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White House promises Australia’s nuclear subs will arrive ‘at earliest possible date’ - 19.12.21

Australia is on track to receive a nuclear-powered submarine at the “earliest possible date”, according to the White House, as the three signatories to the AUKUS security pact seek to further expand the scope of their three-month old agreement.

Article by Adam Creighton - Washington Correspondent for The Australian

Officials from the three nations have agreed to find areas “for future collaboration” by early 2022 beyond the original four, which were cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and Australia’s nuclear submarine capability, according to a statement by the White House on Friday.

They promised to “to bring the Australian [nuclear submarine] capability into service at the earliest possible date”, dismissing away growing speculation from experts the promised capability would be later and more expensive than the originally contracted, conventionally powered French-designed submarines.

“The delegations agreed on the next steps over the 18-month consultation period to define the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines,” the White House said, revealing two high level meetings among the three allies took place at the Pentagon earlier in December.

The AUKUS pact, which became public in September after up to a year of secret negotiations, provides for Australia to obtain eight nuclear-powered submarines, without specifying the suppliers, timeline or what proportion of the submarines would be built in Australia.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating slammed the deal for a second time last week, claiming the promised submarines would make the Australian navy a “unit of any US naval force”.

“What the US has connived in is the effective expropriation of Australia’s strategic sovereignty through the AUKUS program,” Mr Keating told The Weekend Australian.

Sam Roggeveen, a foreign policy expert at the Lowy Institute, said the pact carried no risk for the US but could require Australia to “to contribute to operations that a future Australian government would rather avoid”.

“[And] this project is so wildly ambitious that it may be cancelled long before the first steel is cut,” he wrote in a national security journal on Thursday, echoing concerns from other analysts.

New analysis by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated the submarines could cost more $120bn, or around double the original cost of the French-designed submarines.

“The challenges, costs and risks will be enormous. It’s likely to be at least two decades and tens of billions of dollars in sunk costs before Australia has a useful nuclear-powered military capability,” its report, released earlier this week, said.

Separately, the Biden administration named AUKUS one of its top three foreign policy achievements this week after an awkward two-day delay after a question from a journalist about the President’s foreign policy successes.

Jen Psaki, who, when asked, said she would prefer to think about the answer, cited “new platforms like AUKUS” and the Quad as one of the Biden administration’s top three foreign policy achievements, along with restoring alliances with Europe and “reclaiming leadership” of global institutions.

“We are working more closely with our allies and partners in the region on defence, security, and economic interests while deepening connections between our European and Indo-Pacific allies,” she said, in a series of reply tweets.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Jakarta on a tour of Southeast Asia last week, said the AUKUS pact “advanced our strategic interests”. “It will … uphold the international rules-based order, and promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

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White House promises Australia’s nuclear subs will arrive ‘at earliest possible date’ - Th
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The PCU Virginia, an American nuclear-powered submarine.

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