AUKUS Awkward?

By Dr. Ann Griffiths, 21 March 2023

The announcement of the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) agreement in September 2021 caught a lot of people by surprise. It was a surprise to France which thought it had a deal with Australia to build new conventional submarines, and it was a surprise to Canada, which from Prime Minister Trudeau’s reaction, obviously had no idea that the discussions were happening. The submarine part of the agreement has produced the most discussion as the details begin to be hammered out. While we can only wait to see how things shake out, it is likely going to be a long and expensive road before Australia has its own nuclear-powered subs. And there will be endless debate about it. Questions have already been raised about whether this deal contravenes the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which prohibits nuclear powers (in this case, the UK and US) from transferring nuclear capabilities to non-nuclear powers (Australia). But from a Canadian perspective is it the non-submarine elements of AUKUS that send the strongest message of exclusion? The joint statement announcing the agreement says that the three countries are embarking on “further trilateral collaboration under AUKUS to enhance our joint capabilities and interoperability. These initial efforts will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.” So while everyone focuses on the submarine question, are we ignoring the more interesting elements of the agreement? Did the Five Eyes club become Three Eyes for new technology with Canada left on the outside pressing its nose against the window?


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