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Hard Feelings: the tale of a trilateral agreement…and France.



US President Joe Biden, French President Immanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and UK Prime minister Boris Johnson find themselves currently, in a bit of a fight. Australia had agreed to go to France’s party because they told them that they had submarines. But, Australia, hearing that the US and UK’s party was going to have better submarines, ditched France’s party. Now, France is mad, livid actually, and is doing the national equivalent of going off on Twitter. China is also involved. They are mad that Australia is going to any part at all, which sounds pretty toxic in all honesty. Let us go back to the beginning…


The Deal with France


The contract between Australia and France, which had been negotiated over five years, was worth $66 Billion and prodded Australia with twelve conventional submarines. Australia entered into the contract initially to replace its Navy’s Collins-Class submarines, of which there are six, and are predicted to be removed from active service by 2036. According to NPR, statements by the Australian government characterised the new fleet of submarines as part of the “largest and most complex defense acquisition in the nation’s history.” France initially won the bid over Germany and Japan, which were also in the running to supply Australia with a new fleet of twelve diesel-electric submarines. Australia reneged on its contractual obligations last week, choosing instead to work with the United States and the United Kingdom. The move marks a geopolitical pivot towards the historical anglosphere, and can be recognised as a consequence of the post-Brexit status-quo: the UK and EU are no longer analogous and purely cooperative political entities, a decision must be made between the two.


Reasons for the New Deal


An elevation of tensions in the Indo-Pacific region has motivated Australia’s recent military investment. China’s pursuits of its military and political interests, especially in the South China Sea, alongside the development of its Navy Fleet, have begun to present new security challenges to neighboring countries, including Australia. China’s shifting goals and military strategy in the region have put other countries at fear of their expanding reach. Generalised anxiety about political domination of foreign countries in the pacific region has already swept in the political discourse in Australia. Australian Media cites that “the technological edge enjoyed by Australia and our partners Is narrowing,” offering clarity on the general climate of apprehension which surrounds the into-pacific region in the era of Chinese expansion. 

Broken Promises: US & UK enter the Fold

To the great surprise—as well as shock, and to be honest, hot-red rage—of the French, a couple of weeks ago Australia announced it would join into a trilateral security partnership with the US and UK: the AUKUS. Responding to allegations of blatant misdirection and duplicity from the French, Morrison denied dishonesty towards the French Government in the period leading up to the signing of AUKUS. Morrison noted that concerns of the submarine program had been relayed months ago to French officials presiding over the deal. Nevertheless, French officials claim any concerns about the nature and specifics of the deal had not been relayed to them by their Australian Counterparts: they were in the dark. Morrison motivated the breakage of the contract with France by raising the issue of Australia’s military and strategic interests: “We had made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic and national interest.” In short, Australia was not sure France could cut it. Morrison cited his and other high-ranking Australian leadership’s concerns that the Attack-class submarine France would provide “did not meet [Australia’s] strategic interests.” AUKUS’s main objective, listed as its foremost priority, is the development and deployment of a fleet of nuclear submarines for Australia.


The application of nuclear technology in submarine warfare had delivered great advancements and is likely to be part of the wave of the future, thereby, by doing this, Australia commits to a long-term military strategy. Its actions indicate its belief that expansion of its ability to resist Chinese maritime encroachment to be of paramount importance to its national security. The establishment of a task force by the Australian Department of Defence will occur over the next months with the stated objective of transforming the UK-US-AUS coalition into a “reliable steward” of nuclear technology. 


France’s Reaction


When news broke out, things went south fast. French leadership recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia back to Paris, leaving its ambassador to London in place, claiming that unfortunately, Britain was “a bit like the fifth wheel on the coach.” The French felt betrayed, insulted, and it appears, earnestly, if not childishly infuriated. Following the announcement of AUKUS, there was an immediate wave of backlash from French Officials motivated by confusion and frustration around this perceived betrayal. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the formation of AUKUS, citing its secretive execution, as “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners.” The Associated Press reported a week ago that a meeting has been set up between French President Emmanuel Macron and American President Joe Biden to discuss the previous agreement which AUKUS has supplanted and replaced. Supposedly, the meeting was requested at the behest of Biden. French Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal described the general reaction of the French political class following the news as dominated by “shock and anger.” Drian, seemingly unconcerned with heightening tensions between France and its former EU partner the UK, described the UK’s brokering of this deal as evidence of its “permanent opportunism.”


