On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with the new speaker of the United States House of Representatives, saying he hoped the United States Congress will adopt legislation linked to the AUKUS submarine project this year.
Albanese, who met with US President Joe Biden in Washington on Wednesday, met with the new House Speaker, Mike Johnson, on Capitol Hill a day after Johnson’s election following protracted bickering among House Republicans.
“We, of course, have important legislation required for AUKUS,” Albanese said at the opening of their meeting. “We are certainly hoping that the Congress can pass that legislation this year.”
AUKUS calls for the sale of nuclear-powered submarines from the United States, the sharing of nuclear-propulsion technologies with Australia, and the cooperative development of high-tech armament. The trilateral agreement between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom is the largest defence initiative in Australian history and a response to China’s expanding dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
Budget squabbling and the absence of a speaker for several weeks prior to Johnson’s appointment disrupted the U.S. legislative process in Congress, and Australian officials have raised concern about delays in passing legislation required to bring the AUKUS project forward.
The Importance of the AUKUS project
On Wednesday Reuters reported, Biden informed Albanese that both Democrats and Republicans recognised the strategic importance of AUKUS, and he pushed Congress to enact his administration’s legislation to facilitate the project this year.
At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, a senior Pentagon official emphasised the importance of Congress passing legislation authorising the transfer of submarines to Australia, allowing maintenance of US submarines in Australia and the United Kingdom, and authorising Australian funding for US shipyards and training of Australian workers in them.
Mara Karlin, Biden’s acting deputy under secretary of defence for policy, emphasised the importance of approving a fourth plan to streamline defence commerce among the three AUKUS allies. Officials and analysts think this is critical for AUKUS’s success, given the need to share US technology in both the submarine project and a second AUKUS pillar involving three-way collaboration on high-tech weaponry.
There was no immediate comment from Johnson on his meeting with Albanese, but Democratic congressman Joe Courtney, co-chair of the Friends of Australia Caucus in Congress, said he was “heartened” that the new speaker had included the National Defence Authorization Act, which includes the AUKUS legislation, in his priorities for the current congressional session.
“I think we’re still in pretty good shape to meet the end-of-December deadline,” Courtney said during a news conference.
Twenty-five Republican congressmen in the United States urged Biden in July to raise financing for the US submarine fleet, claiming that the AUKUS plan to sell Virginia-class nuclear-power submarines to Australia would “unacceptably weaken” the US fleet without a clear strategy to replace them.
The three officials of the US Navy who testified at Wednesday’s meeting asked Congress to move forward with Biden’s supplemental budget request, which includes $3.4 billion for additional investments in the US submarine industrial base.
About the AUKUS Project
AUKUS is an abbreviation that stands for “Australia, United Kingdom, United States Security Partnership.” It is a security and defence agreement that will go into effect in September 2021. AUKUS’ principal goal is to strengthen defence and security cooperation among the three countries involved, with a particular emphasis on technology transfer, notably in the development of sophisticated military capabilities, particularly nuclear-powered submarines.
The primary component of the AUKUS agreement is a plan for the US and the UK to assist Australia in the acquisition and development of nuclear-powered submarines. This is a substantial shift in Australia’s defence capabilities, and it is considered as a response to perceived security problems in the Indo-Pacific area, particularly China’s expanding influence.
AUKUS has had geopolitical consequences, with certain countries, including China and France, expressing reservations or displeasure over the deal, which disrupted an earlier submarine pact between Australia and France. It emphasises the changing dynamics of security and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the wider implications for global politics and defence systems.