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AUKUS: Pathway to Security and Dialogue

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

China's spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, has accused the US, UK and Australia of disregarding international concerns and starting on a "road of error and danger" in response to the recent announcement of the AUKUS submarine agreement. President Joe Biden has said that although the submarines would be nuclear-powered, they would not be nuclear-armed.

The exchange highlights the need for understanding and collaboration between the US, UK and China as well as the rising tensions between China and its neighbour in the Asia-Pacific region. To this end, communication and efforts to foster confidence and collaboration are crucial.

It may have been necessary to purchase the AUKUS submarines “to protect Australia from China's military power,” but it's also critical to address China's concerns and try to come to an amicable agreement. This is only possible if all sides are prepared to meet and listen to each other's positions. This way they can engage in constructive communication and develop long-lasting security solutions that are advantageous to everybody.

Proliferation Concerns

The spread of nuclear technology and weapons has the potential to take the entire-Asia-Pacific region to the brink. This is not to say that Australia is pushing to build nuclear capabilities in response to the development of technology and the rising demand for nuclear energy. Nonetheless, it is impossible to overestimate the risks posed by a non-nuclear country that seeks to acquire, operate and build nuclear-powered submarines.

Under the pact, the AUKUS parties have for the first time used a loophole in the 1968 Nuclear-Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to justify the transfer of highly-enriched uranium, fissile material and nuclear technology to Australia. China says due to the flaw in Paragraph 14 of the NPT, fissile material used for non-explosive military applications is exempt from inspections and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This may set a precedent for others to use to avoid IAEA inspections of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

Australia’s future nuclear submarines may have security advantages, but they also present risks as a consequence. China says the danger of radiation exposure, accidents, the handling of nuclear waste and the possibility of other scenarios are also serious issues that the parties to the AUKUS agreement are yet to fully address. This includes identifying safe ways to dispose of radioactive waste, reduce the dangers of nuclear submarines and preserve regional security.

IAEA Safeguards

It is the duty of AUKUS parties to abide by the IAEA suggestions and regulations. Its safeguards ensure that nuclear material is not being used for unapproved purposes. The safeguards system lowers the likelihood of conflict by fostering mutual trust and confidence between nations. It also contributes significantly to the advancement of nuclear technology's peaceful applications by ensuring that it is used safely and responsibly.

The risks of proliferation cannot be emphasised, especially in the context of nuclear submarines. Speeding down the wrong path may result from non-nuclear states acquiring nuclear weapons, which raises the potential of accidents, arms race and worse. It is imperative that nuclear powers never attempt to transfer or share their nuclear capabilities in a reckless geopolitical gamble and for ill-advised “all-round containment, encirclement and suppression.”

After the US, Britain, France, China, India and Russia, Australia is set to become the seventh nation in the world to own nuclear-powered submarines as a result of AUKUS. These submarines can transport nuclear missiles - a crucial component of nuclear deterrent. The ownership of nuclear submarines by a non-nuclear state can also raise concerns about the violation of IAEA’s safeguards.

Despite the hysteria and alarmism, this shouldn’t turn into a major-power conflict. The double standards of AUKUS pact may have heightened tensions between China and its neighbours, but it also offers a chance for negotiations and strategic planning to allay worries. Communication and collaboration are crucial as there are still hazards and concerns related to the AUKUS agreement.


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