The AUKUS deal : A threat to Europe ?

The AUKUS deal : A threat to Europe ?

The submarine defence and security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States has caused a serious rift with France, and could suggest significant underlying stakes because of its geopolitical consequences.

An unexpected diplomatic crisis

Announced on September 15th 2021, AUKUS (Australia-UK-US security pact), is a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and theUnited States, for the Indo-Pacific region.

Under this pact, Washington D.C. and London will assist Canberra in order to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. However, although the joint announcement by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, British prime minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden did not mention it, anonymous White House sources have alleged that the goal is to counter the influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Later on, Johnson reacted by telling Parliament that the deal was not intended to be adversarial towards China. The pact also includes cooperation on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities, separating it from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, that also includes New Zealand and Canada. Thereby, this deal meant for Australia to end its €56 billion partnership with the French Naval Group, causing Paris – an ally of the three countries – to recall its ambassadors from Australia and the United States on September 17th 2021. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian referred to this initiative as a « stab in the back » following the cancellation without notice of the submarine deal, putting an end to efforts to develop a deeper strategy between both countries.

As a matter of fact, with its many overseas territories in the Indo-Pacific region such as French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, French Southern and Antarctic Land as well as the regions of Mayotte and La Réunion, France is naturally focused on security matters in this area.

And for this reason, Paris is maintaining a permanent military presence, since there were two million French citizens and seven thousand French troops – such as the FAZSOI or FAPF – in the Indo-Pacific. The cooperation established with Australia and other neighbouring countries, including the French–Australian submarine deal, is therefore an internal security issue for these French territories due to the rise of Chinese supremacy influence.

For instance, President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), sometimes
referred to as the “New Silk Road” launched in 2013 for his “Chinese dream” policy, plans to expand significantly China’s economic and political influence from East Asia to Europe.

The Belt and Road Initiative

The background of a strategic partnership

In 2009, two years after the beginning of the project to substitute the Royal Australian Navy’s conventionally powered Collins-class submarines, the Australian Defence White Paper stated : « The Government has ruled out nuclear propulsion for these submarines ».

And in fact, in 2016, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull signed “the deal of the century”, a €31 billion contract with the partly French government-owned company Naval Group in order to design a new generation of submarines, known as the Attack-class.

In 2019, Australia signed a strategic partnership agreement with Naval Group to design and build twelve submarines in Australia. But in February 2021, when an initial design plan was presented, it was rejected for being too expensive, and Naval Group was given until September to improve the proposal.

Two weeks later, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison met Emmanuel Macron in Paris and expressed great concerns about the project going off track, to which the French President replied that France was giving « full and complete » commitment and would proceed « further and faster ».

But afterwards, Australia decided to cancel the contract with Naval Group for the Attack-class submarines, despite having already spent roughly $2.4 billion on the French project. Because of this cancellation, Australia may have to pay hundreds of millions of Euros in penalties. Moreover, the French Minister of Defence claimed that on the same day the project was cancelled, Australia had written a letter stating that « they were satisfied with the submarine’s achievable performance and the progress of the program. »

In 2019, Australia signed a strategic partnership agreement with Naval Group to design and build twelve submarines in Australia. But in February 2021, when an initial design plan was presented, it was rejected for being too expensive, and Naval Group was given until September to improve the proposal.

Two weeks later, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison met Emmanuel Macron in Paris and expressed great concerns about the project going off track, to which the French President replied that France was giving « full and complete » commitment and would proceed « further and faster ».

But afterwards, Australia decided to cancel the contract with Naval Group for the Attack-class submarines, despite having already spent roughly $2.4 billion on the French project. Because of this cancellation, Australia may have to pay hundreds of millions of Euros in penalties. Moreover, the French Minister of Defence claimed that on the same day the project was cancelled, Australia had written a letter stating that « they were satisfied with the submarine’s achievable performance and the progress of the program. »

In 2019, Australia signed a strategic partnership agreement with Naval Group to design and build twelve submarines in Australia. But in February 2021, when an initial design plan was presented, it was rejected for being too expensive, and Naval Group was given until September to improve the proposal.

Two weeks later, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison met Emmanuel Macron in Paris and expressed great concerns about the project going off track, to which the French President replied that France was giving « full and complete » commitment and would proceed « further and faster ».

But afterwards, Australia decided to cancel the contract with Naval Group for the Attack-class submarines, despite having already spent roughly $2.4 billion on the French project. Because of this cancellation, Australia may have to pay hundreds of millions of Euros in penalties. Moreover, the French Minister of Defence claimed that on the same day the project was cancelled, Australia had written a letter stating that « they were satisfied with the submarine’s achievable performance and the progress of the program. »

In 2019, Australia signed a strategic partnership agreement with Naval Group to design and build twelve submarines in Australia. But in February 2021, when an initial design plan was presented, it was rejected for being too expensive, and Naval Group was given until September to improve the proposal.

