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US, Britain, Australia announce new security partnership

The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Waller (SSG 75), a Collins-class diesel-electric submarine, is seen in Sydney Harbour on November 2, 2016. (PETER PARKS / AFP)

WASHINGTON – The United States, Britain, and Australia announced on Wednesday the creation of a new trilateral security partnership.

US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement during a virtual event.

In a joint statement, the three governments said the partnership, called “AUKUS,” will help “significantly deepen cooperation on a range of security and defense capabilities.”

The first initiative under AUKUS will be delivering a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia

The first initiative under AUKUS will be delivering a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia and the three countries will spend as many as 18 months discussing how this capability will be delivered, according to the statement.

Australia intends to build the submarines in Adelaide, a coastal city in the country’s south, in cooperation with Britain and the United States, Morrison said in his remarks.

“Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,” he said, vowing to meet all of its nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

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Biden and Johnson said the nuclear-powered submarines that Australia wants to acquire are conventionally armed, noting that their countries will also be fully in line with their non-proliferation obligations.

A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday that AUKUS “is not aimed or about any one country,” claiming that “it’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”

Rift With France

The new partnership sparked a rift with France, which said that it scuppers Australia’s 2016 deal with a French shipbuilder Naval Group to build up to 12 submarines — a project that had blown out to an estimated A$90 billion (US$66 billion).

The decision to scrap the program was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia” and shows “a lack of coherence,” France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in statement.

“The regrettable decision that has just been announced regarding the FSP program only reinforces the need to make the issue of European strategic autonomy loud and clear,” the French ministers said in reference to the Future Submarines Program. “There is no other credible way to defend our interests and our values in the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.”

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In a press briefing on Thursday, Morrison defended the decision and said he understands it’s disappointing for France. Touting a “forever partnership” with the US and UK, he said it would take as many as 18 months to work out details of the agreement before work on the subs begins in Australia. Building and commissioning such nuclear-powered submarines can take years, or even decades.

“As a prime minister I must make decisions that are in Australia’s national security,” Morrison said. “I know that France would do the same.”

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