US-UK defense pact to build Australia’s nuclear subs to take on China ‘stab in the back’ for France

Joe Biden has found himself at the epicenter of another international outcry after the President announced a new pact between the US, UK and Australia to build a fleet of nuclear submarines to combat China.

The new alliance – called AUKUS – will see the US and UK cooperate to build Australia’s first ever nuclear submarine fleet of at least eight vessels.

It has been condemned by China as an example of ‘Cold War mentality’ and left France fuming after the new deal saw a pre-existing $90billion contract for France to build Australia’s subs torn up. 

Biden’s declaration of the three-way deal was confirmation of a new allied nuclear and technological arms race against China, which has been increasing its military presence in the South China sea where valuable trading routes and fertile fishing grounds are located. 

In addition to the US and UK co-ordinating to build Australia’s submarines, the allied trio will share other military technologies such as artificial intelligence, cyber defense, quantum computing and long-range strike capabilities. 

China wasted little time responding to the deal, denouncing it as an ‘exclusionary bloc’ while accusing the allies of possessing a ‘Cold War mentality’, but Beijing is by no means the only party angered by President Biden’s announcement.

Paris was also quick to react as enraged diplomats declared they had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by Biden and Johnson, as a $90bn deal for France to supply Australia’s new submarines was overlooked in favour of the US-UK offer.

The French vessels were due some time in the mid-2030s, while Biden’s new pact is thought to move that date significantly closer. 

‘This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do,’ French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told franceinfo radio. ‘I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.’  

Biden meanwhile on Wednesday said France remained a ‘key partner in the Indo-Pacific zone.’ 

The deal also side-lines New Zealand and Canada – who together with the US, UK and Australia make up the Cold War-era Five Eyes intelligence alliance, but now appear isolated from the group. 

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s left-wing leader, has since admitted that she was not even consulted by Biden, Johnson or Australian PM Scott Morrison on the new pact – adding that Australia’s new subs will be banned from entering New Zealand waters under the country’s long-standing ‘nuclear free’ policy. 

The move appears to punish New Zealand and Canada for failing to take a stronger stance against Beijing, coming just four months after New Zealand refused to sign a joint Five Eyes statement which criticized China’s aggression in the South China Sea, its crackdown in Hong Kong, threats to Taiwan and its treatment of Uyghur Muslims. 

President Joe Biden, joined virtually by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced the three way partnership for nuclear submarines

Biden's declaration of the three-way deal was confirmation of a new allied nuclear and technological arms race against China, which has been increasing its military presence in the South China sea where valuable trading routes and fertile fishing grounds are located

Biden’s declaration of the three-way deal was confirmation of a new allied nuclear and technological arms race against China, which has been increasing its military presence in the South China sea where valuable trading routes and fertile fishing grounds are located

America and the UK are to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as part of an unprecedented alliance known as the AUKUS pact to combat China's naval dominance and will likely be the similar design as this Astute class submarine HMS Ambush (pictured)

America and the UK are to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as part of an unprecedented alliance known as the AUKUS pact to combat China’s naval dominance and will likely be the similar design as this Astute class submarine HMS Ambush (pictured)

President Biden announced the deal on Wednesday night in a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (C)

President Biden announced the deal on Wednesday night in a joint press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison (C) 

Why Australia needed a new deal with the US and UK: Australia's defense capabilities are dwarfed by those of China

Why Australia needed a new deal with the US and UK: Australia’s defense capabilities are dwarfed by those of China

China has inflamed tensions in the South China Sea in recent years by expanding its claimed territory, to the objection of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific

China has inflamed tensions in the South China Sea in recent years by expanding its claimed territory, to the objection of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific

Why is Australia building nuclear-powered submarines? 

 Why nuclear submarines?

Nuclear submarines are powered by nuclear reactors which produce heat that creates high-pressured steam to spin turbines and power the boat’s propeller. 

They can run for about 20 years before needing to refuel, meaning food supplies are the only limit on time at sea.

The boats are also very quiet, making it harder for enemies to detect them and can travel at top speed – about 25mph – for longer than diesel-powered subs.

The first nuclear submarines were put to sea by the United States in the 1950s. They are now also in use by Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, and India. 

A senior US defense official told reporters in Washington DC: ‘This will give Australia the capability for their submarines to basically deploy for a longer period, they’re quieter, they’re much more capable. 

‘They will allow us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific.’

Zack Cooper, a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, said nuclear submarines would hugely boost Australia’s military capability.

‘They are going to be much, much more capable in the large, expansive ocean that is Australia has to deal with,’ he told the ABC.  

Will Australia have nuclear weapons? 

Scott Morrison made it clear that the nuclear-power submarines will not have nuclear missiles on board.

Australia has never produced nuclear weapons and signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 which prevents non-nuclear states which don’t already have them from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr Morrison also said the Australia has no plans to build nuclear power stations which are widely used around the world. 

