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Nuclear submarine deal to reshape Indo-Pacific relations

  • Published at 06:30 am September 18th, 2021
File photo: A US Navy personnel walks past the USS North Carolina (SSN-777) submarine docked at Changi Naval Base in Singapore on April 28, 2014 Reuters

US, UK and Australia to form alliance that can reshape relations in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond

The US, UK and Australia have announced they are forming a new security alliance that will help equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

The alliance will see a reshaping of relations in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, reports UNB citing AP.


Ten years ago under President Barack Obama, the US began discussing the need to focus more attention on the Indo-Pacific while pivoting away from conflicts in the Middle East.

Under President Joe Biden, the country has now withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan while finding that tensions with China have only grown. In the Pacific, the US and others have been concerned about China's actions in the South China Sea and its antipathy towards Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

In announcing the deal, none of the three leaders mentioned China, although the alliance was seen as a provocative move by Beijing. The US had previously only shared nuclear propulsion technology with the UK. Biden said it was about ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.


Leaving the European Union under Brexit has left Britain seeking to reassert its global position. Part of that has been an increased focus – or tilt – towards the Indo-Pacific.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new alliance would allow the three nations to sharpen their focus on an increasingly complicated part of the world.


Under the arrangement, Australia will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines using US expertise, while dumping a contract with France for diesel-electric subs. Experts say the nuclear subs will allow Australia to conduct longer patrols and give the alliance a stronger military presence in the region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had called the leaders of Japan and India to explain the new alliance. Japan, India, Australia and the US already have a strategic dialogue known as "the Quad." Biden is set to host fellow Quad leaders at the White House next week.


Australia told France it would end its contract with state majority-owned DCNS to build 12 of the world's largest conventional submarines. The contract was worth tens of billions of dollars. France is furious, demanding explanations from all sides.

"It was a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.


China said the alliance would severely damage regional peace and stability, and jeopardise efforts to halt nuclear weapon proliferation. It said it was "highly irresponsible" for the US and UK to export the nuclear technology, and that Australia was to blame for a breakdown in bilateral relations.

"The most urgent task is for Australia to correctly recognise the reasons for the setbacks in the relations between the two countries, and think carefully whether to treat China as a partner or a threat," said Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

New Zealand

Left out of the new alliance is Australia's neighbour New Zealand. It has a longstanding nuclear-free policy that includes a ban on nuclear-powered ships entering its ports. That stance has sometimes been a sticking point in otherwise close relations with the US Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was not asked to be part of the alliance and would not have expected an invitation. Still, it leaves New Zealand out of a deal to share a range of information, including artificial intelligence, cyber and underwater defence capabilities.

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