/ 14 March 2024

AUKUS enters choppy waters


The Squiz

Today marks a year since the AUKUS defence pact between Oz, the US and the UK was launched – but things aren’t going swimmingly… US officials have announced they’ll cut the planned production of Virginia-class submarines next year. They’re some of the nuclear-powered subs Australia has on order, which will be used to patrol our northern waters from the 2030s, so it’s raised questions about how the AUKUS plan to keep the Indo-Pacific’s power balance in check will be realised. PM Anthony Albanese and Defence Minister Richard Marles talked down the concerns yesterday, saying the AUKUS partners are “steadfast” in sticking to the original timelines.

What happened?

On Tuesday, the Pentagon shared its 2025 defence budget with the US Congress, revealing that it has requested funding for one Virginia-class submarine – rather than the 2 planned. That’s an issue because, to ensure its own fleet is well-stocked, the US had set a production rate of 2.33 submarines a year before it would allow any to head Down Under. It also goes against plans to ramp up production so that Oz could secure 3 submarines in the next decade. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull – who led the original submarine deal with the French, which was canned for the Morrison Government’s AUKUS deal – says Australia has been “mugged by reality”. He reckons “we are bobbing along as a cork in the maelstrom of American politics”. Coalition leader Peter Dutton says a defence pact like AUKUS would always hit “difficulties from time to time” but reckons “they will be ironed out”.

Anything else?

Yep – there’s more US defence funding news, would you believe it… The White House has announced plans to send an emergency weapons package worth more than $450 million to Ukraine for its defence efforts against Russia. That might sound like a lot, but it’s far less than the $60 billion aid package the Biden administration wanted. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says it’s “nowhere near enough to meet Ukraine’s battlefield needs”, but the major aid package bill has been tied up for months as Republicans push back against it. US funding for international conflicts is shaping up to be a big talking point in this year’s presidential election. And just on President Joe Biden and former Commander in Chief Donald Trump – both have now secured enough votes to win their parties’ presidential nominations after some more primaries were run. It’s on like Donkey Kong… 

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