Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called the newly announced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom “historic and important.”
“Historic because it overturns decades of strategic caution and announces to the world that we take national security seriously,” he said in a statement on Twitter on Sept. 16.
“Important because it acknowledges the scale of the strategic challenge from China and declares that Australia will play our part in meeting it,” he added.
His comments were in stark contrast to those from another former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who said the agreement was a “dramatic loss” of sovereign capability for Australia.
“Australia has had great difficulty in running a bunch of Australian-built conventional submarines—imagine the difficulty in moving to sophisticated nuclear submarines,” he said in a statement.
“If the United States military with all its might could not beat a bunch of Taliban rebels with AK47 rifles in pickup trucks, what chance would it have in a full blown war against China?”
Keating was an international advisor to the state-owned China Development Bank.
The new security alliance was announced on Sept. 16 by U.S. President Joe Biden, and the British and Australian Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson, and Scott Morrison during a joint virtual press conference from each of their capitals.
The new alliance, called “AUKUS,” will see the U.S. and UK governments assist Australia with acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, a move that would make Australia one of the only countries in the world to operate nuclear-powered weapons, despite ratifying the non-nuclear proliferation treaty.
“We will launch a trilateral effort of 18 months, which will involve teams—technical and strategic and navy teams—from all three countries to identify the optimal pathway of delivery of this capability,” according to a joint statement by the three governments.
“We will also announce efforts to spur cooperation across many new and emerging arenas—cyber; AI—particularly applied AI; quantum technologies; and some undersea capabilities as well.”
The move bolsters the U.S. and UK government’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific, while also marking a significant shift for Australia’s defence capabilities (which has long eschewed nuclear development as it has been prohibited under law).
It also adds an extra dimension to the existing Five Eyes’ arrangement, which has been the main intelligence sharing network between Australia, UK, United States, Canada, and New Zealand—and has, of late, been a platform for democratic allies to engage on issues related to countering Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aggression.
Prime Minister Morrison said the new submarines would be built in the city of Adelaide.
“But let me be clear. Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,” he said. “We will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”
Federal Greens member of Parliament Adam Bandt was critical of the move claiming “dangerous” nuclear submarines would place “floating Chernobyls in the heart of Australia’s cities.”
“It makes Australia less safe, increases the risk of conflict in our region & puts us in the firing line,” he wrote on Twitter on Sept. 16. “Greens will fight this tooth and nail.”
Liberal Democrat state member of Parliament David Limbrick responded on Twitter, saying, “The Navy moves away from fossil fuels, and the Greens still aren’t happy. There’s no pleasing some people!”
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz welcomed the announcement in a statement to The Epoch Times, “Our unique geography and our location in the Indo-Pacific requires dynamic naval capabilities, and nuclear submarines will serve that end very well.”