Washington: How strange to think that just a few weeks ago, Australians felt relieved by the lack of attention from the Biden administration.
When the 20-year war in Afghanistan came to an end last month, President Joe Biden did not answer the phone to call Prime Minister Scott Morrison until after final US troops had left Kabul. It seemed like a sad way to treat a close ally who had sacrificed 41 lives in the war effort.
And it burned that America did not send any extra bottles from its abundant supply of Pfizer vaccines during, which forced the Morrison government to sign an agreement with Poland to access their soon-to-be expired doses.
Now a country that is extremely proud to “beat its weight” on the global stage is doing a lot again.
The new AUKUS partnership represents a dramatic strengthening of the ties between three already close allies: the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. The fact that the partnership was announced at a rare virtual joint press conference between the three leaders – rather than an anodyne press release – emphasized its importance.
The announcement came a day before the AUSMIN meetings in Washington between Secretary of State Marise Payne and Secretary of Defense Peter Dutton and their US counterparts Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Loyd Austin. A further deepening of defense relations, including an expansion of the US military presence in northern Australia, is expected to be announced after their meetings.
Since next week in Washington, Morrison will be participating in the first ever face to face leader meeting in “Quad” nations – USA, Australia, India and Japan. Significant announcements are expected about vaccine diplomacy and infrastructure. To paraphrase Bob Hawke, it’s not bad for a nation of 25 million people around the world.
It will be difficult, if not impossible, for a subsequent announcement to match the importance of the new AUKUS partnership and its first major achievement: an agreement to allow Australia into the elite club of nations with nuclear power boats. Many countries have for decades tried to gain access to America’s submarine secrets and have been rejected each time.