Joe Biden has said a new nuclear-powered submarine deal with the US, UK and Australia will make the trio “the best in the world”. The landmark deal is a major milestone for defence between the allies amid growing pressure from China in the Indo-Pacific. It is also a significant checkpoint for new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is seeking to thaw relations with the US.
The positive step forward for the special relationship raises hopes of a long-anticipated UK-US trade deal.
Speaking in California on Monday, US President Biden – flanked by Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – said: “You’re all the best, and we’re going to be the best in the world – the three of us.”
The three leaders announced that Australia would be given conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines, using US, UK and Australian technology.
Biden made it clear that the submarines would not be armed with nuclear weapons
He said: “I want to be clear to everyone from the outset. Right off the bat, no confusion or misunderstanding, these subs are powered, not nuclear-armed submarines.”
The president hosted the two leaders at a naval base in San Diego where they discussed the best path forward.
“Simply stated, we’re putting ourselves in the strongest possible position to navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said.
The three countries announced the AUKUS security partnership in September 2021, stating that the first major initiative would be to support Australia in acquiring conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.
In a statement, White House officials said: “Our plan elevates all three nations’ industrial capacity to produce and sustain interoperable nuclear-powered submarines for decades to come, expands our individual and collective undersea presence in the Indo-Pacific, and contributes to global security and stability.
“For more than a century, our three nations have stood shoulder to shoulder, along with other allies and partners, to help sustain peace, stability, and prosperity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.
“We believe in a world that protects freedom and respects human rights, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states, and the rules-based international order.
“The steps we are announcing today will help us to advance these mutually beneficial objectives in the decades to come.”
The new agreement replaces a deal Australia had already to buy diesel-powered submarines from France, enraging French president Emmanuel Macron and sparking warnings from Beijing.
Defence sources said the UK would look to build between eight and 20 new submarines as part of the deal.
Australia will work over the next decade to build up its own submarine industrial base and will build its subs in South Australia with some components manufactured in the UK.
The first UK submarines will be delivered in the late 2030s to replace the current Astute-Class vessels, and the first Australian submarines will follow in the early 2040s.
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