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Lawmakers Support Export Control Changes to Boost Tech Sharing Under AUKUS

Democrats and Republicans applauded the Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS) partnership announcement this week, saying the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia will help shore up security in the Indo-Pacific 2303130035). But lawmakers also said the U.S. should do more to make sure it can easily share sensitive technology within the group, adding that they would support legislation that would revise U.S. defense export regulations.

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Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said the AUKUS deal “represents a significant milestone in U.S. cooperation” with allies in the region, adding that he is willing to work “on any legislation that may be required to enable deeper cooperation with our AUKUS partners.” Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, called the AUKUS announcement a good start but said the Biden administration needs to “adapt its approach to export controls,” especially as the AUKUS arrangement moves into its second phase, which involves the sharing of other advanced military capabilities. Those include quantum, artificial intelligence, hypersonic and advanced cyber technologies.

“Technology protection of course remains important, but our regulatory processes should not hinder cooperation with our closest allies or impact their ability to obtain the capabilities needed for their own defense or national security,” said Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I am prepared to work with the administration, Australia, and the United Kingdom to realize this ambitious partnership. There is much more work to be done.”

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., are pushing for legislation to revise the International Traffic in Arms Regulations to allow the U.S. to better take advantage of AUKUS tech-sharing opportunities (see 2301270005). The House Foreign Affairs Committee last month advanced a bill that would direct the State Department to deliver Congress an “assessment of recommended improvements to export control laws.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also called the AUKUS announcement an “important step” to countering China in the Indo-Pacific but said it should be moving faster. The plan to deliver to Australia nuclear-powered submarines will “take time to achieve,” he said, and “there is opportunity to quickly expand technology and information sharing to further defense cooperation in advanced capabilities.” McCaul said this “will require congressional action and cooperation with the administration if the partnership is to yield a timely deterrent against” threats posed by China.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the AUKUS announcement, saying it “will only exacerbate" an arms race, "undermine the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and hurt regional peace and stability.” Because the partnership involves sharing of nuclear technology, the International Atomic Energy Agency should approve it, a ministry spokesperson said March 14. “Pending the consensus reached by all IAEA member states, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia should not proceed with relevant cooperation,” the spokesperson said at a regular press conference in Beijing, according to a transcript.