‘But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,’ he said.

‘And we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.’  

Are they safe? 

The nuclear reactors are shielded from the rest of the submarine in a separate section to protect the crew from dangerous radiation. 

The US has an excellent safety record with its nuclear-powered fleet although early Russian subs suffered a few accidents which caused 20 servicemen to die from radiation exposure between 1960 and 1985.

At the end of their 20-year lifetimes, the contaminated parts of nuclear reactors need to be disposed deep underground in special waste storage cells. 

Anti-nuclear campaigners say any leaks of radioactive waste could lead to an environmental disaster. 

Greens leader Adam Bandt called the submarines ‘floating Chernobyls’ in reference to the 1986 nuclear power plant explosion in the Soviet Union.

Why now?

Australia needs to replace its six ageing Collins-class submarines. 

In 2016 it signed a deal with French Company Naval Group to build 12 diesel-electric attack subs – but the parties were in dispute over the amount of building that would be done in Australia.

That deal has now been torn up in favour of nuclear powered subs aided by the US and UK who will provide the technology to Australia.

The West is becoming increasingly concerned about the growing assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region where it has made huge territorial claims in the South and East China seas, clashed with Indian troops and repeatedly flown planes over Taiwan. 

China has vastly built up its military in the past few years and now possesses six Shang-class nuclear powered attack submarines, equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles.    

Meanwhile Canada is thought to have angered Washington after refusing to ban Chinese firm Huawei from incorporating its technology into the country’s 5G network – something America believes will leave it vulnerable to Beijing’s spies.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not immediately react to the deal, suggesting he may also have been left out of the loop – though the Defense Department insisted it had been informed before the announcement was made while stressing the continued importance of Five Eyes. 

China’s President Xi currently controls the world’s largest Navy – possessing some 350 ships and subs – and lays claim to the South China Sea in its entirety, something the West and its allies hotly dispute. 

Western nations have been pushing back, sailing so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ missions through the region to test Xi’s resolve – with the most-recent such mission sailed by Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and her Strike Group, comprised of British and American destroyers alongside support vessels. 

Giving Australia nuclear submarines is a significant development because the vessels need to refuel far less-often than traditional subs, allowing them to stay submerged longer and roam further – potentially sailing undetected into the waters which Beijing is trying to claim.   

Australia already has diesel-electric submarines but the new stealthier fleet will be faster and can stay underwater for longer, covering a greater distance without expelling traceable exhaust gases.

The new submarines, built using US and UK components, will ‘protect and defend our shared interests in the Indo- Pacific’, a statement from the UK government said.

Britain will also share its cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea systems with allies as part of the deal, ushering in a new era of collaboration on security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains. 

China already has a substantial number of nuclear-powered submarines. The Pentagon assessed in its 2020 China Military Power report that China has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines, including more than 130 major surface vessels.

China was not mentioned in the cross-continental briefing but there was frequent reference to the changing situation in the region.

Tom Tugendhat, Conservative chairman of the Commons Foreign Committee, said: ‘The reason for all this is clear – China.’

He tweeted: ‘After years of bullying and trade hostility, and watching regional neighbours like the Philippines see encroachment into their waters, Australia didn’t have a choice.’

China’s US embassy reacted, however, by saying that countries ‘should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties.’

‘In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice,’ it said.

Australia’s plea for help to replace its ageing Collins-class subs prompted the new deal agreed by Biden, Mr Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The last time Britain and the US formally agreed collaborate on nuclear technology to build submarines was in 1958.

Although the US and Britain has operated nuclear-powered submarines for decades, Canberra has never built its own.

Australia is seen as essential to counter China’s regional influence, especially in the contested South China Sea.

In recent years, the UK and Australia have increasingly worked together on defense, with joint training exercises.

Last night Mr Johnson said: ‘The UK, Australia and US are natural allies.

‘While we may be separated geographically, our interests and values are shared. The AUKUS alliance will bring us closer than ever, creating a new defense partnership and driving jobs and prosperity.’

As part of a joint statement with the other two leaders, Mr Johnson added: ‘The endeavour we launch today will help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

‘For more than 70 years, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have worked together, along with other important allies and partners, to protect our shared values and promote security and prosperity. 

In a live broadcast, the Prime Minister said the partnership would make the world safer

In a live broadcast, the Prime Minister said the partnership would make the world safer

The US assessed in 2020 that China has the largest navy in the world with 350 ships and subs, including more than 130 major surface vessels. Pictured: Chinese warship (stock image)

The US assessed in 2020 that China has the largest navy in the world with 350 ships and subs, including more than 130 major surface vessels. Pictured: Chinese warship (stock image)

Pictured: Chinese ships docked at Garden Island Naval Base in Sydney Harbour in June 2019

Pictured: Chinese ships docked at Garden Island Naval Base in Sydney Harbour in June 2019

‘Today, with the formation of AUKUS, we recommit ourselves to this vision.’ 

