In the early days of September 2021, Australia, United Kingdom and United States signed a trilateral agreement which they called as AUKUS pact. Under this pact, US decided to provide eight nuclear powered submarines to Australia in the Indo-pacific region. In the political sphere, this proactive move from US has a clear indication of its policy to strengthen its allies in order to curb the growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. However, apart from the political sight, this trilateral pact has raised serious concerns over global efforts toward nuclear non-proliferation. It is pertinent to note here is that after this trilateral pact, Australia being a non-nuclear weapon state would be the only country to have nuclear submarines. Moreover, Australia after UK would be the first country to whom US has shared its nuclear technology for submarine use. Considering AUKUS pact as reference point, this article analyzes demoralization of overall efforts towards nuclear non-proliferation with a specific focus on Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)—a treaty which is considered as mother of all Non-proliferation agreements.
As the vitality of NPT is considered to be questioned by the AUKUS deal, it is worth writing to explain how this deal has challenged most of the critical articles of NPT.
Article I—which strictly prohibits Nuclear Weapons states (NWs) to “transfer” their nuclear weapons to any Non-Nuclear weapon state. It also prohibits NW’s to facilitate any Non-Nuclear Weapon state (NNWs) in developing its own nuclear weapon by any direct or indirect means. So, in this regard, AUKUS pact seems to question the validity of Article I of the NPT because looking at the signatories of the pact; How can US (a nuclear weapon state) share its nuclear technology for submarine to Australia (a non-nuclear weapon state) while both being part of the NPT. Hence, this trilateral pact seems to undermine the basic pledge that NW’s have made in the Article I.
Article II—deals with the NNWs, under its provision; Non-nuclear weapon states are obligated not to “accept” nuclear weapon from a NWs. They are also prohibited to accept any sort of assistance for the development of nuclear weapons from NWs. Hence, Australia being a NNWs seems to undermine Article II by accepting nuclear technology for submarine which can nowhere near be considered as used for peaceful purpose.
Article III—which deals with the transfer of nuclear materials for peaceful purposes under the safety and security set forth in the statue of IAEA safeguards. However, AUKUS deal seems to provide a gateway to the exploitation of IAEA safeguards by using a loophole in the safety and security measures under IAEA inspection. The loophole is that; IAEA does provide NNWs the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in the sea under strict inspection of IAEA but in the case of submarine, IAEA inspection has limit to it. Since submarine heavily rely on stealth technology; it can never be under constant inspection so giving Nuclear submarines to a NNWs like Australia is exploitative in nature because it provides a way to country like Australia to extract the nuclear technology from the submarine and later use that technology for the development of nuclear weapon.
Article IV—deals with the transfer of nuclear technology for only peaceful purposes. However, AUKUS pact is also seemed to undermine Article IV of the treaty in a way that use of nuclear technology in a submarine can never be interpreted as for some peaceful purpose. Hence, the transfer of nuclear submarines to Australia under AUKUS pact would always be proven as a destabilizing factor to nuclear non-proliferation.
Article VI—one of the significant obligation for Nuclear weapon states in NPT which deals with the disarmament of Nuclear weapons. Although this provision has never been implemented by the de-jure NWs since their pledge to the treaty and there has been a lot of criticism on this but AUKUS deal has totally nullified the vitality of this main obligation. Because, US would be providing nuclear submarines to Australia, which is totally opposite to the pledge because instead of disarming its own nuclear weapons, US is keen to proliferate nuclear weapons in the face of Nuclear submarines to its ally.
Apart from the demoralizing impact on the Non-proliferation treaty, AUKUS deal is seemingly bound to have serious repercussion on the overall strategic stability in the Asia Pacific region. It would incentivize other non-nuclear weapon states to follow suit and they might demand US for strengthening their security by means of a similar deal.