WASHINGTON – The United States is forming a security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom that will allow them to share defense technology in a move that could be seen as sending a message to an aggressive China.
The new partnership, which will be known as AUKUS, will enable the three countries to share artificial intelligence, undersea capabilities and other advanced technologies and deepen cooperation on a range of defense capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region.
One of the working group’s first initiatives will be to help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, which Australian media reports could result in that country dropping a $90 billion submarine deal with France.
"This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances, and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow," said President Joe Biden, who announced the partnership during a virtual news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Senior administration who briefed reporters ahead of the announcement on the condition of anonymity said the partnership is designed to promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and should not be viewed as a direct challenge to China.
Relations between the U.S. and China have frayed in recent years over a range of issues, including trade, intellectual property theft, human rights and China’s aggressive actions against Hong Kong.
But, “This partnership is not aimed at or about any one country,” one official said. “It’s about advancing our strategic interests.”
Right now, just six countries – the United States, China, Russia, France, India and the U.K. – have nuclear submarines. The initiative to help Australia develop a nuclear-powered submarine will take place over 18 months and will involve Navy teams from all three countries.
All three leaders stressed that the new submarines will be powered by nuclear reactors but will not be equipped with nuclear weapons.
"Let me be clear," Morrison said. "Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability. And we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations."
Biden said he has asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to lead the effort on behalf of the U.S. government in close collaboration with the departments of Energy and State.
Johnson described the partnership as a new chapter in the friendship of the three countries. The endeavor will be "one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world," he said, but will ultimately make the world a safer place.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.