A defence pact among three of Canada’s allies that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has dismissed as merely a submarine sale arrangement on Tuesday expanded its scope to include two major security threats: hypersonic missiles and electronic warfare.
The United States, Britain and Australia announced they will work together to develop their capacity to launch and intercept hypersonic missiles – which travel five times the speed of sound and can change course in mid-flight – as well as electronic warfare, which is the use of the electromagnetic spectrum to disrupt enemy operations.
The three countries joined forces in a new military arrangement, dubbed AUKUS, last September – an alliance condemned by China – to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia for the first time.
Hypersonic missiles are a major threat to Western allies. Last fall, a senior U.S. general warned a Halifax security forum that China and Russia have surpassed the United States in the development of this technology, regarded by some as a first-strike weapon.
Defence expert David Perry said it’s troubling that Canada’s closest allies are expanding their military pact without Canada.
“It sure seems that AUKUS is quickly becoming an advanced defence co-operation framework rather than just submarines,” said Mr. Perry, who is president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute think tank.
“It’s not a great thing for Canada to be outside of the club and looking in from the outside on three different high-tech elements of modern warfare.”
Canada has for decades been part of an intelligence-sharing arrangement called the Five Eyes with the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Intelligence and defence analysts have described AUKUS as the latest evolution of military and intelligence co-operation for these countries, and calling it a “Three Eyes” grouping that excludes Canada and New Zealand, both laggards on defence spending.
Last September, Mr. Trudeau rejected the notion that Canada had been excluded from a club of allies and said the arrangement was simply a sale of submarine technology to Australia.
“We continue to be strong members of the Five Eyes,” the Prime Minister said last September. “This is a deal for nuclear submarines, which Canada is not currently or any time soon in the market for. Australia is.”
Asked if the federal government was concerned by the deepening AUKUS partnership, Daniel Minden, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Anita Anand, declined to answer but said Ottawa has long-standing defence partnerships with all three countries.
He said the government will soon present a spending package to help modernize North American aerospace defence.
“Canada and the United States co-ordinate particularly closely regarding emerging threats to the North American continent – including long-range cruise missiles such as hypersonics.”
Mr. Perry said he felt it was troubling last year when Canada was left out of the AUKUS submarine deal, which he said involves “some of the most advanced military capability on the planet.”
He said Canada should approach AUKUS and gauge whether the allies are interested in adding a member.
But, he noted, Canada has shown little interest in the topics that concern AUKUS.
“Step 1 would be convincing our three closest allies that there would be a value to them entertaining a discussion with us,” he said.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said they were pleased with the progress of the program for conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.
“We also committed today to commence new trilateral co-operation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities,” the statement said.
The U.S. and Australia have a hypersonic weapon program called Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE). British officials said although Britain would not join that program at this point, the three countries would work together on research and development in the area.
The Biden administration is investing in the research and development of hypersonic missiles as Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine has intensified concerns about European security.
Asked about the inclusion of hypersonic weapons in the co-operation deal, China’s UN Ambassador, Zhang Jun, on Tuesday warned against measures that could fuel something similar to the Ukraine conflict.
“Anyone who do not want to see the Ukrainian crisis should refrain from doing things which may lead the other parts of the world into a crisis like this,” Mr. Zhang told reporters. “As the Chinese saying goes: If you do not like it, do not impose it against the others.”
With a report from Reuters
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