WASHINGTON — The Biden administration took a major step Wednesday to challenge China’s broad territorial claims in the Pacific, announcing that the United States and Britain would help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the region. Adding to the western presence in
If the plan announced on Wednesday by President Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is successful, Australia could conduct regular patrols sailing through areas of the South China Sea that Beijing now claims. It has its own special territory, and is located in the north of Taiwan. The announcement is a major step forward for Australia, which until recent years has been hesitant to back down directly on core Chinese interests.
Australia has increasingly felt the threat, and three years ago was one of the first countries to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from its networks. Now, with the prospect of deploying a new submarine fleet, with nuclear propulsion systems that offer unlimited range and operate so quietly that they are difficult to detect, Australia is far more powerful in the US-led coalition in the Pacific. will become a player. And for Mr Johnson, the defense regime will bolster his effort to develop a new “Global Britain” strategy that focuses on the Pacific as the next step in Brexit’s exit from the European Union.
US officials said Australia had committed to never equip submarines with nuclear weapons; They will almost certainly take the traditional, Submarine-launched cruise missiles. Australia is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits it from acquiring or deploying nuclear weapons. Yet traditionally armed submarines, manned by Australian sailors, could alter the naval balance of power in the Pacific.
“Attack submarines are a big deal, and they send a big message,” said Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies the use of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in great-power competition. “It would have been hard to imagine 5 years ago. And it would have been impossible 10 years ago. And it says a lot about China’s behavior in the region.”
The announcement is the latest by Mr Biden, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and his Asia coordinator, Kurt Campbell, to formulate a strategy to push back Chinese economic, military and technological expansionism. Over the past eight months they have blocked China from acquiring key technologies, including materials for semiconductor production; Urges nations to reject Huawei; Leading to closer ties with Taiwan and condemning China’s actions on Hong Kong. Next week Mr Biden will gather the leaders of “The Quad” – an informal partnership of the United States, Japan, India and Australia – at the White House for a personal meeting, another way to demonstrate the common resolve in dealing with Beijing. Is. .
Mr Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week for nearly 90 minutes, only the second time the two leaders have spoken since Mr Biden took office. Few details of the talks were revealed, so it is unclear whether Mr Biden had warned his Chinese counterpart of the move with Australia. But none of this would have come as a surprise to Beijing; Earlier the Australians had announced a deal with France for less technically sophisticated submarines. That deal fell through.
Nonetheless, the decision to share technology for naval reactors, even for a close ally, was a major step forward for Mr Biden – bound to spark opposition by the Chinese and questions from US allies and non-proliferation experts. . Administration officials said the United States last shared nuclear propulsion technology with an ally in a similar agreement with the United Kingdom in 1958.
“There is a shared understanding that we need to strengthen the resistance and be prepared to fight when there is indeed a conflict,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund, a policy think tank. “This reflects growing concern about Chinese military capabilities and intentions.”
The nuclear reactors that power American and British submarines use bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium, a remnant of Cold War-era designs. And for two decades Washington has been on a campaign around the world to eliminate reactors that use bomb-grade fuels, replacing them with less dangerous fuels in an effort to limit the risk of proliferation.
The movement gained momentum after the September 11 attacks, and President Barack Obama ran a series of “nuclear summits” that attracted leaders from around the world, which were used to remove old reactors on nations Highly enriched uranium was used. So that fuel never falls in the hands of terrorists.
But the arrangement with Australia is almost certain to move in the other direction: Australia will almost certainly power its submarines with highly enriched uranium, as there is no other option for now. Aware of the contradiction, administration officials held the decision as an “exception”, though they would not make for other major allies, including South Korea, which had been caught in the decades leading up to the creation of its own nuclear arsenal. Australia has been a leader in the non-proliferation movement.
“The last time we did this was 70 years ago,” a senior administrative official involved in the negotiations said on Wednesday. “After today, it’s unlikely we’ll do it again.”
Officials said details would be worked out over the next 18 months, including tighter controls on nuclear technology. He said Australia has already agreed not to produce the highly enriched fuel, which means it will almost certainly buy it from US reserves.
The United States has discovered to move away from highly enriched uranium. A study by the Pentagon’s top nuclear advisory group concluded in 2019 that the US should move to reactors burning low-enriched uranium, which cannot be easily diverted for use in weapons. But that process, experts concluded, could not begin until after 2040.
“There will be many people who say we are giving Australians a gateway drug to nuclear capability,” Mr Narang said. “It’s not something we’ll let other key allies take away, much less help make it possible.”
But China’s aggressive strategy in the Pacific and the need to ensure security around Taiwan requires the United States to empower Australia, even if it means making an exception to an effort to reduce the use of weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Ho, according to Elbridge Colby, former deputy assistant secretary of defense strategy and force development
“The legitimate non-proliferation questions and concerns outweigh the importance of correcting the deteriorating military balance in the Western Pacific,” said Mr Colby, who recently wrote a book on US-China relations. “If nonproliferation has to backfire, it’s the right call.”
At a briefing, administration officials pitched the submarine project as the first in a series that would bring Australia more firmly into the military alliance. He said future projects could include artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cyber technology and addressing supply-chain issues.
But the fact of the matter is that Australia has, for more than seven decades, been a member of the “Five Eyes”, the intelligence alliance that includes the major English-speaking victors of World War II. The other four are the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. They regularly exchange information on a range of cyber threats and terrorism threats. Australia already has a significant offensive cyber capability, and a vast identity network, and has often been involved in operations to counter China’s cyber capability.
Mr Colby said the decision to share the technology was a “major step” in addressing China’s aggressive strategy in the Pacific.
“The only way we are going to be able to improve this is by focusing our own efforts and more critically listing and uplifting the efforts of our allies,” said Mr. Colby, who told the Trump administration. wrote national defense strategy Which emphasized competition with China and Russia.
The partnership was the latest attempt to challenge China’s growing influence in the Pacific. The US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin, the anchor of the US naval presence in the South China Sea, traveled to Singapore to reassure Southeast Asian countries about the administration’s investment in the region. And during a visit to Hanoi this summer, Vice President Kamala Harris accused Beijing of “bullying” while offering a Coast Guard cutter to a Vietnamese delegation to increase the nation’s presence in the region.