Australian news, and some related international items

The Australian submarine agreement: Turning nuclear cooperation upside down

The Australian submarine agreement: Turning nuclear cooperation upside down, Bulletin By Ian J. Stewart | September 17, 2021
 The UK and US have announced they will support Australia in development of a nuclear submarine fleet and will provide (conventionally armed) Tomahawk cruise missiles. This is one of those exceedingly rare and exceedingly significant announcements that come along only every decade or so. The announcement literally turns existing precedence and practice on their heads in order to extend traditionally northern hemisphere cooperation to Australia and bolster its role in countering an increasingly assertive China. While much is not yet known, some of the ramifications and implications of this development are discernable.

Before considering the announcement’s specific implications, it is worth reiterating how exceedingly rare and significant it is. Many in the nonproliferation and strategic studies field will draw a parallel between this announcement and the 2005 announcement that the United States would renew civil nuclear cooperation with India. The so-called AUKUS declaration, like the other, was made with the grand purpose of securing an additional strategic ally against the rising China. However, neatly associated with both is also an expectation that domestic industries will benefit from access to a new market.

…. In this announcement, the United States and UK are overturning decades of accepted practice to support the transfer of a strategic capability to another country. The decision is sure to irk China and accelerate the spiral towards a Cold War-style standoff, with renewed strategies of containment against the revisionist power. The initiative has also offended France, which had become closer to the UK and, to a lesser extent, the US on nuclear matters in the last decade or so.

…….  The Australian breakup with France is clearly not a happy one, with the French Embassy tweeting its contempt for how the announcement was made. On Friday, France announced it was recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, calling the US-Australia agreement “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”

A second implication is for the nonproliferation regime itself. Much like the announcement of the US-India deal, AUKUS is already dividing the international security community. Many nonproliferation practitioners call foul, on the basis that, on the face of it, the announcement appears to cut across several norms, agreed rules, and accepted practices. The cooperation may be used by non-nuclear weapons states as more ammunition in support of a narrative that the weapons states lack good faith in their commitments to disarmament……..

A third implication involves precedence. There has been constraint in terms of naval nuclear reactor exports for many decades. However, several countries have been working to acquire naval nuclear reactors. Brazil is perhaps the first country that comes to mind. It will be argued by many that AUKUS reaffirms Brazil’s legitimacy in pursuing nuclear-powered submarines.

……….  the British government is almost certainly thinking about it as a means to bolster Rolls Royce. The United States by law and by practice is particularly protective of its reactor technology. As such, the prospect of an independently designed UK reactor being sold to Australia could check a number of boxes.

The agreement may have an additional casualty in UK/French nuclear cooperation. ……..

September 18, 2021 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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