Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine deal with the US and UK will quickly become “too big to fail”, the deputy prime minister has said.
Richard Marles commented in an interview on Guardian Australia’s political podcast, pushing back against the idea that Aukus’ multi-year plan could be vulnerable to political changes in both the US and the UK.
He also predicted that wider diplomatic efforts to stabilize relations between Australia and China would “continue largely unaffected by what has been announced this week”.
As Secretary of Defense, Marles was at the center of Aukus planning. He said he felt the “weight” and “responsibility” of this week’s announcement of large-scale, staged plans that would cost Australia up to $368 billion by the mid-2050s.
One point of contention was Australia’s pledge to provide $3 billion in funding over the next four years to subsidize the submarine production base in the other two countries, mostly in the United States, and what guarantees there were that the United States would actually continue to sell the three. Five Virginia-class submarines to Australia in the 2030s.
Asked what treaties or agreements lie beneath the high-level political commitment announced this week in San Diego, Marles said the project is “a collaborative effort between the three countries.”
“The legal basis for that would be … and there would have to be a treaty-level document between our three countries, so there’s a whole legality that would work,” Marl said.
“But in many ways this surpasses that [given] The magnitude of the decision to share this capability with Australia. And the move that we’ve taken to do that puts all three countries in a situation where it’s too big for any of those countries to fail.”
Marles said all three countries were “deeply committed to each other’s success in this project” and that gave him “a sense of confidence that it will play out the way we want it to.”
“This should work for the US, this should work for the UK, as much as it should work for Australia,” he said.
Despite Beijing’s sharp criticism of the Aukus deal this week, which included labeling it a Cold War-era pact that would be dangerous for the region, Marles said Australia’s push for a productive relationship with China would continue.
“China is clearly investing in its defense capability. we do it to ourselves,” he said.
“In terms of the relationship between our two countries and the way we talk to each other and the way we engage, I really think the stabilization project will continue.”
Marles also addressed questions about whether submarines could become obsolete, given that the Australian National University’s Transparent Oceans? the report found that scientific and technological advances predict that the oceans will be “likely” or “very likely” to become transparent by the 2050s.
“Just as there’s a lot of effort to light up the seas, there’s a lot of effort to create more stealth around submarines,” Marles said.
“You can turn the question around and say: how confident are we that by 2050 the sea veil will be removed so that we don’t need submarine capabilities? Well, that would be a recklessly risky call by any Australian government.”
Marles said the fact that many countries are investing heavily in submarines shows that they will be “really useful parts of military capabilities for decades to come.”
“But precisely because of efforts to light up the sea, diesel-electric submarine capabilities will pass in the latter part of this decade, and in the 2030s, a relatively declining capability as more will be seen.”
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said this week that the best way for Australia to reassure the region about the submarine program would be to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
It is Labor Party policy to do so, but only “taking into account” several factors, including the need for an effective verification and enforcement architecture and the work to achieve universal support from other nations. Nuclear-weapon states, including the United States, have opposed the treaty, arguing that it is inconsistent with the current security environment.
Marles said Australia wanted “a world without nuclear weapons” and sent observers to the first meeting in Vienna last year.
“A meaningful contribution to the elimination of nuclear weapons must include the involvement of nuclear-weapon states,” he said.
“We fully understand its intent and we agree with its intent … but what the treaty should strive to achieve is universality by the countries that sign it, so that’s the problem.”