The White House has announced that Australia will buy three US nuclear submarines under a new security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom. The statement comes ahead of a meeting between the leaders of the three countries this week in California.
Australia will also have the option to purchase two more of the nuclear submarines, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday, shortly before the country’s president Joe Biden traveled to San Diego to attend the meeting.
The meeting comes 18 months after the creation of the new pact, known as AUKUS, which gives Australia access to nuclear-powered submarine technology.
The security deal is part of an ongoing effort by the three countries to respond to Chinese military might, and includes a commitment to cooperate in building artificial intelligence capabilities, hypersonic weapons and other advanced technologies.
China represents “a systemic challenge to the world order,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in an interview with NBC News on Sunday from California, where he met his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, a day before Biden’s arrival.
Since the launch of AUKUS, Beijing has repeatedly accused the trio of adopting a “Cold War mentality” that threatens greater escalation.
#AUKUS — the enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the UK and the US — demonstrates our shared commitment to revitalizing and strengthening our partnerships to meet the challenges of the 21st century. pic.twitter.com/1L6foumDwI
— State Department (@StateDept) March 13, 2023
The sale announced on Monday is part of a multi-stage, long-term plan designed to make Australia a full partner in handling top-secret US nuclear technology previously shared only with the UK.
Following the sale of the Virginia-class submarines, each valued at $3 billion, Australia and Britain plan to build a new model submarine with US technology and support, according to media reports.
Australia aims to deliver those new ships to its navy in the 2040s, The New York Times reported.
The deal also sees a force of US and British submarines deployed to Western Australia to help train Australian crews and bolster deterrence, the Reuters news agency said.
The deal, which will take years to fully materialize, marks an ambitious shift for the three allied nations as they try to respond to Beijing’s burgeoning military power in the Pacific.
China’s military growth has included building an advanced naval fleet and constructing artificial islands that observers say has turned the country into bases.
Australia’s entry into AUKUS sparked a brief but heated row with France after Canberra pulled out of an earlier deal to replace its aging fleet of diesel-powered submarines with $66 billion worth of non-nuclear French ships.
Compared to the Collins-class submarines being decommissioned by Australia, the Virginia-class is nearly twice as long and has nearly three times the crew, with a capacity of 132 on board.
The US ships can also remain submerged almost indefinitely and launch powerful cruise missiles.
British Prime Minister @Rishi Sunak and I have a shared vision of a safe and stable world.
And tomorrow we’ll have more to say about how we’re working towards that through AUKUS. pic.twitter.com/TNIat54vpz
— Anthony Albanian (@AlboMP) March 13, 2023
China, for its part, has argued that AUKUS risks sparking an arms race and violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Beijing has said the transfer of nuclear weapons material from a nuclear-weapon state to a non-nuclear-weapon state is a “flagrant” violation of the spirit of the treaty.
“We urge the US, UK and Australia to abandon Cold War mentality and zero-sum games, honor international commitments in good faith and do more things conducive to regional peace and stability Mao, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said. Ning told reporters in Beijing.
Australian officials have resisted the criticism, arguing they are working to procure nuclear-powered, non-nuclear-armed submarines.
The Prime Minister has announced that the UK will step up investment in defense to meet the challenges of an increasingly volatile and complex world.
This £5bn investment will bolster ordnance, modernize the UK’s nuclear enterprise and fund the next phase of the AUKUS submarine programme. pic.twitter.com/hrkbFdcBBm
— British Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) March 13, 2023
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the UK announced $6 billion in additional military funding over the next two years to “replenish and bolster vital munitions stockpiles, modernize the UK’s nuclear enterprise and fund the next phase of the AUKUS submarine program “.
In a statement, Downing Street added that longer-term spending increases for the defense budget are being considered.
During his visit to California, Biden will hold separate meetings with Albanese and Sunak before traveling to Monterey Park to discuss gun violence protections. The Californian city was hit by a deadly shooting in January during the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Biden then travels to Nevada to discuss his plans to reduce prescription drug costs.
The US President’s trip will also include several fundraising stops. Biden is expected to officially announce his 2024 presidential reelection next month.