The nuclear submarine deal will help protect Australia from unprecedented threats to its interests and values.
ANU National Security College
The AUKUS agreement – whereby Britain and the United States will provide nuclear-powered (but not nuclear-armed!) submarines and a spate of other related technological upgrades – is one of the most important agreements that Australia is a party to. It needs to be prioritised and stewarded over the coming decades.
Our defensive alliance with the Americans, now over 70 years old, has served us well since its ratification in 1952. AUKUS will now also be required to supplement this alliance and ensure that we can continue to enjoy the prosperity, security and freedoms that we have enjoyed for so long and come to take for granted.
The reality is that menacing developments in the Indo-Pacific and our wider region threaten our interests and values in a manner unprecedented in our history. Japan presented a spate of threats to Australia in the early 1940s, but the risks, dangers and threats that we face in the Indo-Pacific over the coming decades are an order of magnitude greater.
These mostly, but not exclusively, come from China and its ambition to refashion the Indo-Pacific and wider regional order to substantially increase its own role and reduce that of the United States. Such a development would also potentially undermine Washington’s alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and ourselves, which have been foundations of the peace that we have benefitted from for so long.
Anything worthwhile, however, comes at a cost, and this is also the case for AUKUS.
The current price tag is approximately $370 billion over 30 years. We Australians are going to have to brace ourselves and continue bracing ourselves for tough budgetary choices. We are going to have to repeatedly ensure that funds that could be used for a number of other worthwhile and important national endeavours and initiatives will indeed be used for the American and British nuclear-powered submarines and related technological upgrades. These choices will only get tougher over time and given the fiscal pressures many see on the horizon.
Another important challenge relates to nuclear non-proliferation. The Americans have only shared their world-leading and highly sensitive nuclear-powered submarine technology before with one other state: the British in the early Cold War. That they are now sharing it with us reflects the fact that we have assured them that we will also be reliable custodians of these important systems and in no way risk the spread of nuclear weapons.
AUKUS indeed strengthens the nuclear non-proliferation regime given the means we have and will put in place to safeguard the nuclear technology that we will receive. But we will have our work cut out for us to assure others in the region and indeed within our own population that this is the case.
We will need to assure the international community that long after Australian PM Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have moved on, we will not attempt to use AUKUS to get our own nuclear weapons.
Others predictably opposed to AUKUS have already attempted to paint the agreement in this light, so we will have our work cut out for us to reassure the world of our good and important intentions.
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