Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday defended backing out of a nuclear submarine deal with France in favor of a contract with the United States.
In an interview on CBS News’ “Face The Nation,” Morrison argued the new U.S. deal was not an effort to conduct an arms race with China.
“Australia’s defenses depend on having a long reach,” Morrison said. “Australia is a long way from everywhere, and in order to ensure that our security interests are best protected, we need to have a long reach and a long range.”
France accused Australia of concealing its intentions to back out of the contract for French majority state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines. But Morrison noted at stake were the international waters of the South China Sea, and “a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
“Whether it’s ourselves, the Germans, the French, the British and our partners throughout the region and Japan and India and all of us,” he said. “These are international waters. … the international law of the sea should matter, and it does to us and it does to all the countries of the region. “
“But the key reason for our change is conventional submarines can no longer meet that need with the changed strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific,” he said of the deal. “And that’s why we’re unable to proceed with that contract because it no longer was going to be able to do the job that we needed these boats to do.”
According to Morrison, Australia is moving from its existing conventional fleet of submarines to “over time… be able to replace that with a fleet of nuclear submarines with higher capability.”
“There’s been an increased militarization of the Indo-Pacific for many, many years and we’ve seen that escalating for some time. And so the escalation predates our decision,” he added.
“Those of us who live there want a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific. So it’s not about being against something, it’s about being for something. That’s how we look at it.”
He added it was important that its submarine fleet meet “the strategic need.”
“So we’ve exercised our option under the contract not to proceed. Had we proceeded, then as prime minister, I would have been negligent because I would have been going forward with a massive and very costly contract that would not have done the job that Australia needed to be done,” he asserted.
“We were very clear that we had deep concerns that conventional submarines would no longer do the job. We had discussions about that,” he added. “And at the end of the day, we didn’t see the situation the same.”