Pacific Islands Forum Chair: AUKUS Does Not Conflict With the Rarotonga Agreement

US President, Joe Biden (R), meets Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese (L), during the AUKUS Summit at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego California on March 13, 2023. – Jubi/

Pacific Islands Forum Chair, Mark Brown, said the United States has assured that the AUKUS agreement will respect the Rarotonga Agreement. Mark Brown who is also Prime Minister of the Cook Islands said that the AUKUS agreement would not conflict with the Rarotonga Agreement.

“The Rarotonga Treaty formalizes a nuclear weapons-free zone in the South Pacific. It was signed by several Pacific countries including Australia and New Zealand in 1985,” said the report quoted by on Wednesday (12/4/2023).

In a media statement, the forum chairman and Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Mark Brown, said he was “reassured to receive assurances from US partners last week that Australia ,  United Kingdom  ,  United States  (AUKUS) would uphold the Rarotonga Agreement” .

Brown initially raised his concerns with the Cook Islands News about the agreement.

“The overall goal of the Rarotonga Agreement was to try to reduce cold war tensions between the major superpowers. This AUKUS arrangement seems to contradict that,” Brown told the paper in March.

Brown told Cook Islands News at the time that the situation was “as is” but was unhappy with how the arrangement had led to an increase in tensions in the region.

Pacific Islands Forum
Australian soldiers who helped Vanuatu during a typhoon that hit the country in early March. – Jubi/IST

Last March, the leaders of the United States, Britain and Australia – Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak and Anthony Albanese respectively – formally announced the deal in San Diego.

This will cost the Australian government nearly $250 billion over the next three decades to acquire the US nuclear submarine fleet with components of British technology – most of which will be built in Adelaide – as part of a defense and security pact.

Its implementation would make Australia one of only seven countries in the world with nuclear-powered submarines along with China, India, Russia, Britain, the US and France.

New Zealand’s foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, told RNZ Pacific she had been given “assurances” by Australia that the agreement would be upheld.

Mahuta said that as a member of the Pacific , there is hope that countries will be briefed on bilateral decisions that have an impact on regional stability.

“What I can say from New Zealand’s perspective is we need to work hard together as a Pacific family to ensure greater stability and no militarization of our region,” he said.

“We want to maintain a nuclear-free Pacific, we want to work with Pacific neighbors to address any security concerns,” he added.

Mahuta visited China last month and said non-militarization of the Pacific was discussed at his meeting along with other issues, such as climate change.

Geo-political analyst, Geoffrey Miller, said the AUKUS deal may be “complained by law” but not “in spirit”.

“That does set a bad precedent … if you want to get nuclear technology in the future, just get it on a submarine because that seems acceptable,” Miller said.

“It’s called a submarine crevice,” he added.

He said concerns had been raised by outside experts, including China, but they had to be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, Vanuatu’s Minister, Ralph Regenvanu, has asked Australia to sign the Nuclear Prohibition Treaty.

Regenvanu said in a tweet that it was “the only way to assure us that submarines will not carry nuclear weapons” and that it was a request from Vanuatu to sign.

The Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons. The agreement goes into effect in 2021.

However, when approached by RNZ Pacific , Regenvanu said he did not wish to comment on his tweets and that Australia’s Defense Industry Minister, Pat Conroy, was visiting the Pacific island this weekend.

Pacific Islands Forum
Australian Navy submarine on patrol in the Pacific Ocean. – Jubi/

AUKUS and Treaty of Rarotonga

AUKUS is an English acronym for its three member countries, Australia, United Kingdom, United State, or abbreviated as AUKUS. A trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States established on 15 September 2021.

According to  under the pact, the United States and the United Kingdom will assist Australia to develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines, in addition to deploying Western militaries in the Pacific region.

Although the joint announcement by then Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, then British PM Boris Johnson, and current US President Joe Biden, did not name any other countries, anonymous sources at the White House alleged that the pact presumably was designed to against the influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the Indo Pacific region .

Moreover, the country of Solomon has kicked out Taiwan, which cooperates with Pacific countries. China is building venues in preparation for the Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands in November 2023. Even Western countries suspect that there is a military cooperation agreement between China and Solomon.

Analysts and other media say that this pact aims to characterize the alliance as a way to protect  the Republic of China  (Taiwan) from Chinese expansionism.

The Rarotonga Treaty is the general name for the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty, which formalizes a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Pacific. The treaty prohibits the use, testing and possession of nuclear weapons within the zone’s borders. The Rarotonga Agreement was made during a meeting of Pacific Island countries in the Cook Islands, on August 6, 1985. (*)