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The US, UK and Australia are establishing a trilateral security partnership to take on China, which will include helping Australia build nuclear-powered submarines.

The initiative, called Aukus, was jointly announced by President Joe Biden and Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, following US briefings describing the deal as binding the three English-speaking countries.

Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, said they were “natural allies” even though “we may be geographically separated” and said the alliance would create “a new defense partnership and boost jobs and prosperity “.

A senior US official described the deal as “a fundamental decision, which decisively binds Australia to the United States and Britain for generations.”

Teams from the three countries will work together over the next 18 months on a plan for the project, which would make Australia the seventh country in the world to commission submarines powered by nuclear reactors.

Australia insists it has no plans to pursue nuclear weapons and will abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but critics said the move could still indirectly boost the proliferation of arms.

Any new nuclear-powered submarine, powered by enriched uranium, will take years – perhaps more than a decade – to develop. But once at sea, they will put Australia’s currently diesel-powered navy on a technological par with China’s navy, the largest in the world.

In addition to cooperation on naval technology, the partnership will involve closer alignment of regional policies and actions, and greater integration of the military and defense industries of the three allies. The three also intend to work together on cyber warfare and artificial intelligence capabilities.

“I think this is a historic announcement,” a senior US official said ahead of an official announcement from Biden, Johnson and Morrison. “This is designed not only to strengthen our capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, but to link Europe, and in particular Britain, more closely to our strategic pursuits throughout the region.”

British officials said they hoped the UK would benefit from defense companies supplying technology to Australia. Rolls-Royce, based in Derby, supplies reactors for Royal Navy submarines, which are ultimately decommissioned in the UK when they run out. But it’s not yet clear how Australia’s reactors will be powered or decommissioned.

The formation of Aukus comes at a time of increasing tensions, particularly over the South China Sea and Taiwan. A new book on the final weeks of the Donald Trump administration said that at the end of 2020, the United States became concerned that China was increasingly convinced that it would be the target of a preemptive attack.

According to Peril, by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley twice called his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng, to reassure him that no attack would take place and that Milley give a warning if Trump issues such an order.

In July, the new British aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, arrived in the South China Sea, the focal point of US-China tensions, triggering denunciations from Beijing. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin welcomed the deployment at the time, but wondered “are there areas where the UK can be more helpful in other parts of the world”.

A senior US official suggested that the UK government had pushed for an increased role in the region.

“Britain is very focused on the concept of a global Britain, and its inclination is to engage much deeper in the Indo-Pacific and that is a down payment on that effort,” the official said.

Until now, the United States had only shared nuclear propulsion technology with the United Kingdom, as part of an agreement dating back to 1958, but a senior American official said: “This is of a unique set of circumstances.

Nuclear power will allow Australia’s attack submarines to stay at sea for up to five months and operate quieter than the country’s existing Collins-class diesel ships, allowing them to better evade enemy detection.

Senior US officials briefing reporters ahead of the announcement did not mention China, preferring to speak generally of “maintaining and enhancing deterrence,” but left little doubt about the power Aukus was supposed to deter. British officials used similar language, saying the deal was “not about one country”.

Some critics of the deal warn that it sets a dangerous precedent for countries to exploit a loophole in the NPT. The treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon countries to build nuclear-powered submarines and remove the fissile material they need for submarine reactors from stockpiles monitored by the global watchdog, the Agency. nuclear energy international, opening up the possibility that they could be diverted to manufacturing weapons. Australia would be the first country to use this loophole.

“My fear is not that Australia is misusing the nuclear material we give it and using the loophole to manufacture nuclear weapons,” said James Acton, nuclear policy program co-chair of the Carnegie Endowment for International. Peace. “What concerns me is that this sets a terrible precedent that other countries could abuse. “Iran is the obvious example here. We would be doing bullshit if Iran removed nuclear material from safeguards. “

David Cullen of the Nuclear Information Service said: “It has only happened once in history when the United States helped the United Kingdom develop its first nuclear-powered submarines.

“What’s interesting is that the US seems to have thrown a bone in the UK by allowing Britain to help design and build the new Australian submarines. The question will be how the Australians will be supplied and whether they want to develop their own nuclear capacity to enrich uranium fuel.

British sources said the talks on the nuclear power deal were initiated by the Australians in March.