As tensions between the United States and China escalate, the AUKUS alliance – consisting of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – has prompted research security concerns and changes to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
These changes are designed to facilitate the AUKUS plan, announced in 2021, which aims to provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
China has attempted to weaken Australia's alliance with the United States over the past several years by exploiting its position as Australia's leading trade partner and meddling in the Australian political system through its foreign interference campaign.
In response, the United States and Australia have strengthened their partnership through intelligence sharing under the Five Eyes network and increased cooperation in defense and security.
On July 19, 2022, the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) published Open General License (OGL) No. 1 and OGL No. 2, which authorize reexports to or retransfers within the U.K., Canada, and Australia of certain types of defense articles, services, and technical data controlled under ITAR.
Australian researchers have expressed concerns that these controls will continue to stifle communications, with one scientist stating, "It's explicitly stated that researchers would be prohibited by any means – e-mails, papers, or speeches – to a [foreign recipient]."
To address this issue, the Department of State is amending Supplement No. 1 to part 126 to expand the types of defense articles that may be exported and defense services that may be furnished.
The changes to ITAR regulations are intended to enhance the operational capabilities, interoperability, and cooperation between the armed forces of the United States and its allies and partners.
The AUKUS plan, which has a quarter-trillion dollar budget, includes the production and operation of a new submarine class, SSN-AUKUS, in addition to sharing advanced technology such as artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons. In a recent panel discussion, Stephen Lovegrove, Britain's former national security adviser, acknowledged that Britain had fallen behind in hypersonic technology and expressed optimism that the AUKUS partnership would help bridge the gap.
Eric Schmidt, an adviser to the United States Department of Defense on artificial intelligence, emphasized that China's focus on drones, hypersonic, and automation technology should inform Australia's military spending decisions. While Schmidt acknowledged that a technological decoupling between China and Western allies is likely, he maintained that China is not an enemy and collaboration in other areas remains possible.
Michelle Simmons, Australia's leading quantum computer scientist, highlighted the challenges AUKUS will face, such as foreign investment and visa restrictions, in fostering collaboration. Simmons called for a "joint mission" among the three nations to develop a quantum computer, stressing the importance of pooling resources to maintain a competitive edge.
As the AUKUS alliance moves forward with its ambitious plans, it must navigate the complex landscape of research security concerns and regulatory changes to ensure the continued strengthening of defense and security ties among its member nations.