More countries could join next phase of Aukus, UK defence minister says

Pillar two of defence pact could include involvement by other nations, Alex Chalk says

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, meets US President Joe Biden, centre, and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in San Diego, California, as part of Aukus discussions. AP
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A UK defence minister said on Tuesday that more countries could be welcomed into the next stage of the Aukus pact, which will focus on co-operation in areas including hypersonic weapons and quantum computing.

Alex Chalk was asked in the Commons to provide an update on the second line of effort of the defence pact between the UK, the US and Australia. The first line included Australia getting its first nuclear-powered submarines.

The agreement includes co-operation on advanced cyber, artificial intelligence and autonomy, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic, electronic warfare, innovation and information sharing.

“These are essential capabilities which can be delivered before the new Aukus subs enter service,” said shadow defence secretary John Healey.

“The Integrated Review yesterday said very little on pillar two. So, can the minister overcome his reluctance today and provide an update on pillar two? What are its strategic objectives? What are its timelines?

“Which of the technologies has the highest priority? And as the broad coalition of countries imposing sanctions on Russia has shown some of our strongest and most reliable allies are in the Indo-Pacific, could any other countries beyond the three Aukus nations become involved in pillar-two collaborations?”

President Joe Biden, left, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrive at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California, as they unveil the Aukus security pact. AP

Mr Chalk, who had recently updated MPs on the submarine project, said: “There are a number of aspects to it [pillar two], from hypersonic, as he indicated, AI, but also underwater technologies as well. There will be further detail that will be explored in due course.

“What I think I can say to his point about other countries is unlike pillar one, which is not open for engagement beyond the three nations that we’ve already indicated, we will, of course, consider the interest that other nations have expressed in pillar two.

“What Aukus is designed to show, whether it’s pillar one or pillar two, is a shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and an international system that respects the rule of law, sovereignty, human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion.

“That’s what our nation stands for; that’s what Aukus will deliver.”

Updated: March 15, 2023, 12:29 AM