AUKUS accelerates expansion plans

11:30 22.03.2024 •

The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom are rushing to expand the trilateral AUKUS defence partnership to include more allied countries ahead of elections likely to be held in all three countries in the next 14 months.

A senior diplomat involved in the talks told POLITICO that Japan and Canada are lined up to join the so-called Pillar 2 of the AUKUS agreement in late 2024 or early 2025, where the participants will sign up to extensive military technology cooperation.

There are concerns in Washington, London and Canberra that Donald Trump could withdraw or shelve the AUKUS agreement if he wins the presidential election in November.

The AUKUS agreement was first announced in September 2021. The first part of the agreement, Pillar 1, involves the US and UK helping Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines.

Pillar 2 of the agreement allows the three countries to enter into agreements to develop advanced military technology in areas such as artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles and quantum technologies.

It has always been envisaged that the second pillar could be extended to other US allies; Japan, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea are among those who have expressed a willingness to join the agreement.

A second diplomat involved in the talks said that US President Joe Biden’s administration was now “really pushing hard to get some things done now on the second pillar before the US elections in November, when Trump could retake the White House”.

“The president and his partners have made clear that we will look for opportunities to engage with other allies and close partners as our work on Pillar 2 moves forward,” a White House official told POLITICO.

Although he has not yet spoken publicly about the AUKUS deal, Trump ramped up his ‘America First’ rhetoric during the election campaign, fuelling expectations that he could adopt a more ‘isolationist’ foreign policy stance.

“The return of American isolationism is a risk for the Indo-Pacific,” one diplomat told POLITICO, adding that if Trump wins, there will be a moment when Western leaders will call each other and ask, “What the hell are we going to do now?

“If Pillar 2 fails, then AUCUS will also fail, because we could have only done one submarine deal, even if it was a very large submarine deal. We are very confident that we will have some of the Pillar 2 deals done by the end of this year,” the officials said.

It is stressed that no decision has been taken on the participation of Japan and South Korea in the pact. New Zealand Defence Minister Judith Collins recently said there was ‘no guarantee’ that her country would be invited to join the second pillar of AUKUS.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps will travel to Australia this week for talks with their Australian counterparts.

The two will also meet with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is expected to brief the public in Canberra on the nuclear submarine project amid concerns that America’s decision to cut submarine production could jeopardise the AUKUS agreement.


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