In a live broadcast from Downing Street, the Prime Minister said the partnership would make the world safer. 

The three countries already share extensive intelligence through the Five Eyes alliance, which also involves Canada and New Zealand.

It is not known when the vessels will be ready, but officials said the initial scoping phase is expected to take 18 months when it will be determined where they will be built and by whom. 

Mr Johnson said Scotland and parts of the north of England and the Midlands would feel the benefit of the work on the nuclear-powered submarines, with the Government keen to exploit the Royal Navy’s decades-worth of knowledge of using such machines.

At a later press conference in Canberra, Mr Morrison said it was undecided if Australia would purchase British-built BAE Systems Astute class submarines or the Virginia class vessels constructed in the US.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and armed forces minister Florence Parly said in a statement issued by the country’s embassy in Canberra that it had taken note of Australia’s decision to halt the Future Submarine programme with France.

‘This decision is contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust and on the development of a very high-level defense industrial & technological base in Australia,’ the statement added.

Earlier this year, in the integrated review of security and foreign policy, the UK Government outlined plans for a ’tilt’ in focus to the Indo-Pacific.

Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was earlier this year deployed on a voyage East in a decision said to be about sending a message to Beijing and Russia about Britain’s military might. 

France has been 'stabbed in the back' by the Australian nuclear submarine deal, a former top diplomatic official has said. French President Emmanuel Macron with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Elysee Palace in Paris in June

France has been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Australian nuclear submarine deal, a former top diplomatic official has said. French President Emmanuel Macron with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Elysee Palace in Paris in June

'The world is a jungle,' ex-ambassador to the US Gerard Araud tweeted on Thursday morning

‘The world is a jungle,’ ex-ambassador to the US Gerard Araud tweeted on Thursday morning

The Indo-Pacific area is of particular concern due to increasing geopolitical tensions such as unresolved territorial disputes and the risk of nuclear proliferation.

France has been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Australian nuclear submarine deal, a former top diplomatic official has said. 

‘The world is a jungle,’ ex-ambassador to the US Gerard Araud tweeted on Thursday. 

‘France has just been reminded this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia. C’est la vie.’ 

Australia has for years been planning to build a fleet of 12 diesel-powered submarines in Adelaide via French company Naval Group, with a deal made in 2016 valued at $90billion. 

The French government later on Thursday said Australia’s decision to ditch the agreement was ‘contrary to the spirit of cooperation which prevailed’ between the two countries. 

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said the change in plan ‘marks an absence of coherence that France can only observe and regret’. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly held concerns Naval Group would be unable to deliver submarines until 2030 with deadline and price disputes. 

Defense officials have openly discussed abandoning the deal since June and told a Senate estimates hearing in June there were ‘challenges’ with the agreement.

Australia will instead embrace nuclear power after decades of debate – marking the first time the US and UK have shared their nuclear submarine technology with another nation. 

Jacinda Ardern vows to BAN Australia’s new nuclear-powered submarines from New Zealand waters just minutes after alliance with US and Britain to build them is announced 

Australia’s new nuclear submarine fleet won’t be welcome in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned.

The new submarines are the centrepiece of a new security deal – known as AUKUS – agreed to by Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom and announced on Thursday morning.

New Zealand has been left out of the alliance, despite being a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, along with AUKUS members and Canada.

The Kiwi leader said the formation of AUKUS ‘in no way changes our security and intelligence ties with these three countries’.

‘We welcome the increased engagement of the UK and US in the region and reiterate our collective objective needs to be the delivery of peace and stability and the preservation of the international rules based system,’ she said.

Ms Ardern was briefed on the alliance by Scott Morrison on Wednesday night.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned Australia's new nuclear submarine fleet won't be welcome in New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned Australia’s new nuclear submarine fleet won’t be welcome in New Zealand

On Thursday morning, she made clear the submarines would not be welcome in New Zealand’s waters, in line with a long-held policy.

New Zealand has been staunchly nuclear-free for decades, earning the ire of the United States by declining visits from nuclear-powered ships.

‘New Zealand is first and foremost a nation of the Pacific and we view foreign policy developments through the lens of what is in the best interest of the region,’ she said.

‘New Zealand’s position in relation to the prohibition of nuclear powered vessels in our waters remains unchanged.’

New Zealand’s opposition has rung the alarm over the deal, saying they’ve been cut out of the new defense pact.

‘It’s disappointing that after many years of New Zealand’s co-operation with our traditional allies, the current Government appears to have been unable to participate in discussions for ‘AUKUS’,’ opposition National leader Judith Collins said.

‘New Zealand’s strong nuclear-free stance shouldn’t have been a barrier to us joining such a partnership. We could have been carved out of the nuclear aspect of the partnership,’ Ms Collins says.

 

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