Politics Congress's role in the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal
France is furious after Australia scrapped a submarine deal to partner with the US and UK. Here's how American, British, and French subs stack up
Experts told Insider that it makes sense for Australia to go with nuclear-powered subs over conventional diesel-electric submarinesAustralia wants to replace its Collins-class attack submarines. The plan was initially to purchase a dozen diesel-electric Shortfin Barracuda submarines from France, but Australia has since abandoned that plan and partnered with the US and UK to acquire nuclear submarine technology.
President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recentlythe creation of a new security pact (AUKUS), and the first order of business is to give Australia access to sensitive nuclear technology for naval nuclear propulsion. Congress will have to review this particular part of the pact - and should carefully consider the implications of the request to transfer this technology to avoid harming the United States' interests.
U.S. nuclear technology exports
The agreement would make Australia thecountry without nuclear weapons to obtain a nuclear-powered submarine. The United States has only shared nuclear propulsion technology with one other country - the United Kingdom - and that was back in 1958. Even back then, the deal required Congress to pass a to allow this transfer. Since then, policies against exporting nuclear military technology have stood unchallenged.
Prospects of Iran nuclear talks going smoothly are 'bleak,' Eurasia Group says
The odds are stacked against an Iran nuclear deal being reached this year — even if negotiations restart, according to political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. "Given the pace of its nuclear advancements, Iran is nearing the point at which the nuclear deal's nonproliferation benefits will be unrecoverable without major changes to the accord, at which Tehran would balk," the analysts said.The deal is more urgent than ever because of irreversible moves such as Iran gaining knowledge on how to operate advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment, they said.
When other countries, such as India and Brazil, showed interest in nuclear-powered submarines, the United States politely declined comment.
These laws and the United States' policy on non-proliferation have not changed.
Speaking not for attribution, asaid, "This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects. I do not anticipate that this will be undertaken in other circumstances going forward. We view this as a one-off."
What Congress can do
While more specifics of the deal will be hammered out over the next 18 months, Congress can - and should - be skeptical of any "exception" that could weaken nonproliferation policy or insist on changes to avoid proliferation concerns.
A nuclear submarine deal that China would actually respect
Taking decades to build a new submarine will give China the opportunity to change the strategic calculus long before then.After a wildly successful rollout of the plan to equip the Australian Navy with nuclear-powered submarines, which was both brilliant in design and a bold strategic signaling win, comes the recent statement from Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations: "This is a very long-term effort that'll be decades, I think, before a submarine goes in the water." Talk about pulling the rug out from under our own two feet, not to mention our allies.
Because the United States and Australia have anthat does not allow this sort of military transfer, Congress will get a say in whether it is amended. Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954 governs nuclear cooperation between the United States and other countries, laying out nine non-proliferation criteria. As recently as 2010, Congress permitted the Australian "123 agreement" to come into force until at least 2040. That deal, however, pertains only to civilian projects and explicitly forbids the transfer of materials for "military nuclear propulsion."
The agreement also bans the transfer of fuel defined as "highly-enriched uranium" (HEU), meaning uranium enriched to 20 percent or higher in the isotope Uranium-235 (U-235). All United States nuclear submarines rely on fuel enriched to 93.5 percent in the isotope U-235, which technically qualifies as weapon-grade. A new arrangement with Australia, as well as the overall Foreign Military Sales agreement, will require separate Congressional approval processes that Congress will need to consider carefully.
AUKUS: A game-changing move by President Biden to strengthen the US and our allies
The solidarity of AUKUS nations, along with other democratic stakeholders in the region, is not intended to enflame rising tensions. Rather, it will help restore the peaceful co-existence that has reigned in the Indo-Pacific for 75 years. The autocrats should take heed.Rep. Courtney is the Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which oversees all U.S. Navy shipbuilding. Courtney is also the Co-Chair of the bipartisan Friends of Australia Caucus.
One way to avoid proliferation concerns is to reject the technology transfer altogether. Another is to transfer the technology with low-enriched uranium (LEU), which cannot be used in a nuclear weapon.
While the U.S. Navy insists that it is not ready to make the change, France successfully transitioned from HEU- to LEU-fueled submarines andtoo, so it is clear the technology exists and works. It's therefore reasonable to ask whether Australia needs HEU fuel to operate far from home, including in the same waters as China. If the answer is no, then there is a solution.
The U.S. Navy could develop new reactors to run on LEU fuel and the Australia deal could potentially serve as a trial balloon. Thesaw merit in the idea and a contingency in Congress including Reps. James Langevin (D-R.I.) and Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.) have been advocating for research into the potential transition for years.
In terms of Congressional involvement, this deal with Australia is more complex than past 123 agreements, as it would be the first to require an exemption from the AEA's non-proliferation criteria. Either this one will, or Congress will have to pass adefining the permissible nuclear cooperation. If it is the former, Congress's role will change from needing to garner a majority to pass a joint resolution of disapproval, to needing to pass a joint resolution of approval in favor of the deal.
Transcript: Kim Jong Un and the Northeast Asian Arms Race
Patrick Cronin: Thank you for joining Hudson Institute’s discussion today on Kim Jong-un and Arms Racing in Northeast Asia. I’m Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security Chair at Hudson, and I am delighted today to be joined by my distinguished colleague, Alex Wong, who among many other achievements recently served as the Deputy Special Representative for North Korea at the State Department. Jean Lee of the Wilson Center, a pioneer in the on-the-ground reporting inside North Korea, and Ankit Panda, the Stanton Senior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of the outstanding book, Kim Jong-un and the Bomb: Survi
Per the AEA, Congress has 90 days of continuous session to review a nuclear cooperation agreement, at which time the agreement would enter into force unless there was serious Congressional opposition. While Congress can usually be passive under the terms of the AEA, Congress will bear responsibility for any damage done to non-proliferation norms since President Biden will need to request an exemption.
Presidential exemptions for such agreements can only be made if they determine that the requirement would be "seriously prejudicial to the achievement of U.S. nonproliferation objectives or otherwise jeopardize the common defense and security." It seems likely that President Biden will need to argue in favor of the latter.
Congress should be wary of undermining non-proliferation norms that might give political cover toand be proactive about supporting the U.S. Navy's research into LEU fueled reactors. Otherwise, Congress is stuck with either approving lending Australia massive amounts of HEU fuel or sabotaging President Biden's ability to support the United States' partners in the Indo-Pacific.
Samuel M. Hickey is a Research Analyst at the. His areas of focus include nuclear power developments in the Middle East region, non-proliferation and nuclear diplomacy.
With Naming of New Atomic Chief, Is a Nuclear Taliban Possible? .
"There has been no decision so far on the development of nuclear weapons," one Taliban official told Newsweek on the condition of anonymity. But a number of observers took notice last week when a list of official postings for the Taliban's interim government decreed by Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and shared by the group's spokespersons identified "Engineer Najeebullah" as "Head of Atomic Energy.