China’s Reaction


The Chinese, understandingly, did not take well the news about the brokering of AUKUS very well either. Statements released by Chinese officials deem the partnership, and the “sharing” of nuclear technology “irresponsible.” Statements such as this, likely motivated by fear of an Indo-Pacific dominated militarily by western influences, showcase the anxiety experienced by the Chinese leadership. China’s fleet, although burgeoning and of great promise, does not contain any nuclear submarines, leaving it now, at a growing disadvantage. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian levied serious charges against the new agreement, referring to it as a threat to the stability of the Indo-Pacific Region. Furthermore, Zhao accused the actions of the US, UK, and, Australia of intensifying global tensions and undercutting non-proliferation efforts, stressing the existence of a double standard between the West and the East in the field of Nuclear-related ventures. 


Australian Leadership’s justification for their actions


Morrison claimed that the need for nuclear-powered submarines in its navy is fundamental. Nuclear Submarines are faster, stronger, and stealthier compared to their diesel, and electric-powered predecessors. Australian Leadership had concerns about the cost-efficiency of investing the older technology of the diesel-powered submarine, citing the need to consider the “great cost to the Australian taxpayer” in any final decision. Australian Leadership pursued a coalition with the US and UK, especially for their ability to provide the Australian Navy with an entire fleet of newer, nuclear-powered submarines.


British and American Responses


Following the signing of AUKUS, Biden requested an official meeting with Macron to discuss the new and old deals. Such an action by the US president can be interpreted as an attempt to de-escalate the crisis and preserve the political relationship between the US and France. White House official said on Sunday that Biden “very much values” the US-France partnership, and that the focus of the coming discussion between the two presidents will be “finding a way to move forward.” Meanwhile, British officials insisted that Boris Johnson never had the intention to “annoy the French” through the establishment of AUKUS. Moreover, in an attempt to quell the anger of the French political class, in a conversation with Macron Johnson extolled the long friendship between the two countries, claiming the UK’s “love for France is ineradicable.” Johnson also stressed, on a trip to New York last Sunday, that the AUKUS was “not meant to be exclusionary” nor something France “needs to worry about.” British officials underscored that the AUKUS pact was motivated by security issues, claiming the UK’s participation in the treaty was “fundamental.”


Break-in-Policy


There has been a long-standing dislike by the Australian government against nuclear weapons. This harkens back to 1970, when Australia broke off its pursuits on nuclear military and civil technologies indefinitely, signing the United Nation’s Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The AUKUS will be Australia’s reintroduction to the use of nuclear technology for military purposes. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Morrison stressed that although the new fleet is powered by nuclear technology, they are “not nuclear-armed,” and that Australia has “no plans for it, no policy for it, no contemplation of it”


Conclusion


The signing of AUKUS marks a decisive occurrence for the Indo-Pacific. It marks the materialization of the will of western powers to actively resist Chinese expansion. It can be best understood in the context of Australian politics as a culmination and crystallisation of long-standing fears of foreign domination. The AUKUS solidifies the military commitment and bond within the Anglosphere, while simultaneously and by the necessity of itself, placing the anglosphere’s relationship with France and the EU on tenuous ground. Nevertheless, The complete dissolution of the string of military alliances and economic treaties which join the Anglosphere and the EU at the hip, and which is built on a sense of shared cultural history, is not accomplished here. What the AUKUS does signify, a movement towards a more interconnected anglosphere dedicated to a shared set of geopolitical interests may provide a framework for future action. Will the US, UK, and Australia, seeing that two of its countries see China as a major rival, form the foundation of a block built on the purpose of putting an end to Chinese domination? How will China adapt its long-term military strategy to AUKUS? What prompted the signing of AUKUS in the first place, and why did the French (supposedly) know nothing about it? All these questions and many more were inspired by a French diplomat melting down on national television, and I think that is beautiful.

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