On Sept. 15, the Biden administration unveiled a new strategic security pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. The agreement, dubbed AUKUS, sets out to deepen defense ties between the three countries by integrating military capabilities across naval, cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other undersea domains while also setting the stage for an enhanced U.S. force posture in Australia. Shortly after AUKUS was announced, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin further elaborated that the U.S. will increase rotational deployments of U.S. military aircraft to the country.
At the heart of AUKUS is a commitment by the U.S. and the U.K. to provide Australia—a non-nuclear weapons state—with at least eight nuclear-propelled submarines that will operate using highly enriched uranium (HEU). This marks the first time that the U.S. will share this technology with a foreign country since a 1958 mutual defense agreement with the U.K. The U.S. has not otherwise shared such technology with another state since the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) went into force in 1970. The three countries have informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of their intentions and have begun an 18-month consultation process to ensure that the provision of nuclear expertise and technology will be in accordance with each nations’ respective NPT obligations.
AUKUS has already sparked a hullabaloo, both with allies such as France, which was left out of the arrangement, and with adversaries such as China, which is an unnamed target of the arrangement. This post explains the naval nuclear propulsion portion of AUKUS, its operation and legal basis, and the controversy surrounding it.