Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced the historic agreement, which also paves the way for Australia’s $90 billion French submarine deal to be scrapped.
The new AUKUS trilateral security partnership will allow the three countries to share technology covering cyber security, artificial intelligence, underwater systems and long-range strike capabilities.
The pact is expected to rankle an increasingly assertive China.
Over the next 18 months, Australia will investigate building a nuclear submarine fleet in partnership with the UK and US.
“We intend to build these submarines in Adelaide in close cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States,” Morrison said.
“But let me be clear. Australia is not seeking to establish nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability.
“We will continue to meet all of our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”
Morrison joined US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in making a joint statement confirming the pact.
“Today, we join our nations in the next generation partnership, built on a strong foundation of proven trust,” Morrison said.
“We have always seen the world through a similar lens.
“We have always believed in a world that favours freedom, that respects human dignity, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states and the peaceful fellowship of nations.”
In 2016, the federal government enlisted the French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet to replace Australia’s ageing Collins Class submarines.
The deal involved building 12 new submarines in Adelaide, with the first of the new vessels to enter service around 2035.
But the project has been hit by heavy delays and massive cost blowouts.
Boris Johnson said the AUKUS pact aimed to preserve peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We’re opening a new chapter in our friendship,” he said.
“The first task of this partnership will be to help Australia acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.”
Biden said the pact was a historic step to deepen and formalise co-operation between the three nations.
“We all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long-term,” he said.
China’s Washington embassy reacted to a new security pact announced by the US, the UK and Australia by saying that countries should “shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice”.
Asked to comment, Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said countries “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties. In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it clear Australia’s new nuclear submarine fleet would not be welcome in that nation’s waters.
New Zealand has been staunchly nuclear-free for decades, earning the ire of the United States by declining visits from nuclear-powered ships.
“New Zealand is first and foremost a nation of the Pacific and we view foreign policy developments through the lens of what is in the best interest of the region,” Ardern said.
“New Zealand’s position in relation to the prohibition of nuclear powered vessels in our waters remains unchanged.”
Federal cabinet ministers were summoned to a secret meeting in Canberra on Wednesday ahead of the announcement after being granted border exemptions to enter the ACT.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne are already in Washington for the 31st annual Australia-US Ministerial Consultations, or AUSMIN.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and three other members of his frontbench were also briefed on the sensitive matter.
Morrison is due to travel to Washington next week for a meeting of the Quad alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia.
-with ReutersJump to next article