Camberra broke the contract of the century with the French Naval Group to ally with the United Kingdom and the United States, the latter selling him nuclear submarines. Anger in Paris… but also in Beijing, whose maritime ambitions are targeted by the new strategic alliance.
Shock, misunderstanding and anger. France went through all these steps yesterday after Australia reneged on its word by breaking the 90 billion Australian dollar (56 billion euros) contract signed in 2019 with the French company Naval Group, which was to supply it with 12 conventionally powered, i.e. non-nuclear, submarines. A “contract of the century” which ends with the slap of the century from one ally to another. Suffice to say that yesterday morning, the French executive was both stunned and angry.
Le Drian: “A blow in the back”
“This unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision is very similar to what Mr. Trump was doing”, underlined the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, castigating “a blow in the back”, while the Minister of the Armed Forces denounced the reinstatement because of “the word given”. Because this enormous contract which was to mobilize 500 people in Cherbourg, was the fruit of a very long negotiation between France and Australia with many concessions on the French side. 60% of the value of the “Future Submarine Program” was to go to Australia; it was planned to create 2,800 jobs in Australia for the manufacture of submarines via 137 companies.
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And since the signing two years ago, Australia has continued to put pressure on Naval Group, accusing it of delays and overspending to the point that last June Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison already mentioned a “plan B”… while officially, France and Australia assured of their determination to work for the success of their collaboration.
New AUKUS Alliance
Australia’s change of foot in favor of the hitherto secret plan B, mentioned in recent days by leaks in the press, would have been provoked by the United States. The breach of the Franco-Australian contract stems, in fact, from the decision of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia to launch a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific zone, called AUKUS, one of the first initiatives is the delivery of US nuclear-powered submarines to Australians.
Wednesday evening in Washington, Joe Biden formalized this new alliance by videoconference with Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson. All smiles, the American president explained that he hoped to “work closely with France and other key players” in the Indo-Pacific region. “France, in particular, has a significant presence in the Indo-Pacific and is a key partner and ally,” Biden said. France is, in fact, the only European nation present in the region with nearly two million of its nationals and more than 7,000 soldiers…
Johnson wants to preserve Franco-British relations
For his part, Boris Johnson assured that the initiative, which will contribute to “peace and security” in this region of the world source of tension, “is not intended to oppose any other power […], but it just reflects the close relationship we have with the United States and Australia.” It is true that across the Channel, there is a certain embarrassment after the blow of Trafalgar inflicted on France because in terms of defence, the British and the French collaborate strongly. Boris Johnson thus assured that “the military relationship” of the United Kingdom with France was “extremely solid”, in particular in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel or during a NATO operation in Estonia.
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The alliance with the United States also allows him to reinstate his post-Brexit idea of Global Britain, undermined by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, carried out without London having been consulted…
On the side of Camberra, yesterday we justified the breach of the contract. “The decision we have taken not to continue with the Attack-class submarines and to take another path is not a change of mind, it is a change of need”, dared yesterday the Prime Minister Australian, which can look forward to benefiting from American nuclear technology – shared only with the United Kingdom since 1958 – but also from an extensive program of cooperation in cyber defence, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.
In the end, the snub inflicted on France, if it does not call into question the meaning of its alliances according to several experts, should sound like an electric shock allowing us both to measure our real influence and to become aware of the new geopolitical issues that are today in the Indo-Pacific zone.
After the spying on Europeans by the NSA, the lack of support for France in Syria in 2013, the Swiss about-face on the sale of Rafale or the unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, the bad way of the United States to France has at least one advantage: it puts the question of European strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the United States and NATO back at the heart of the debates on Defense.
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Sea of China: explosive zone for future conflicts
Faced with the new AUKUS alliance which will operate in the Indo-Pacific zone, and therefore the Chinese shit and the sale of American nuclear submarines to Australia, Beijing was quick to react. “Cooperation between the United States, Britain and Australia on nuclear submarines seriously undermines regional peace and stability, escalates the arms race, and undermines international nuclear non-proliferation efforts,” Chinese diplomatic spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
China was not mentioned in the announcement creating AUKUS but there is no doubt that the new alliance is primarily aimed at dealing with Beijing’s regional ambitions. Joe Biden has been repeating since his election that he intends to confront China, like his predecessor Donald Trump, but in a very different way, without locking himself into a face-to-face.