At last week’s so-called “AUKUS Defense Ministerial” meeting, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his British and Australian counterparts, Ben Wallace and Richard Marles, stated that they expected to announce in early 2023 what would be “the optimal pathway” for Australia to acquire at least eight conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines. Translated into plain English, the phrase connotes the impending decision as to whether, in accordance with the terms of the September 2021 AUKUS agreement, the submarines will be based on a British or American design. In any event, both countries will share their nuclear propulsion technology with Australia.
AUKUS is more than a plan to build a new Australian submarine fleet to replace the aging Collins class. It also calls for cooperation among the three countries on a broad array of technologies, including, but not limited to, advanced cyber, artificial intelligence and autonomy, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic technology, electronic warfare. It is in this context that the question of expanding AUKUS to other states has arisen.
In particular, the AUKUS ministerial has spurred considerable discussion regarding expanding AUKUS to include Japan, creating a so-called “JAUKUS.” Marles, the Australian defense minister, made it clear where Canberra stands on the matter: “AUKUS is a capability and technology partnership, one which we hope will form part of a broader network Australia seeks to build, in which Japan is central.” The question, therefore, is not whether Japan would join the club of three but when; indeed, some observers argue that the sooner, the better.
Japan, a longstanding American treaty ally, has recently expanded its military cooperation with the other two AUKUS states and has continued to increase its defense spending. Tokyo and Canberra signed a reciprocal access agreement in January, which calls for joint military exercises and easier access for each country’s forces onto the territory of the other, and generally provides for greater and what has been termed “seamless” cooperation between the two militaries. In October, the two countries also signed an updated and strengthened version of their wide-ranging 2007 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.
Japan likewise has deepened its military ties with the United Kingdom, whose forces are increasingly active in East Asia, including the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth’s five-month deployment to the South China Sea, which was completed last month. In 2017, London and Tokyo issued a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation that called for joint exercises, information exchanges, and mutual logistics support. In July 2022, the two countries announced they would join Italy to develop a sixth-generation fighter aircraft. This month, the UK and Japan will …….