capabilities and critical technologies” would provide Australia with nuclear power, but “Conventionally armed” submarines, Biden said.
“Only a handful of countries have nuclear powered submarines, and it is a critical decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability,” he added. said Johnson “But Australia is one of our oldest friends, a kindred nation and another democracy, and a natural partner in this endeavor.”
Nuclear submarines are currently only operated by six countries – China, France, India, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom – which also have atomic weapons. If and when the AUKUS project produced results, it would make Australia the first country in the world with nuclear submarines but no weapons.
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Biden said the project would start with an 18-month period “Consultation period” between the armies of the three countries, and involve the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure “Full compliance” with their obligations under the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
While the US president did not mention China, all the speeches on the “Indo-Pacific” made it clear who the new and improved alliance was directed against. The United Kingdom recently joined the United States in sending warships to “Freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea, a vital maritime trade route where Beijing has claimed a series of islands and reefs.
Washington actually renamed its Pacific Command (PACOM) to “Indo-Pacific” in 2018, with the aim of wooing India’s cooperation to contain China. Biden also mentioned France – a NATO ally – as having a substantial presence in the region.
The intro video preceding the announcement featured AUKUS as an alliance of “Maritime democracies” united by their “Democracy, resilience, innovations and diversity” while working “for the good of the world”.
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