New Australia, United Kingdom, United States defence pact 'sidelines New Zealand', focus on nuclear capabilities

A new defence pact has been announced between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States with the trio intending to share advanced technologies, likely to counter China's growing dominance.

The three nations will share information in key technological areas, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and nuclear submarines.

"Our nations will update, enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st century, just as we did in the 20th century, together," US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.

He said the countries were taking another "historic step to deepen and formalise cooperation among all three of our nations".

"We all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term," Biden said. 

There is said to be a big focus on nuclear capabilities, with Australia likely to scrap a deal with France to build nuclear submarines to instead work with the US and UK. While nuclear-powered, these subs will be conventionally armed.

"The first initiative under AUKUS will be a collaboration on future nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy," a statement from the United Kingdom said. "This capability will promote stability in the Indo-Pacific and will be deployed in support of our shared values and interests."

Citing comments from a senior Pentagon official, The Australian newspaper reports the AUKUS pact is "a 'new ANZUS' that sidelines New Zealand, cements Australia's alliance with the US in the 21st century and provides the 'stealth, speed and manoevrability' to counter any Chinese threat to stability in the Indo-Pacific region".

Former Australian Ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey has reportedly called it "ANZUS 2.0", giving "bite" and "teeth" to the Five Eyes intelligence network that New Zealand and Canada are also members of. 

The UK Statement said the new agreement "reflects the unique level of trust and cooperation between our three countries, who already share extensive intelligence through the Five Eyes alliance".

ANZUS is a security agreement signed between Australia, New Zealand and the United States in 1951. The US suspended its obligations to New Zealand in 1986 in the wake of New Zealand declaring a nuclear-free zone and refusing entry to nuclear-powered ships. 

Asked if the grouping could be extended to include New Zealand, a senior US administration official said the pact was "complementary to other forms of security and political engagement in the region". 

While one official said the new pact was "not aimed at any one country", it comes as tensions between the trio of countries and China continue to escalate, especially over the South China Sea and Taiwan.

After the announcement, the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC said countries "should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties."

"In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice," it said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded later on Thursday morning saying our intelligence-sharing relationship remains unchanged, as does New Zealand's nuclear stance.

Joint statement from Australia's Scott Morrison, the United States' Joe Biden and United Kingdom's Boris Johnson.

As leaders of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, guided by our enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order, we resolve to deepen diplomatic, security, and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including by working with partners, to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. As part of this effort, we are announcing the creation of an enhanced trilateral security partnership called “AUKUS” – Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Through AUKUS, our governments will strengthen the ability of each to support our security and defense interests, building on our longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties. We will promote deeper information and technology sharing. We will foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. And in particular, we will significantly deepen cooperation on a range of security and defense capabilities.

As the first initiative under AUKUS, recognizing our common tradition as maritime democracies, we commit to a shared ambition to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. Today, we embark on a trilateral effort of 18 months to seek an optimal pathway to deliver this capability. We will leverage expertise from the United States and the United Kingdom, building on the two countries’ submarine programs to bring an Australian capability into service at the earliest achievable date.

The development of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would be a joint endeavour between the three nations, with a focus on interoperability, commonality, and mutual benefit. Australia is committed to adhering to the highest standards for safeguards, transparency, verification, and accountancy measures to ensure the non-proliferation, safety, and security of nuclear material and technology. Australia remains committed to fulfilling all of its obligations as a non-nuclear weapons state, including with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Our three nations are deeply committed to upholding our leadership on global non-proliferation.

Recognizing our deep defense ties, built over decades, today we also embark on further trilateral collaboration under AUKUS to enhance our joint capabilities and interoperability. These initial efforts will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.

The endeavour we launch today will help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. For more than 70 years, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have worked together, along with other important allies and partners, to protect our shared values and promote security and prosperity. Today, with the formation of AUKUS, we recommit ourselves to this vision.