On September 15, 2021, President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Bruce Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new defense pact between the three countries to strengthen our existing alliance in the Indo-Pacific region. The stories of our three nations are intertwined, as are our destinies – for Australia, the UK, the US and for our allies the AUKUS alliance represents a firm and deliberate decision to strengthen the state of international law and maintain the post. -International Order of World War II which led to unprecedented peace and prosperity in the world.
Although some have seemed caught off guard by the development, the three countries have long-standing ties and a common presence in this part of the world dating back even before World War II. For example, after Pearl Harbor in 1942, when Japanese forces were able to advance into the South Pacific with little resistance, the northwestern Australian city of Darwin was devastated by waves of Japanese bombers. To this day, the Battle of Darwin is etched in Australia’s memory – a reminder of its vulnerability to external threats. Later that year, the U.S. Navy blunted Japan’s plans for Australia in the Battle of the Coral Sea, inflicting heavy losses on the Japanese fleet, enough to deter any further attacks on that continent for the rest of the war.
Australia’s gratitude to the American people for this one-handed rescue still resonates to this day. In the aftermath of the war, Australia, New Zealand and the United States entered into a security agreement known as ANZUS, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary of maintaining close ties between our navies and our air force. ANZUS is not just a paper commitment. As of 2011, 2,500 US Marines have been deployed to Darwin on a regular basis, joining the US Navy and US Air Force in reaffirming freedom of navigation and overflight. The three ANZUS countries, along with Canada and the United Kingdom, also continue to operate the “Five Eyes” – an intelligence-sharing alliance that dates back to the “code-breaker” collaboration of WWII in 1941.
At the center of the AUKUS deal, as has been well reported, is the momentous decision to share nuclear technology for naval propulsion, which the United States has only done once before, namely with the United Kingdom in 1958. Although the state of Connecticut is as far from the Indo-Pacific region as anywhere in the world, our state will be involved in this new endeavor. As in 1958.
At the time, the United States was the only country in the world to master the complexity of nuclear propulsion. Since the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (known as the McMahon Act after its sponsor, Senator Brien McMahon of Connecticut), the United States Navy was prohibited from sharing this technology with another nation, even with an ally like Great Britain. , who participated in the Manhattan Project during World War II. In the 1950s, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Dwight Eisenhower bristled with this restriction and lobbied the Senate to allow an exception, for the UK. The Senate finally gave in in 1958 and passed an amendment to the McMahon Act that recognized the relationship “between America and Britain, and allowed this specific case of nuclear technology sharing.
Shortly thereafter, Admiral in Charge of the Nuclear Navy, Hyman Rickover, guided this joint process which continues to this day. For example, in 2021, the US Navy and Electric Boat, along with the UK Navy and BAE systems, are building a “common missile tube” for their submarine recapitalization programs.
Rickover’s successor, Admiral James Caldwell, has now been tasked as a result of AUKUS to analyze the means by which our three countries can execute the new construction of Australian submarines. It is a daunting task, and it is far too early to predict how the work will be distributed among the three countries. But given Connecticut’s pre-existing relationship with Australia, which I have personally witnessed as co-chair of the bipartisan Friends of Australia Caucus, I have no doubts that our state will make an important contribution.
For example, during visits in 2017 and 2019 to Australian Submarine Base HMAS Stirling in Perth, I encountered Sailors from Groton Submarine Base who were on rotation engaged in joint training. I have also been made aware of Electric Boat’s non-nuclear technical assistance for the Australian Collins Class Submarine Program. Obviously, given the technological leap that UKUS demands, EB’s design and construction expertise will be essential.
When AUKUS was announced, our three nations made it clear that the intention of the agreement is to strengthen the rule of international law, which has been the backbone of 75 years of astonishing prosperity and relative peace in the Pacific. after the most destructive conflict in human history. Freedom of navigation and overflight, the legal sharing of natural resources such as fishing and mineral rights, and respect for the sovereignty of nation states have been the keys to avoiding a repeat of coercion and violence. sponsored by the state of the 1930s and 1940s. Sadly, China’s relentless “island building” in international waters and the immediate militarization of those land masses – along with the astonishing build-up of navies and guards – China’s coasts over the past decade and their coercive actions – have dangerously changed the accepted norms for sharing the “global commons” of air and sea.
And it’s not a clatter of a neo-cold war saber. In 2016, the United Nations Tribunal on the Law of the Sea unanimously rejected China’s absurd claims to territorial control over much of the South China Sea as a violation of international law. He also refused to recognize China’s man-made islands as sovereign territory. China has verbally rejected the decision since then and brazenly escalated the aggressive behavior that the UN tribunal specifically condemned, including by fortifying the man-made “islands”.
In 2016, Australia embarked on the recapitalization of its aging fleet of Collins-class diesel-electric submarines, which has been called upon to operate at increasingly high rates in recent years. He contracted with the French naval group to build a new class of Barracuda diesel-electric submarines, which at the time seemed adequate. With the threat rapidly evolving in the region and the “tyranny of distance” in the Pacific, Australia’s decision to move away from diesel-electric in favor of nuclear propulsion is understandable. The underwater range of a nuclear submarine far exceeds diesel-electric, and given China’s highly advanced missile technology, avoiding any need for a submarine on the surface will greatly reduce the risk of detection. This is the reality of the situation – not a blow to the French Navy. As Prime Minister Morrison and President Biden have made clear, the French Navy is a valuable partner in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and AUKUS is not a security deal that inherently excludes other allies. Instead, it is one of many tools that like-minded allies can use to defend the rule of international law.
It’s also important to note that the AKUS partners have explicitly confirmed that the deal does not change Australia’s ban on nuclear weapons. The New Submarine Deal only opens the door to sharing nuclear propulsion technology – Australia-built submarines will carry only conventional deterrents. As the Congressional Research Office put it in 1989, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “… does not prohibit non-nuclear-weapon parties from using nuclear material for any purpose. military non-prohibited (i.e. non-explosive), such as naval propulsion. Australia’s diligent compliance with the NPT will not change because of AUKUS.
Make no mistake, the solidarity of the AUKUS nations, as well as other democratic actors in the region, is not intended to fuel growing tensions. It revolves around a strategy of deterrence and engagement with like-minded nations seeking to reaffirm the peaceful coexistence that has reigned in the Indo-Pacific for 75 years. This peace deserves to be protected for America, our allies and for future generations. AUKUS will help us do that.
Representative Courtney, from District D-2, is the chairman of the House Armed Services Maritime and Projection Forces subcommittee, which oversees all shipbuilding for the United States Navy. Courtney is also co-chair of the bipartisan Friends of Australia Caucus.