KUALA LUMPUR – Australia signed the agreement to share nuclear propulsion information with the United States and the United Kingdom on Monday, marking the initial steps towards the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine fleet with the assistance of the U.K. and U.S.
The Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement, or ENNPIA, is a key part of the new AUKUS pact, which stands for the three partners nations – Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.
President Joe Biden signed a memorandum on Friday that approved the arrangement.
“The Agreement will permit cooperation, which will further improve our mutual defense posture and support our interests under the North Atlantic Treaty; the Australia, New Zealand, and United States Security Treaty; and the enhanced trilateral security partnership among the three Parties known as ‘AUKUS,'” Biden said in the memo.
The U.K. had yet to issue a formal statement on the agreement as of press time.
In an Australian Department of Defence news release issued Monday, Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said the ENNPIA will further advance consultations by permitting the U.K. and the U.S. to exchange sensitive and classified naval nuclear propulsion information with a third country for the first time.
“This Agreement will support Australia in completing the 18 months of intensive and comprehensive examination of the requirements underpinning the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines,” Dutton said.
Dutton stressed that Australia was not seeking nuclear weapons and that the submarines will be conventionally armed, adding that the agreement is consistent with Australia’s international obligations, including under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. He also said the ENNPIA only allows for the sharing of naval nuclear propulsion information and that no nuclear equipment can be transferred under it.
“Each Party may communicate to or exchange with the other Parties naval nuclear propulsion information as is determined to be necessary to research, develop, design, manufacture, operate, regulate, and dispose of military reactors, and may provide support to facilitate such communication or exchange, to the extent and by such means as may be mutually agreed,” Article II of the ENNPIA states.
The National Interest Analysis on the ENNPIA, a document that details the reason why the Australian government sees the treaty as beneficial to Australia, said the ENNPIA is only intended to facilitate the sharing of naval nuclear propulsion information. A subsequent agreement would need to be negotiated to support transfers of equipment, materials or technology related to nuclear naval propulsion. Following the 18 month AUKUS consultation period, – and once the requirements and commitments related to nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy are understood and evaluated – such an agreement would be negotiated and be subject to Australia’s domestic treaty-making requirements, including tabling in Parliament and consideration by the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT).
Under Australia’s Parliamentary process, treaties are tabled in both Houses of Parliament for consideration by JSCOT and are required to be tabled for 15 or 20 joint sitting days, or days on which both Houses of Parliament are in session, depending on the category of the treaty. A National Interest Analysis is issued by the government as part of this process, outlining the government’s reasons on why the treaty is beneficial to Australia.
For the ENNPIA, the Department of Defence’s International Policy and Agreements and the Nuclear Powered Submarine Task Force prepared the National Interest Analysis. JSCOT holds public hearings and subsequently presents a report to Parliament containing advice on whether Australia should ratify the treaty, though the government does not have to follow the advice of the Committee.
The ENNPIA also includes a security annex laying down the procedures for the information that will be shared and exchanged under it, with Section 1a stating that “no individual shall be entitled to access naval nuclear propulsion information solely by virtue of rank, appointment, or security clearance. Access to naval nuclear propulsion information shall be afforded only to those individuals whose official duties require such access and who have been cleared by the Party providing such access.”
Meanwhile, section 1F states that each clearance for access will be periodically reviewed, along with reexamination on a priority basis should new information come to light that indicates clearance to an individual presents a security risk. Section 1G states that effective liaison is to be maintained between the national agencies responsible for national security and the agencies responsible for the clearance determination and program execution to ensure prompt notification of any information with implications to previously granted clearances.
Australia’s pursuit of nuclear-powered submarines and the new pact with the U.S. and the U.K. comes as countries in the Indo-Pacific region seek ways to hedge against China.