The AUKUS submarine deal

Yesterday there was news of huge global and regional significance. It should be the lead story in NZ media, but it has been barely reported on. The Washington Post reports:

President Biden appeared at a naval shipyard here on Monday afternoon with his British and Australian counterparts to announce a major new plan to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines in what amounts to a direct counter to China’s growing influence in the region.

Standing with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Biden unveiled details of the arrangement at a time of rising tensions with China and amid a global realignment that is triggering dramatic increases in military spending in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. …

The agreement is a substantial one, as Australia over the next several decades will be spending more than $100 billion to buy the submarines and build up its own industrial capacity, as well as shore up America’s and Britain’s shipbuilding capability, officials said. …

The arrangement, which comes as part of the AUKUS security pact — short for Australia-U.K.-U.S. — is the culmination of 1½ years of negotiations. The United States will initially sell Australia three Virginia-class attack submarines, with an option to buy two more, at a cost of about $3 billion each. The aim is for the first submarine to be delivered by 2032.

After that, Australia will buy a British-designed nuclear-powered sub, to be called the SSN-AUKUS, that will include substantial U.S. technology. It will be built in the U.K., with Australia eventually developing the capacity to build its own version in the 2040s.

Albanese, the Australian prime minister, said the deal “represents the biggest single investment in Australia’s defense capability in all of our history.” Sunak called it “the most significant multilateral defense partnership in generations.

“It demonstrates the ultimate commitment to allies — taking the crown jewels of America’s technology and sharing them with Australia,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters.

The only other country with whom the United States has shared the submarines is the United Kingdom, and that occurred some 65 years ago.

This is almost as big a deal as Finland and Sweden joining NATO. It is a huge commitment, and a realisation that China could well go the way of Russia unless there is significance regional deterrance.

Whatever defence and foreign policy NZ had two years ago is now outdated. The Ardern Government has actually done a good job at starting to reorient our foreign policy around the new reality, but we need to follow this up with a credible investment in defence.

In 1980 we spent 3% of GDP on defence. We now spend 1.4%. That may have been fine in the 1990s and even early 2000s when Russia and China were relatively benign, but it is manifestly inadequate today. Australia is spending 2.0% and increasing that. We should look at moving to at least 2.0%.

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