Australia buys nuclear-powered subs – would NZ  be concerned  if we came under attack and they were defending us?

Australia’s move to strengthen  its defence capability with  five nuclear-powered attack submarines  underlines how  relatively defenceless New Zealand  is  in the  Pacific.

Kiwis  may gasp that the Labor government in Australia recognises  it must outlay $400bn on the  nuclear subs, but this ensures  that Australia is  not  exposed  to any marauding raid.

Part of the deal under the Aukus  umbrella (embracing Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States) is that Australia will regularly host US nuclear-powered submarines beginning within five years, and embedding its military personnel with the US and UK navies, as it begins the process of establishing its own industry.

US President Joe Biden has stressed that the submarines, provided under the trilateral security pact  would be “nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed”.

“These boats will not have any nuclear weapons of any kind of them,” he said during a news conference held by the leaders of Australia, the US and the UK in San Diego on Tuesday.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the agreement “represents the biggest single investment in Australia’s defence capability in all of our history.”

He noted it was “the first time in 65 years, and only the second time in history, that the United States has shared its nuclear propulsion technology, and we thank you for it”.

Of  course  some New Zealanders  may mock Australia’s government  for  buying nuclear subs but, at the  same time, refusing to agree  to nuclear reactors onshore  to replace fossil-fuelled  electricity generators, but other Kiwis  may be  eager to shelter  under the  Australian nuclear umbrella.

Australia is also to begin building its own fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide. They are set to begin service in the 2040s with a cost ranging from A$268 billion (NZ$287b) to A$368b up to 2055.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called Aukus “the most significant multilateral defence partnership in generations”.

He said the UK would share its 60 years of experience running its own submarine fleet with Australian engineers “so they can build their own”.

Australia’s  decision to buy the nuclear submarines has been in the works  for some time, and  had  been planned  by the  previous government in Canberra in the Scott Morrison era. He was one of the drivers in establishing Aukus,  a  relatively new defence arrangement with the US, the UK  and  Australia in what amounts to a direct counter to China’s growing influence in the region.

Standing with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, President  Biden unveiled details of the arrangement at a time of rising tensions with China and amid a global realignment that is triggering dramatic increases in military spending in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The agreement is a substantial one, as Australia over the next several decades will be spending more than $100 billion to buy the submarines and build up its own industrial capacity, as well as shore up America’s and Britain’s shipbuilding capability, officials said.

The arrangement is the culmination of 1½ years of negotiations. The US will initially sell Australia three Virginia-class attack submarines, with an option to buy two more.  The aim is for the first submarine to be delivered by 2032.

After that, Australia will buy a British-designed nuclear-powered sub, to be called the SSN-AUKUS, that will include substantial US technology. It will be built in the UK, with Australia eventually developing the capacity to build its own version in the 2040s.

“It demonstrates the ultimate commitment to allies — taking the crown jewels of America’s technology and sharing them with Australia,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser,  said. 

Meanwhile   back  in NZ  PM  Chris Hipkins told reporters  the  nuclear-powered submarines  would not be welcome in NZ.

  Would  we  be concerned  about  the nuclear power if   NZ  came under  attack  and Aukus came  to our defence?

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