One of America’s most senior military commanders has dismissed suggestions the AUKUS security partnership could soon be expanded to include other allies such as New Zealand or Japan.
- Australia, the UK and US formed the AUKUS pact earlier this year and will share nuclear-propulsion military technology
- An outgoing British defence chief has previously flagged other nations could join AUKUS
- New Zealand and Japan are among the countries that have been flagged as possible members
The head of the United States Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), Admiral John Aquilino, also declared Australia’s decision to join the tripartite grouping was driven by a fear of China’s rapidly military rise.
In September, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia unveiled the AUKUS deal, which is exploring options on how to replace Australia’s ageing Collins-class submarines with a nuclear-powered fleet.
Since the announcement there have been both public and private diplomatic calls to invite other strategic allies into the partnership, with the departing British defence chief even suggesting in October that the grouping was never intended to be exclusive.
Appearing at the Reagan National Defence Forum in California at the weekend, Admiral Aquilino gently pushed back against any talk of an imminent expansion to AUKUS.
“We haven’t discussed specifically adding to AUKUS with other nations at this point — but that shouldn’t subtract or detract from our ability to execute increased cooperation through other means other than just nuclear propulsion,” he said.
While the United States did not see a need to expand AUKUS, the INDOPACOM commander said his nation was: “Ready to take on any of those additional efforts that our partners and allies are interested in and start those discussions.”
Admiral Aquilino also discussed Australia’s motivations for joining AUKUS, suggesting China’s growing dominance was the primary reason.
“That has driven the Australians to assess the capabilities they need, and this was an Australian decision, to be able to invest in a nuclear submarine program, that provides the capabilities they need against the security threats in the region that they see,” he said.
“AUKUS is a different and an additional security relationship that will be extremely helpful to keep that peace and prosperity in the region – so I certainly welcome it.
“Australia has made a big step and I think it will increase the security in the region”.
When asked whether there were any concerns in the region about the commitment of the United States, the senior naval officer said he had not detected such sentiment during recent meetings with treaty partners.
“For 80 years we have generated the security and prosperity that’s existed throughout the Indo-Pacific – the US is a Pacific nation, we’ve been there, we’ve been with these allies and partners for all those years.
“Japan, Korea, Thailand, Australia and the Philippines – everything I see from those nations, as well as the rest of the nations in the region, is there is no concern about the strength of the US alliances and partnerships.”
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