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Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and U.K. will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a historic trilateral security partnership announced Wednesday afternoon by the leaders of the three countries.

Why it matters: The partnership, known as AUKUS, is a major strategic pact that will bind the U.S. and U.K. to Australia's security for generations — and a warning to China as the Biden administration continues to lay the groundwork for countering Beijing in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

  • The U.S. has only ever shared nuclear propulsion technology with one country — the U.K., through a 1958 agreement viewed as a cornerstone of the "special relationship" between the nations.

Details: AUKUS will establish new channels of information-sharing and joint efforts to develop advanced technologies, including in the arenas of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and undersea capabilities.

  • Teams from all three maritime democracies will work for 18 months to identify the best way to deliver nuclear submarine capabilities to Australia — which it previously sought via a troubled $90 billion deal with France that will likely now be scrapped.

Driving the news: "Our nations and our brave fighting forces have stood shoulder to shoulder for literally more than 100 years, through the trench-fighting in World War I, the island-hopping in World War II, during the frigid winters in Korea and the scorching heat in the Persian Gulf," President Biden said at a press conference Wednesday, flanked remotely by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

  • "Today we take another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations. Because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term," he continued.
  • "We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve. Because the future of each of our nations, and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead."

Between the lines: Officials said on a briefing call that nuclear propulsion technology will allow Australia to deploy "quieter" and "much more capable" submarines for longer periods of time, allowing the allied countries to work jointly to "sustain and improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific."

  • "This technology is extremely sensitive," one official said, describing the initiative as an "exception" to U.S. policy on nuclear technology-sharing that is unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.
  • The official stressed that Australia does not seek nuclear weapons and that all three countries are committed to non-proliferation.

The big picture: Missing from the announcement was any mention of China, whose military activities in the South China Sea are viewed by the U.S. as a top security threat.

  • "I do want to just underscore very clearly this partnership is not aimed or about any one country," an official said. "It's about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."
  • But China is highly unlikely to see it that way, and may view the partnership as confirmation "that their aggressive naval platform-building campaign has been not only needed, but should be further advanced," said Chris Johnson, a former top CIA China analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Go deeper

Dec 22, 2021 - World

Inside Jake Sullivan's meetings in Israel on Iran

Sullivan (left) meets Bennett. Photo: Israeli Government Press Office via Getty

Four senior Israeli officials who attended meetings in Jerusalem with national security adviser Jake Sullivan tell Axios they came away reassured that the U.S. is ready to take a harder line on Iran if necessary and to take Israel’s views into account.

The big picture: Sullivan sketched out three possible near-term scenarios on Iran’s nuclear program in the meetings, two officials say:

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.