With the black hull of the USS Missouri looming the the background, the leaders of three Western democracies representing 425 million people unveiled in San Diego a strengthened alliance to preserve freedom in the Pacific Ocean.
President Joe Biden of the United States, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke on a pier at Naval Base Point Loma Monday to explain plans to jointly build and deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines.
Those quiet-running submarines could prove key to stopping a Chinese invasion of democratic Taiwan, and no doubt give the “axis of autocrats” — China, Iran, North Korea and Russia — cause for concern.
“For the first time ever it will mean three fleets of submarines working together across the Atlantic and Pacific keeping our oceans free … for decades to come,” said Sunak.
A January report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, based on a sophisticated simulation, concluded that the U.S. and its allies could stop an invasion of Taiwan because their “submarines were able to enter the Chinese defensive zone and wreak havoc with the Chinese fleet.”
So having more submarines on patrol in the Pacific means the Chinese would face more havoc if they tried to invade. And thus be a greater deterrent to any war.
This historic AUKUS agreement could set the stage for a larger alliance of democracies in the region, including India, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea. All of those countries depend on free and open Indian and Pacific oceans.
There is controversy, to be sure. China’s foreign ministry said Western democracies are “walking further and further down the path of error and danger.” An isolationist Republican President like Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis could pull out of the deal to appease Russia.
In Monday’s agreement, there are also echoes of the prelude to World War II, when the world’s democracies faced Nazi Germany, Facist Italy, military-led Japan and initially totalitarian Russia as well. Keep in mind that Russia was allied with Germany, and jointly invaded Poland, until Hitler turned on Stalin in 1941.
The dictators in 1939 though the democracies were weak and would easily fall. But, like hopefully for Ukraine today, it wasn’t to be. The democracies ultimately overwhelmed the dictators.
So perhaps it’s appropriate that photos of the three leaders showed the USS Missouri, the fourth Navy warship to bear that name. The third USS Missouri was the battleship on whose deck the final surrender of World War II was signed.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.