Australia, Britain and the US announced a new security pact on Wednesday to protect and defend shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Although none of the three governments made any mention of China, the new partnership, named AUKUS, is widely understood to be an attempt to counter Beijing”s assertiveness in the region.
The pact will enable Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines and will see the country scrap its Attack Class Submarine Programme with France in favour of a deal with the UK. Paris has reacted angrily.
AUKUS also plans for deeper diplomatic, security, and defense cooperation between the three capitals with enhanced capabilities and interoperability in cyber, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies.
‘Peace and stability’
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden said in a statement that their partnership is “guided by our enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order.”
Biden said during a joint press conference that the three leaders “all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.”
“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve,” he went on.
For Canberra the deal is “pivotal for Australia to become a more capable power in the 21st century”.
It added that it intends for the eight nuclear-powered submarines the partnership plans for to be built in Adelaide.
“Nuclear-powered submarines have superior characteristics of stealth, speed, manoeuvrability, survivability, and almost limitless endurance, when compared to conventional submarines,” Canberra argued.
The abilities allow nuclear-powered submarines to operate in contested areas with a lower risk of detection,” it added.
Morrison also stressed that “Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.”
‘Lack of coherence’
Biden said AUKUS “reflects a broader trend of key European countries playing an extremely important role in the Indo-Pacific” and singled out France, for its “substantial Indo-Pacific presence” and for being a “key partner and ally in strengthening the security and prosperity of the region.”
“The United States looks forward to working closely with France and other key countries as we fo forward,” he also said.
But Paris has criticised AUKUS and said that the “American choice to exclude a European ally and partner from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note with regret.”
The statement from the French Foreign and Defence ministries also said that Canberra’s decision to renege its nuclear-powered submarine deal with Paris “is contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as well as on the development of a very high-level defence industrial and technological base in Australia.”