Washington: In a significant move, the United States and Australia have joined hands with India, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Korea to ensure security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The 33rd Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) held in Brisbane served as the platform for this crucial collaboration.
The high-level meeting was attended by prominent officials from both nations. The US delegation, led by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, engaged in discussions with the Australian delegation, which included Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Penny Wong.
A notable highlight of the meeting was the reaffirmation of their commitment to enhance interoperability with Pacific militaries through a series of joint exercises. The inclusion of Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2023 as participants for the first time, along with India, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines as inaugural observers, showcased the willingness to foster collaboration among nations in the region.
The AUKUS partnership, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, also received positive acknowledgement. The partnership aims to equip Australia with conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines and advanced capabilities to bolster stability and security in the Indo-Pacific.
Under the agreement, Australia is set to procure three Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) from the USA. Additionally, there is an option to obtain two more submarines in case of any delays in building a new class of SSN-AUKUS boats.
The SSN-AUKUS submarines will be based on a British design but will integrate American technology. Both the UK and Australia will benefit from these submarines, with British production commencing slightly earlier due to Australia’s relative inexperience in such sophisticated shipbuilding. The ultimate goal is for Australia to establish a sovereign capability in building and maintaining a fleet of SSNs, with support from the UK and USA.
Notably, Australia will become the seventh country globally to operate nuclear-powered submarines. It’s worth emphasizing that these Australian SSNs are not intended for carrying ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads, as they are not ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), which are exclusive to a select group of nations.
The commitment to transparency and the call for others to adopt a similar approach to capability development were strongly emphasized by both Australia and the US during the consultations.
Furthermore, the two nations outlined plans for deploying a USCG Cutter to the Pacific in early 2024. This move aims to bolster maritime domain awareness and training in the region, addressing priorities such as combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The enduring alliance between the United States and Australia was reaffirmed during the consultations, with both parties expressing their strong commitment to preserving stability, prosperity, and peace. Their shared values and determination serve as the foundation for this unbreakable partnership.
Amidst the historical momentum of the alliance, the United States and Australia unveiled several key areas of shared effort. This includes operationalizing the Alliance and undertaking an ambitious range of force posture cooperation efforts. Notably, more regular and extended expeditionary visits of US submarines to Australia are set to begin this year.
The two nations also emphasized maximizing the strategic and technological advantages of the Alliance to counter heightened strategic competition. In this regard, they pledged to strengthen their advanced capabilities and the health of their defence industrial bases.
Collaboration on critical technologies and innovation will be a cornerstone of the Alliance’s asymmetrical capability edge. Additionally, opportunities for regional co-development, co-production, and co-sustainment aligned with agreed capability priorities will be explored.
Lastly, both countries reiterated their commitment to upholding a global order based on international law, particularly the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. They also highlighted their focus on strengthening mutual alliances, partnerships, and trilateral and multilateral security arrangements.
In conclusion, the 33rd Australia-US Ministerial Consultations marked a significant step towards fostering security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. The collaboration between the United States, Australia, and other regional partners sets a positive precedent for future cooperation in addressing shared challenges and ensuring a prosperous future for the region.