On 22 May, the three-country AUKUS military alliance strengthened its anti-China presence in the Pacific when the US signed a new security pact with Papua New Guinea (PNG) which may open the door to AUKUS submarines using PNG facilities.
Under the terms of the AUKUS deal, royal navy submarines are due to make their first deployment to Australia in 2027.
In a recent briefing, USA, Australia Militarizing PNG, former Papua New Guinea foreign affairs officer Dominic Navue Sengi pointed to Australia’s growing use of the Lombrum naval base on PNG’s Manus Island. He warned that the US was also seeking to use PNG as part of an encircling ‘island chain’, its ‘so- called “big spearhead” looking into China’.
AUKUS, an alliance between Australia, the UK and the US, is widely seen as just an agreement to supply nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, but it has many other dimensions.
In April 2022, the AUKUS leaders made clear that they intended to co-operate on ‘hypersonics and counter- hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities... on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities’.
On the submarine front, the first phase will see the US selling Australia three Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines in the early 2030s. The second phase will see BAE Systems and Rolls- Royce building a new ‘AUKUS- class’ submarine (to a British design) for both Australia and Britain, with Australia receiving its first sub in the early 2040s.
CND has warned that the transfer of nuclear-powered submarine technology to Australia breaches the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because the NPT only allows the exchange of civil nuclear technology ‘for peaceful purposes’.
The Australian budget for the AUKUS submarines includes a massive 50 percent contingency fund. The forecast A$368bn (£196bn) cost of all the Australian subs includes a contingency budget of A$122bn (£65bn) to cover possible cost overruns.
Greens senator David Shoebridge said: ‘The Albanese government is giving defence a totally unprecedented $122bn stuff-up fund. This is a license to fail on contract negotiations and project delivery for the AUKUS submarine deal.’
At the end of March, former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans asked why ‘the whole decades-long focus of our defence posture’ should be shifted away from the defence of Australia (and the sea lanes around it) towards ‘a posture of distant forward defence’.