OTTAWA – Canada is interested in sharing more advanced technology with its allies, the defence minister said Monday, as the focus of a trilateral military deal between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States starts to expand in that direction.
But Anita Anand would not directly say whether Canada is making a formal bid to join the agreement known as AUKUS, as reported in a Globe and Mail story citing unidentified sources.
“Canada is highly interested in furthering co-operation on AI, quantum computing, and other advanced technologies with a defence nexus with our closest allies,” she said at a press conference Monday.
AUKUS was announced in September 2021 as a pact that would see the U.S. and Britain help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in response to growing concerns about China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
The three countries have also agreed to “enhance our joint capabilities and interoperability” by focusing on cyber capabilities, AI, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities.
The governments of both New Zealand and Canada — the countries which, along with the members of AUKUS, make up the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance — have faced questions over the fact they were not invited to be part of the group.
New Zealand, which is nuclear-free, has said that is because it’s well known it is not interested in nuclear-powered submarines, the centrepiece of the agreement.
When AUKUS was announced, New Zealand’s then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern said her country was not approached about joining, “nor would I expect us to be.”
Canada’s government has not publicly clarified whether it was asked to join, or why.
Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, said in an interview in January that Canada’s exclusion from the deal was a “significant concern.”
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada isn’t interested in nuclear-powered submarines, while Anand has repeatedly referred to strong ties with the Five Eyes countries.
“We have strong capabilities in that area and we are always looking for ways to facilitate and collaborate with our closest allies,” she said Monday, adding that work with Five Eyes allies continues in “multiple spheres.”
“We remain interested in furthering co-operation in AI and other innovation efforts.”
As early as last fall, a senior official told MPs on the Canada-China relations committee that the government has expressed interest in working with AUKUS.
Paul Thoppil, the assistant deputy minister for Asia Pacific at the Global Affairs Department, was asked about Canada’s exclusion from the pact at committee meetings in October and November.
He said the deal includes working groups on critical technologies, among other things.
“We have informed Australia of our interest in certain aspects of the working groups under that agreement. Australia has been favourable to that,” he said on Nov. 29, 2022.
It is not clear, however, whether Britain or the U.S. are also interested and Anand would not hint at whether a formal agreement is coming.
“It’s one thing for us to ask, it’s another thing for all those three nations to agree,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, an advisory board member of the China Strategic Risks Institute, who has been calling for Canada to get involved since AUKUS was announced.
“It gives us a chair in the room, if not at the table,” she said.
The Liberal government recently announced its Indo-Pacific strategy, which includes an increased military presence in the region and efforts to friend-shore with like-minded countries to shift trade away from China.
McCuaig-Johnston, who was also a longtime public servant, said Canadian businesses and researchers have a lot to offer in terms of nuclear technology, underwater technology and artificial intelligence in particular.
“I’m sure that New Zealand will want to participate in this, too,” she said.
In March, Defence Minister Andrew Little said he had been offered the chance to participate in the technology aspect of the deal, and said, “I’ve indicated we will be willing to explore it.”
China, meanwhile, has said it is strongly against AUKUS.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.
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