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AUKMIN 2024 advances AUKUS

Last week’s AUKMIN meeting between the British and Australian defence and foreign ministers ushered in significant progress for the AUKUS agreement.

BAE Systems was appointed by Australia as the preferred partner to build the next-generation AUKUS submarine, or SSN-AUKUS. And the Defence and Security Cooperation agreement between the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia was upgraded, now including a status of forces agreement.

Amidst growing noise around the AUKUS agreement and its supposed pitfalls, this progress is significant and timely. It demonstrates the continued political will both countries have to pursue AUKUS, as well as the depths which the agreement allows partners to take their relationship to. It is proof that the UK and Australia are placing greater emphasis on one another’s geostrategic sensibilities, as well as those of the United States (US). This is important: AUKUS must transcend the unpredictable nature of electoral cycles. The project requires sustained interest and effort from the three partner countries and their respective governments into the 2040s. We must not dodge supporting each other in pursuing, and ultimately realising, the opportunities AUKUS provides.

AUKUS is also significant as it shows how Britain and its allies and partners are working together closely to combat threats to the prevailing international order. Indeed, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, something supported by North Korea, Iran and the People’s Republic of China, and Chinese activity in regions such as Africa, Latin America, the South Pacific, as well as in the maritime space more broadly, have jolted many free and open countries awake to the collective challenge we face.

AUKUS is a response to these challenges, and a transparent way for Australia, the UK and the US to enhance their trilateral relationship, but also to deepen cooperation at the bilateral level, to address them. As demonstrated by AUKMIN 2024, it also gives the UK a chance to not only partner in the upgrading of the capabilities of one of its closest partners, but to benefit from it directly. One cannot overstate the magnitude of this opportunity.

We also know that the nature and character of warfare is changing. Through Pillar II of the agreement, Britain is placing itself at the forefront of technological development, and ensuring that neither it, nor Australia and the US, fall behind.

When looked from the British perspective specifically, AUKMIN 2024 and AUKUS more broadly has more benefits for the UK.

It further embeds Britain in the Indo-Pacific. The UK’s engagement with the region since the Integrated Review of 2021 has been broadly successful, seeing advancements made with previously healthy relationships, such as with Thailand and India, as well as new ground broken with the region’s institutions. AUKUS promises to integrate the UK with the region further, a fact demonstrated through the status of forces agreement signed with Australia recently which would most likely not have occurred without the strategic intimacy AUKUS has facilitated.

Of great importance, AUKUS also gives Britain an opportunity to integrate its industrial base with its top civil, public and private companies, something which has perhaps been forgotten previously. The UK will get an economic boost as a result, and areas in need of greater attention, such as Barrow-in-Furness where SSN-AUKUS will be built, will receive it. 

Post-budget discussions in the UK have raised questions around British defence spending, and whether it is at an adequate level to sustain the UK’s defence capabilities. If we are to embrace the generational opportunity AUKUS provides, higher spending should be seen as a national endeavour and given appropriate focus across His Majesty’s Government. 

Bold ideas are needed for the situation the UK and other democracies find themselves in. AUKUS is one of them; it deserves funding and attention which matches the significant transformation it heralds.

Lord Risby is a current member of the House of Lords and the Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy to Algeria and Lebanon.

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