Australia Foreign Minister: AUKUS pact won’t create nuclear-armed Australia

Australia Foreign Minister: AUKUS pact won’t create nuclear-armed Australia


Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has made it clear that a security pact known as AUKUS with the United Kingdom and the United States will not result in a nuclear-armed Australia.

“We are not a nuclear power. There are nuclear powers in the region, but Australia is not one of them,” Wong said in late June 2022, according to The Associated Press (AP).

An AUKUS agreement detailing plans for Australia to acquire nuclear-power submarines had created concerns by some in the Indo-Pacific that the deal might escalate tensions in areas such as the South China Sea, AP reported.

“We remain very clear that we do not seek, nor would we ever seek to arm, (to) have any nuclear capability in our submarines,” Wong said, according to AP. “I think sometimes people hear the word nuclear, and I understand there’s a response to that, (but) we are talking about nuclear propulsion, not nuclear weapons.”

Malaysia is among those in the region that have expressed concerns over the AUKUS submarine deal. Wong traveled to Malaysia to discuss the matter with Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, who said the two had a “very candid” conversation. (Pictured: Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, left, and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah speak with reporters in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in June 2022.)

“Malaysia highly values regional peace and security of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region. We want to maintain the South China Sea, in particular, and the region as a whole as a region of peace, of commerce, of prosperity,” Abdullah said, according to The Guardian newspaper. “We had a very candid discussion on AUKUS just now, and I thank [Australia’s] foreign minister for explaining the government’s position.”

Despite their meeting, Abdullah said Malaysia’s position remained the same.

“It’s important that we listen to concerns, we respond to them respectfully,” Wong said while in Malaysia. “That’s how the government will seek to deal with some of the issues that have been raised and we hope that over time, people’s concerns will be allayed.”

Australia installed new government leadership in June, and Wong said she and her colleagues are committed to ensuring a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles also sought to allay those concerns during remarks in Washington, D.C. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in July 2022, where he called AUKUS his top priority. The trilateral partnership will not only make Australia safer, but it will make Australia a more potent and capable partner, Marles said.

“In determining the optimal pathway forward, the Australian government is acutely aware of the obligations of nuclear stewardship,” Marles said at CSIS. “We are focused on the whole enterprise — safely stewarding sensitive technology, building the workforce and industrial capacity to support the capacity and ensuring this initiative sets the strongest possible nonproliferation standards.”

Wong said Australia understands that the Indo-Pacific is being reshaped economically and strategically and that nations in the region are attempting to navigate the changes. While uncertainty persists, one thing that remains constant is Australia’s commitment to peace in the region.

“Australia will always operate on the basis that we have this objective: a region that is peaceful, a region that is stable, a region that is prosperous, a region in which sovereignty is respected,” Wong said, according to The Guardian, “and importantly, a region where rules enable some predictability to state behavior and the way in which disputes are dealt with.”