Pacific Islands Forum chairman ‘reassured’ over massive nuclear submarine deal

US President Joe Biden (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (L) during the AUKUS summit at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego California on March 13, 2023. - AUKUS is a trilateral security pact announced on September 15, 2021, for the Indo-Pacific region. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)

US President Joe Biden (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (L) during the AUKUS summit at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego California on March 13, 2023. Photo: AFP/Jim Watson

The Pacific Islands Forum chairman has been assured by the United States that the AUKUS agreement will honour the Treaty of Rarotonga after initially saying he felt it would go against it.

The Treaty of Rarotonga formalises a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the South Pacific. It was signed by several Pacific nations including Australia and New Zealand in 1985.

In a media statement, forum chairman and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said he was “reassured to receive from US counterparts last week assurances that AUKUS would uphold the Rarotonga Treaty”.

Brown initially raised concerns with the Cook Islands News about the agreement.

“The whole intention of the Treaty of Rarotonga was to try to de-escalate what were at the time Cold War tensions between the major superpowers. This AUKUS arrangement seems to be going against it,” Brown told the paper in March.

Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown. Photo: Sprep/Cook Islands Government


Brown told Cook Islands News at the time the situation “is what it is” but was not happy about how the arrangement had already lead to an escalation in tension within the region.

Last month, the leaders of the United States, the UK and Australia – Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak and Anthony Albanese respectively – formally announced the deal in San Diego.

It will see the Australian government spending nearly $US250 billion over the next three decades to acquire a fleet of US nuclear submarines with UK tech components – the majority of which will be built in Adelaide – as part of the defence and security pact.

Its implementation will make Australia one of only seven countries in the world to have nuclear-powered submarines alongside China, India, Russia, the UK, the US and France.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta told RNZ Pacific she had been given “assurance” by Australia that the treaty would be upheld.

Mahuta said as members of the Pacific, there was an expectation that nations were briefed on bilateral decisions that impact the stability of the region.

“What I can say from a New Zealand perspective, is that we need to work hard together as a Pacific family to ensure greater stability and there is no militarisation of our region,” she said.

“We want to maintain a nuclear-free Pacific, we want to work with Pacific neighbours around any security related issues.”

Mahuta visited China last month and said the non-militarisation of the Pacific was discussed in her meetings along with other issues, like climate change.

Geo-political analyst Geoffrey Miller said the AUKUS deal was probably “complaint by the letter of the law” but not “by the spirit”.

“It does set a bad precedent … if you want to get hold of nuclear technology in the future just get it in a submarine because that seems to be acceptable,” Miller said.

“It has been called a submarine loophole.”

He said concerns have been expressed by outside experts, including China, but they should be taken seriously.

Astute-class submarine HMS Artful pictured before officially becoming a commissioned warship of the Royal Navy at a ceremony at Faslane Naval Base, Rhu, Scotland in March 2016.

A British Navy nuclear submarine. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, Vanuatu Minister, Ralph Regenvanu has called for Australia to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Regenvanu said in a tweet it was the “only way to assure us that the subs WON’T carry nuclear weapons” and it was a request from Vanuatu to sign.

The Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapon. The treaty entered into force in 2021.

However, when approached by RNZ Pacific, Regenvanu said he did not want to comment on his tweet and Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy was visiting the Pacific island later this week.

Source: RNZ