If AUKUS is all about nuclear submarines, how can it comply with nuclear non-proliferation treaties?

15 Mar 2023

Dr Lauren Sanders writes for The Conversation.

The issue of nuclear non-proliferation is back in the headlines, thanks to details announced yesterday at a US navy base of a deal involving Australia’s purchase of nuclear submarines.

The AUKUS plan, which may cost Australia upwards of A$300 billion over the next 30 years, involves Australia purchasing three Virginia-class nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarines by the early 2030s. Australia will also build its own nuclear-powered submarines using US nuclear technology by the 2050s.

Australia, the US and the UK have said the deal complies with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

But China has said the AUKUS deal represents “the illegal transfer of nuclear weapon materials, making it essentially an act of nuclear proliferation.”

So what are Australia’s obligations under the existing nuclear non-proliferation regime and does this deal comply?