President Biden has agreed to help Australia build nuclear submarines and to launch a new three-country military initiative called AUKUS after Biden’s decision not to call Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the US pullout from Afghanistan sparked concern about the status of the longtime alliance.
Biden announced the actions in a virtual event Wednesday with Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“AUKUS will bring together our sailors, our scientists and our industries to maintain and expand our edge in military capabilities and critical technologies such as cyber and artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea domains,” Biden said.
Biden didn’t mention the strategic threat of China, but said “the future of each of our nations — and indeed the world — depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.”
Australian media has focused for months on perceived snubs by Biden, who didn’t consult Morrison ahead of his April decision to remove US troops from Afghanistan or call him amid the chaotic evacuation of Americans and US allies in August — despite Australia’s support for the US throughout the 20-year war.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported this month that the cold shoulder fueled “concerns the alliance between the two nations, as well as the relationship between Mr Biden and Mr Morrison, was strained.”
An Australian reporter pressed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the status of the relationship during a Sept 2 press briefing.
The reporter said: “A Taliban spokesman told an Australian news network that the 41 Australians who died in the war in Afghanistan died in vain. During this time, the Australian government found out about the withdrawal date change through media reporting. We weren’t included on the list from Secretary of State Antony Blinken of countries called on the final day — August 31. Does the Taliban have a point?”
Psaki said the US was “incredibly grateful” for Australia’s support in the war — and Biden called the Australian leader the same day, the White House said hours later.
The US already has military alliances with the UK — a fellow NATO member — and with Australia through the 1951 ANZUS treaty.
But Biden administration officials described the initiative as a rare honor for Australia.
“I do not anticipate that this will be undertaken in other circumstances going forward. We view this as a one off,” an administration official told reporters during a morning briefing.
The official noted that although the US opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons, “Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons.”
Australia has been a key country in US efforts to stem the rise of China’s influence and the country already is a member of the so-called “Quad” group with the US, India and Japan, which was formed to diplomatically oppose China.
But the official said it wasn’t all about China.
“This partnership is not aimed or about any one country. It’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” the official said.
It’s unclear why New Zealand, also an ANZUS treaty ally, is not included in the new initiative, or if the exclusion reflects a change in the US-New Zealand relationship. The island nation is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing partnership — alongside the US, the UK, Canada and Australia — but has opposed nuclear-powered ships and submarines entering in its waters.