It is the “biggest investment” in Australian history, in the words of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. On Monday, March 13, the country signed a historic partnership within the tripartite military alliance “AUKUS”, alongside the United States and the United Kingdom, aimed at replacing its fleet of diesel-powered submersibles with nuclear-powered ships. . This replacement will be done first by the purchase of American buildings, then by the production on Australian territory of a new type of submarine, designed jointly by the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. These, delivered from 2030, should “support the Australian economy for decades”, and create “around 20,000 direct jobs” in the country, according to the leader.
What is the purpose of the partnership?
“Each nation has a slightly different rationale for why the AUKUS deal is happening, but basically it always comes back to China,” said Charles Edel, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. The United States sees the country as its main competitor and seeks to dissuade it from undertaking military action, especially with regard to the island of Taiwan – which Beijing claims as part of its territory. US officials say China wants its military to be ready to take Taiwan, if necessary by force, by 2027.
Although China was not directly mentioned during the public meeting, the purpose of the agreement is clearly to “counter its military expansion” in the Indo-Pacific zone, ensures the BBC. In an aside to reporters shortly after, Joe Biden said he “is not concerned that China considers AUKUS to be aggressive,” adding that he would “soon” speak with President Xi Jinping, reports the Chinese newspaper in English South China Morning Post. For its part, Beijing criticized the deal, warning that AUKUS risked reigniting an arms race. Just like Moscow, which on Tuesday accused the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom of orchestrating “years of confrontation” in Asia, by launching their alliance on nuclear submarines.
Why is this historic?
‘For the first time in 65 years’, the United States will share the technology at the heart of its nuclear submarines, allowing Australia to build powerful war machines that will become submarine-capable fleets China in the South China Sea, US President Joe Biden said. The United States had so far “shared the technology of nuclear-powered submarines only with Great Britain, within the framework of a defense agreement signed in 1958”, in the heart of the Cold War , underlines the New York Times.
“It binds the United Kingdom, a European power, to Australia, a Pacific power, with the United States being the glue of this new partnership,” said Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to the White House. . “And that’s a broader encouragement from the US president for European allies to engage more in Asia, and for Asian allies like Japan and Korea to engage more in Europe,” he added. The birth of the AUKUS partnership was followed by 18 months of consultations, which Australian, British and American leaders announced the conclusion on Monday at a California naval base.
Why is this an effort for Australia?
For Australia, moving from the current “Collins” class of submarines to the “Virginia” class will not be trivial: some versions of the new submarines are almost twice as big and require twice as many sailors. The Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, announced that the bill would rise between 268 and 368 billion Australian dollars (between 166 and 228 billion euros) over the next 30 years.
More stealthy and with a greater operational range, these new machines will however be “not armed” with missiles with nuclear heads, said Joe Biden, anxious to respond to accusations of proliferation made by China. As Australia does not have more civilian nuclear power, the submarines will be delivered already loaded with fuel, and its partners will take care of the resulting waste. In total, Australia should procure three American nuclear-powered submarines of the “Virginia” class, with an option for two additional machines.
The conclusion of the Aukus alliance, with the corollary of Canberra’s cancellation of the contract for the acquisition of 12 French submarines, had given rise in 2021 to a diplomatic crisis with France, which had cried “treason”.