Sure enough, Washington, London and Canberra have defied international opposition and announced recently the pathway to the AUKUS nuclear submarines pact. They have even coerced the IAEA Secretariat into endorsement on the safeguards issues.
Such a lowlight of March, revealing the self-serving nature of politicians from the new three-way alliance, adds nuclear proliferation risk, undermines the international non-proliferation regime, fuels arms race and destroys peace and stability in Asia-Pacific, thereby setting a damaging precedent.
Ever since the signing of AUKUS more than a year ago, the international community, especially countries from Asia-Pacific, have publicly and repeatedly expressed concerns, doubts and objections over the trilateral security pact. But the three wedded governments have turned a deaf ear to the world, and persisted on their unilateral path.
Days after the first AUKUS announcement in 2021, Indonesia, Malaysia and a few East Asian countries raised alarm bells that AUKUS will trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, showed reports by the Sydney Morning Herald.
A few days before the announcement of the pathway in mid-March this year, many IAEA member states at a board meeting called for advancing open, transparent, inclusive and sustainable intergovernmental discussions at the agency to address the AUKUS issue.
Later, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating published a statement, in which he called AUKUS “the worst international decision by an Australian Labor government.”
The trilateral pact marked the first time in history that nuclear weapon countries have set out to transfer naval nuclear propulsion reactors and weapons-grade highly-enriched uranium to a non-nuclear nation.
Constituting severe non-proliferation risks, the deal has blatantly trampled upon the purpose and object of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Worse still, the three governments’ claim that they would abide by nuclear non-proliferation commitments has turned out to be nothing but hogwash, given the current IAEA safeguards system which is not powerful enough to ensure effective supervision and prevent nuclear materials from being used in seeking weapons.
If the three countries are bent on defying international rules, other countries are likely to be prompted to follow suit, which will gravely harm global non-proliferation efforts and jeopardize peace and stability in Asia-Pacific and the world at large.
An article published in The National Interest magazine last year noted that AUKUS has “set a dangerous precedent” since potential nuclear proliferators “may use naval reactor programs as a cover for developing nuclear weapons and, with the deal as a precedent, they may escape intolerable costs for doing so.”
“This will weaken the deterrence of IAEA safeguards and make nuclear proliferation more likely,” it said.
Nuclear submarines cooperation is an international affair bearing heavily on the interests of all IAEA member states, and its safeguards issues should be settled through intergovernmental discussions by all interested IAEA parties.
Washington, London and Canberra have no right to put their own geopolitical ends above international laws and regulations or the interests of other countries, nor should they, or any other parties, put AUKUS in place before broad consensus is reached.
Considering AUKUS’ profound and long-time impact on international non-proliferation drive, global security order as well as regional and world peace and stability, all IAEA member states need to work together to keep intergovernmental discussions in place, find a way to resolve the safeguards issues and firmly defend the international non-proliferation regime so as to safeguard global peace and security.