Australia joined the US and UK in signing an agreement that allows the exchange of sensitive “naval nuclear propulsion information” between the countries. The deal has angered France, which found out at the last moment that its own diesel-electric submarine contract with Australia which was recently estimated to be worth Aus$90 billion ($65 billion), had been canceled.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton joined diplomats from the US and Britain diplomats on Monday to formally embark on a hotly-contested program to provide its navy with nuclear-powered submarines in a new defense alliance amongst the three countries.
The agreement is the first of its kind to be publicly signed since the three countries made the announcement in September regarding the formation of a defense alliance, AUKUS, to address strategic tensions in the Pacific where China-US rivalry is accelerating.
Dutton said after signing the deal in Canberra with US Charge d’Affaires Michael Goldman and British High Commissioner (ambassador) Victoria Treadell that the deal will aid Australia to complete an 18-month study into the submarine procurement.
Details pertaining to the procurement have yet to be agreed upon, including whether Australia will opt for a vessel based on US or British nuclear-powered attack submarines.
Dutton shared, “With access to the information this agreement delivers, coupled with the decades of naval nuclear-powered experience our UK and US partners have, Australia will also be positioned to be responsible and reliable stewards of this technology”.
Before the signing of the agreement, US President Joe Biden said in a memorandum approving the deal on Friday that it would improve the three countries’ “mutual defense posture”.
Owing to the AUKUS deal, Australia will receive eight state-of-the-art, nuclear-powered but conventionally armed submarines capable of stealthy, long-range missions. The deal also allows for sharing cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum, and unspecified undersea capabilities.
The agreement has led to China’s disproval, which described it as an “extremely irresponsible” threat to the stability in the region.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been unapologetic regarding his handling of the agreement, sharing that it was in his country’s national interest and that he was aware it would “ruffle some feathers”.