WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the Committee’s hearing, “AUKUS: A Generational Opportunity to Deepen Our Security Partnerships With Australia and The United Kingdom.” The witnesses for the hearing were the Honorable Jessica Lewis, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Political Military Affairs at the Department of State; the Honorable Mara E. Karlin, PhD, Performing the Duties of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities at the Department of Defense; and the Honorable Kin Moy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State.
A copy of the Chairman’s remarks, as delivered, have been provided below.
“In March, President Biden stood alongside the leaders of the United Kingdom and Australia to announce the AUKUS agreement—a generational opportunity that will enhance U.S. national security interests by transforming our alliances, deterring aggression from the People’s Republic of China, and fostering a more peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific.
Beijing today has the world’s largest Navy. Xi Jinping’s hyper-nationalist government has been laying claim to territory in international waters. They have built artificial islands for new operating bases with runways for military aircraft and ballistic missiles.
At the same time, they are aggressively trying to influence Australian politics and civil society, buying critical infrastructure, like port facilities in Darwin, making political donations, even hacking Australian parliament and major political parties.
This is a critical moment in which the United States needs to show we are serious about our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Congress has a vital role to play in cementing this long-term vision and time is of the essence. Unfortunately, the necessary Congressional codification of some of this agreement has not gone as smoothly as some of us would have hoped.
Senator Risch and I worked incredibly hard to codify the two central pillars of AUKUS. And I want to acknowledge, also, Senator Kaine’s engagement in that initiative as well.
Pillar One includes selling U.S. Virginia-class, nuclear-powered submarines to Australia—making them the only country other than the United Kingdom we share this technology with, training Australians to crew and to produce such submarines, and significant financial contributions from Australia to expand our own submarine production capabilities.
We authored legislation with all these elements that we moved through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with strong bipartisan support. I want to thank Senator Risch for his partnership in helping us to advance Pillar One. However, it did not make it into the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
In addition to the French submarine industry, some of our colleagues in the Senate expressed concerns about the primary purpose of AUKUS—the submarine transfers and support. But if we fail to move forward with full Congressional support of AUKUS—including the nuclear-powered submarines—we are doing Beijing’s job for them.
China is against AUKUS because it complicates their calculations across the Indo-Pacific. With nuclear power, these submarines can travel long distances underwater—and undetected. This will give Australia the ability to protect security interests—from thousands of miles away. And we will be able to crew submarines together that operate directly out of naval bases in Australia; further enhancing our already deep bilateral relationship, and enhancing our reach into the region.
Congress needs to play its part if the agreement is going to work. We need to send the message that the United States can be relied upon.
Australia—and all our partners in the region—are watching. President Xi is watching. And the thousands of Americans employed in our shipyards who would build these submarines—and who would benefit from the Australian contributions to support and expand our submarine infrastructure—are watching as well.
So I hope our witnesses will help us understand why both pillars of AUKUS will improve the national security interests of the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Because based on mission requirements set by the Navy, the United States and Australia need these submarines faster than they are currently being produced.
Dr. Karlin, I think it would be helpful if you could clarify exactly how the Department of Defense plans to increase American sub-production. How will you go from making 1.4 subs a year to three subs a year?
Secretary Moy, I hope you shed some light on Canberra’s perspective. What will this deal mean for our alliance with Australia and what is the cost of inaction?
Finally, Secretary Lewis, how will you ensure that as we co-develop advanced military technologies with Australia, our proprietary products will be safe from Chinese espionage? Will this require changes to all parties’ export controls to protect U.S. military technology, as well as the military technology we develop together through this new partnership?
I am supportive of Pillar Two of the agreement—the co-development of advanced military technology, which will require streamlining and strengthening export controls among the partners. But I don’t want AUKUS to be used by some as a trojan horse to undermine U.S. export controls for the sake of commercial, industrial interests that are unrelated to the partnership.
AUKUS should be about modernizing our historic alliances with two of our closest partners who have fought alongside the United States in defense of democracy and freedom."