The US, UK, and Australia are teaming up to develop new defence technology – including nuclear-powered subs

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to stop the spread of the Delta variant and boost COVID-19 vaccinations, in the State Dining Room of the White House complex on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021 in Washington, DC. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • President Biden announced a new security partnership – dubbed “AUKUS” – with the UK and Australia.
  • The new trilateral security partnership deepens cooperation on nuclear subs, cyber, AI, and more.
  • Officials told Politico that a subtext of the agreement is countering China.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden announced a new security partnership with the UK and Australia in a speech at the White House on Wednesday, joined virtually by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.

The three countries will work together to “strengthen the ability of each” to pursue their defense interests through cooperation on defense technology.

“We have always seen the world through a similar lens,” said Morrison. “We must now take our partnership to a new level.”

Morrison said the first major initiative of AUKUS would be to deliver a new nuclear-powered submarine fleet to Australia, working together over the next 18 months “to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve this.” The subs will be built in Adelaide, the prime minister said.

Morrison stressed that Australia is not seeking nuclear weapons or to develop a civil nuclear capability and would adhere to its nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

“This will be one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world, lasting decades and requiring the most advanced technology,” Johnson said, hailing it as “a new chapter in our friendship.”

The AUKUS acronym “sounds strange,” Biden said in his remarks, adding that “this is a good one.”

Biden said the three countries will work together to improve their “shared ability” to take on 21st-century threats.

“We’re taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long-term,” Biden said. “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve”

“This effort reflects the broader trend of key European countries playing a supremely important in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden added, citing France as having “a substantial” presence in the region, where it has several overseas territories.

According to Australian media, Canberra will abandon a roughly $US66 ($AU90) billion deal with France for 12 state-of-the-art conventionally powered attack submarines. A French firm was picked to build the subs in 2016, but the deal fell apart amid local political disputes, rising costs, changing designs, delayed schedules.

Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to the US, tweeted that the US and the UK “have stabbed [France] in the back in Australia.”

Biden also stressed that Australia was not seeking a nuclear weapons capability.

“We’re not talking about nuclear-armed submarines. These are conventionally-armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors,” Biden said. “This technology is proven. It’s safe.”

Details of the agreement were reported earlier on Wednesday by US and Australia media.

A White House official and a congressional staffer familiar with the matter told Politico that countering China is an important subtext of the new partnership, though China went unmentioned during the 3 leaders’ remarks.

The leaders on Wednesday stressed the joint nature of the effort, but the agreement comes as countries in the region seek to bolster their own military capabilities. Australia has already announced plans for major defense investments and to add new military capabilities, including long-range missiles.

Australia’s efforts and those in other countries have emerged relatively recently, spurred by China’s rapid increase in military strength.

“In the last four years, it’s become clear that both countries publicly now agree and recognize that the United States’ military preponderance in the Indo-Pacific is passed, and that in fact, we are now very much in a Plan B-era where both countries are working together collectively alongside other committed regional security partners … to advance a networking agenda that can in some way offset and compliment the United States’ extended security guarantees to Asian countries going forward,” Ashley Townshend, director of Foreign Policy and Defence at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said at an event earlier this month.

Long-range missiles are a particular focus, Townshend said.

“Australia is looking to build or to be able to build a suite of different kinds of missiles here in Australia that will provide us with a greater degree of sovereign resilience and a greater degree of defense industrial self-reliance and greater latitude for independent and collective military strategy in the Indo-Pacific,” Townshend said.

Export controls and concerns in the US over the defense industrial base may limit the extent of cooperation, for the time being, Townshend added, but the three leaders stressed their need to cooperate to address common threats.

“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” Biden said.

Watch the full speech by the 3 world leaders here: