The security and defense pact between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia—better known as the AUKUS deal—has ruffled feathers in Europe and Asia.
The main loser in the pact has been France, which had been under a $37 billion contract to build nuclear submarines for the Australian Navy before the contract was unceremoniously canceled due to the U.S. offer. In response, France canceled a gala celebrating a Revolutionary War victory, and later recalled its ambassador to the United States, evident signs that Washington underestimated the severity of French reaction.
Moreover, while U.S. spokesmen have repeated that the pact is simply the sharing of technology and is not intended to target any specific nation, the AUKUS deal is widely understood to be a counterweight to increasing Chinese influence in the Pacific region. China has reacted accordingly, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying that the pact would “severely damage regional peace [and] intensify the arms race.”
On Monday, the pact gained a new opponent: North Korea, when a Foreign Ministry official warned that it could “upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region” and potentially bring about a nuclear arms race.
Pyongyang’s official emphasized that “these are extremely undesirable and dangerous acts which will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and trigger off a chain of nuclear arms race.” The official explained China’s hostile reaction to the pact as “quite natural,” given North Korea’s view that it represented a threat to regional stability.
Last week, Pyongyang conducted a test of two missiles, eliciting anger and condemnation from South Korea and the United States.
Nuclear-powered submarines have several distinct advantages over conventional ones. They can typically stay submerged for far longer and can move more quietly, making them difficult for observers to detect.
While Australia has insisted that it will not equip the submarines with nuclear warheads—as it does not have any nuclear weapons to begin with—submarines could be used potently in combination with these weapons because they can carry missiles to within a few miles of any territory, effectively serving as a mobile launch silo and allowing for precise strikes.
Submarines are the most high-profile technology being exchanged under the new rules, but the U.S. and UK will also share information with Australia in other areas, including missiles and artificial intelligence (AI) weaponry.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.