Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
To a rare extent, President Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States plans to share its nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia as part of a new defense partnership with that country and the United Kingdom. .
The announcement comes as Biden attempts to refocus U.S. national security and economic policy on the threat posed by China. In recent years, tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea – a major sea route with oil and natural gas resources – have intensified, with China building military outposts on several small reclaimed islands.
Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of shared values and the need to ensure peace and stability in the region as they appeared together, virtually, to make the announcement.
But none of them have mentioned China’s name, even as the United States and other regional partners have stepped up their military presence in the region, and the United States struggles to reorient its focus. military posture towards the Indo-Pacific.
“We must be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and its potential evolution, because the future of each of our nations and the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, sustainable and flourishing over the years. coming up, ”Biden said.
It’s about nuclear propulsion, not nuclear weapons
The three countries are now launching an 18-month effort to determine how best to share nuclear submarine propulsion technology, which will allow Australian Navy submarines to travel faster and further, with more stealth.
The leaders stressed that nuclear-powered submarines would be armed in a conventional manner.
“I want to be extremely clear on this: we are not talking about nuclear submarines,” Biden said. “These are conventional weapon submarines that are propelled by nuclear reactors.”
This is the first time the United States has shared this technology since 1958
There has been only one other time the United States has shared what a senior administration official described to reporters as “extremely sensitive” submarine propulsion technology – there is more. 60 years old, in 1958, with Great Britain.
Morrison said the fleet will be built in Adelaide, Australia.
Johnson said the initiative would create jobs in the UK, saying the project would last for decades.
“Only a handful of countries have nuclear powered submarines, and it is a critical decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability,” he said.
This decision signals the United States’ commitment to the region
The Biden administration is working to overcome the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the chaotic US exit from Kabul. Biden has placed the fight against China at the center of his economic and national security efforts, describing it as the greatest challenge of the time.
Before the official announcement, a senior US administration official insisted to reporters that the new security cooperation with Australia was not specifically directed against China.
“I think one of the things the United States has done most effectively in the Indo-Pacific is to ensure peace and stability and to be the ultimate guarantor of this rules-based order,” the senior official said.
“Over the past few years, questions have arisen: Does the United States still have a stomach? Do we have the spirit and the wisdom that we want to continue in this role? What President Biden says with this initiative is: ‘Count us in.’ “
The trilateral announcement sparked a swift reaction from China and another key global player, France.
China described the move as reminiscent of the Cold War era and urged the group to “get rid of” a bygone way of thinking.
In a comment to Reuters, Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said countries “should not build exclusion blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties. In particular, they should get rid of of their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices “.
France, for its part, said it was disappointed by its exclusion from the pact, calling Australia’s decision to suspend its previous Franco-Australian submarine program as “contrary to the letter and the spirit” of the cooperation of the two nations.
“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are faced with unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism. founded on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only observe and regret “, declared the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly.
“As the only European nation present in the Indo-Pacific with nearly two million citizens and more than 7,000 soldiers, France is a reliable partner which will continue to keep its commitments, as it has always done”, they declared.
Biden earlier Wednesday said France already has a key presence in the Indo-Pacific region and “is a key partner and ally in strengthening the region’s security and prosperity.”
Australian Prime Minister to visit next week
The announcement began with a video featuring a montage of historical images and catchy music, voiced by an Australian narrator.
“AUKUS is born,” proclaimed Morrison, using the group’s acronym. (Biden later recognized the acronym, pronounced AWK-us, “sounds strange.”)
“We have always seen the world from a similar perspective,” Morrison said, citing values such as freedom, human dignity, the rule of law and the independence of sovereign states.
Biden is expected to meet in person at the White House next week with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia – the so-called “Quad.”
He invited the leaders of Japan and South Korea as the first two foreign leaders to visit the White House in person earlier this year. And his first overseas trip in June to the Group of Seven and NATO also focused on the economic and security threats posed by China.
For only the second time since taking office, Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. He did not discuss the new security partnership “in specific terms,” the senior US official said, but stressed to Xi that the US plans to play an important role in the region.