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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hold a press conference after a trilateral meeting during the AUKUS summit on March 13 in San Diego.LEON NEAL/Getty Images

The Canadian government is seeking to join the non-nuclear component of AUKUS, a security pact between Australia, Britain and the United States that was struck to counter China’s rising military might in the Indo-Pacific region, according to two government sources.

Canada was conspicuously absent when AUKUS was first announced in September, 2021. The three member countries are among this country’s closest allies, and like Canada they are members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partnership. National-security experts feared Canada, a laggard on defence spending, was being excluded from a new “Three Eyes” group.

Canada’s reason for wanting to join now is not to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, like Australia, but rather to participate in the second pillar of the AUKUS agreement, the two sources, both senior government officials, said. This non-nuclear part of AUKUS provides for information-sharing and close co-operation on accelerating development of cutting-edge technologies, including undersea defence capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technology and hypersonic warfare.

The Globe and Mail is not naming the officials, because they are not authorized to speak publicly on security matters.

The AUKUS partnership was initially framed as an effort to deepen diplomatic, security and defence co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region. Under it, the United States is sharing nuclear-propulsion technology with Australia, as it has with Britain for more than half a century. New submarines will be built for the British and Australians using a combination of British submarine design and U.S. technology.

After the pact was announced, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau played down Canada’s exclusion. “This is a deal for nuclear submarines, which Canada is not currently or any time soon in the market for,” he told reporters.

China, which has an estimated 12 nuclear-powered submarines, has condemned AUKUS as a threat to peace in the Indo-Pacific.

One of the sources said the information-sharing aspect of the second pillar of AUKUS is significant. It has the potential to create a closer circle of sharing among three members of Five Eyes but not the other two, they said.

The source said there is continuing work by the Department of Global Affairs and the Privy Council Office to sign up Canada for AUKUS.

The second source said Canada is waiting to see how the existing three AUKUS members frame the terms of Canada’s possible participation. The official noted that the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s eavesdropping and surveillance agency, already shares intelligence with its Five Eyes allies, and could expand this work.

The Five Eyes alliance, which consists of the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, dates back 75 years. Members share signals intelligence gleaned from intercepted communications, as well as military intelligence and intelligence gathered directly from human sources.

Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University and a former national-security analyst, has been working with Thomas Juneau, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, on a paper about the future of Canada’s relations with AUKUS. She said that if the nuclear submarine deal between Australia, the United States and Britain was “AUKUS 1.0,” then the expanding technological co-operation represents what she calls “AUKUS 2.0.”

Prof. Carvin said it would make sense for Canada to join AUKUS 2.0. “We haven’t had a robust military presence in the Pacific since the 1950s. But that being said, China has an interest in the Arctic. It’s sending icebreakers and ships and buoys. So it does make sense for Canada as an Arctic nation, especially if we’re looking at new naval technologies that will be important to defence.”

There are different opinions in the Canadian security and defence community as to whether Canada needs to join AUKUS. Skeptics say it’s primarily a deal for Australia to acquire nuclear propulsion technology and that it won’t curb any intelligence sharing or co-operation among Five Eyes partners.

But Prof. Carvin said there is worry in the security and defence community that the trilateral pact could one day supplant the existing intelligence order. “I think the concern is that this is the start of a trend that could eventually impact Five Eyes,” she said.

She said the question for Canada and its allies is what benefits Canada might bring to AUKUS.

“It was very clear to me that Canada has always been welcome to join, but we have to bring something to the table,” Prof. Carvin said. “Canada is very good at certain kinds of Arctic technologies and mapping and artificial intelligence.”

In March, New Zealand’s government said it is discussing joining the non-nuclear part of the AUKUS arrangement, according to a report in The Guardian.

“We have been offered the opportunity to talk about whether we could or wish to participate in that pillar-two aspect of it,” Andrew Little, New Zealand’s defence minister, said in March. “I’ve indicated we will be willing to explore it.”

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