U.S.-British Cooperation Vital to Enhance Deterrence against China

The deployment of nuclear submarines to Australia is expected to serve as a new deterrent against China, which is attempting to change the status quo by force in the Indo-Pacific. It is hoped that cooperation will be steadily promoted to maintain peace and stability in the region.

The United States, Britain and Australia held a summit in San Diego and agreed on a specific plan for the United States and Britain to support deploying nuclear submarines to Australia.

According to the agreement, three of the U.S. Navy’s most advanced nuclear submarines will be sold to Australia in the 2030s, with Washington providing two additional submarines if necessary. In addition, the trio will aim for the development and production of new nuclear submarines within the framework of the three countries, and for their delivery to Australia in the early 2040s.

Nuclear submarines can stay underwater for longer periods of time than diesel-powered submarines, and they are harder to detect via radar. Once deployed in Australia, they will enhance deterrence capabilities against China in a wide range of waters in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

The three countries need to work together to promote the training of crew members and the development of personnel with specialized knowledge, so that the Australian Navy can smoothly operate nuclear submarines.

This can be said to be the first tangible result produced by the Indo-Pacific security framework comprising the United States, Britain and Australia known as AUKUS, which was established in September 2021. The three countries intend to deepen cooperation in advanced technology fields, including cyberspace and artificial intelligence, which are increasingly being used for military purposes.

Like the Quad, another framework for security cooperation among Japan, the United States, Australia and India, AUKUS aspires to realize a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and maintain a rules-based international order. This is spurred by a grave sense of urgency over China’s aggressive maritime expansion and military buildup.

In Australia, there is growing awareness of the threat posed by Beijing’s militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea and its expanding influence over Pacific island nations.

The move to possess nuclear submarines was probably based on a strategic decision that, in light of the worsening security environment, it is essential to strengthen the alliance and dramatically improve defense capabilities.

However, Australia has emphasized that it will not possess nuclear weapons in the future and will not produce nuclear fuel for nuclear submarines on its own. Washington and London are expected to supply nuclear fuel, and the process likely will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It is not desirable that criticism will grow that Australia’s introduction of nuclear submarines could be a loophole for nuclear nonproliferation. It is hoped that the three countries will continue their efforts to increase transparency regarding the transfer of nuclear fuel.

China has objected to AUKUS’ moves to deploy nuclear submarines to Australia, claiming that doing so will intensify an arms race, but it is China itself that triggered the arms race. Beijing should focus on exercising restraint in military activities that can pose a threat to other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2023)