Two weeks later, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison met Emmanuel Macron in Paris and expressed great concerns about the project going off track, to which the French President replied that France was giving « full and complete » commitment and would proceed « further and faster ».

But afterwards, Australia decided to cancel the contract with Naval Group for the Attack-class submarines, despite having already spent roughly $2.4 billion on the French project. Because of this cancellation, Australia may have to pay hundreds of millions of Euros in penalties. Moreover, the French Minister of Defence claimed that on the same day the project was cancelled, Australia had written a letter stating that « they were satisfied with the submarine’s achievable performance and the progress of the program. »

Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister since 2018

Nevertheless, Morrison argued that Australia now required a nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which has the advantage of greater speed, could stay underwater for a much longer amount of time and could carry heavier loads than a conventionally powered submarine.

Moreover, apart from being a strategic matter for each country, this AUKUS pact is also the first diplomatic success for Boris Johnson within the “Global Britain” project, the UK government’s mantra for its post-Brexit foreign policy.

The nuclear proliferation concerns

Under the pact, the United States will share nuclear propulsion technology with Australia the same way as it has with the United Kingdom since 1958 under the US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement.

Nowadays, only six countries have nuclear submarines among their fleet, being the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States) and India.

Moreover, the announcement of AUKUS included the aim of improving joint capabilities and interoperability for the signing countries. These initial efforts will then focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities. However, in terms of security matters, the head of the United Nations atomic agency (IAEA) stated that the AUKUS deal is a « very tricky » issue in terms of inspections, but still can be managed.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the British Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, commented on Twitter :

« Bringing together the military-industrial complex of these three allies together is a step-change in the relationship. We’ve always been interoperable, but this aims at much more. From artificial intelligence to advanced technology the US, UK and Australia will now be able to cost save by increasing platform sharing and innovation costs. Particularly for the smaller two, that’s game-changing”.

If the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon states to produce the highly enriched uranium for naval reactor fuel, the agreement to transfer US or UK nuclear submarine technology possibly includes highly enriched uranium has been described as an act of nuclear proliferation, and has been criticized politicians alongside scholars who expect the spread of extremely sensitive military nuclear technology in the years to come.

A step further towards a new Cold War

If the AUKUS submarine deal has been sold as an effort to promote peace and stability, it much more seems like another confrontation with China, becoming progressively a new Cold War.

In fact, the major multifaceted defence agreement allows the US camp to strengthen and renew its position in the Indo-Pacific region through militaristic means, while the UK is coat-tailing them. The latter are hoping to take advantage of work opportunities the nuclear production and trying to boost the “Global Britain” ambitions for their future.

Of course, China understood the underlying meaning of this deal. Thereby, China’s Foreign affairs department spokesman Zhao Lijian strongly reacted to the AUKUS deal by saying that the deal “gravely undermines regional peace and stability, and aggravates the arms race while hurting the international non- proliferation efforts ».

Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister

Furthermore, party official Victor Gao repeatedly warned that Australia’s moves towards nuclear-powered submarines would lead China to be “targeted with nuclear weapons, » in the future.

Therefore, by signing this deal, Australia joins a top-level club, since only six countries, all nuclear weapon states, have nuclear-powered submarines.

As for the rest of Asian countries, Taiwan’s vice president immediately welcomed the pact, referring to it « as a positive development for democracy, peace, and prosperity in the region. » meanwhile North Korea has condemned the deal as ‘extremely undesirable and dangerous’.

Morrison said he contacted prime ministers of Japan, India, Singapore and South Korea who have remained silent.

As for Europe, the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told CNN that :

« One of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable”.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

The EU also asked for an apology from Australia, while President of the European Council Charles Michel denounced a « lack of transparency and loyalty » by the US.

As a result, the EU stated the crisis affects the whole union, and preparations for a new EU-US trade and technology council have been postponed.

Finally, in Canada, opposition politicians quickly attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over their exclusion from the pact, while in New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Ardern issued a statement reiterating New Zealand’s stance that nonuclear submarines were permitted in its waters, and said that the country was not approached about the pact and would not have expected to have been approached, dividing Wellington from its Australian neighbour.

Sources

  • Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson; President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden (16 September 2021). « Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS ». Prime Minister of Australia (Press release). Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  • Ward, Alexander; McLeary, Paul. « Biden announces joint deal with U.K. and Australia to counter China ». Politico. Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  • Prime Minister; Minister for Defence; Minister for Foreign Affairs; Minister for Women (16 September 2021). « Australia to pursue Nuclear-powered Submarines through new Trilateral Enhanced Security Partnership ». Prime Minister of Australia (Press release). Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  • « Pact with U.S., Britain, will see Australia scrap French sub deal-media ». Reuters. 16 September 2021. Archived from the original on 15 September 2021. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  • « Aukus: UK, US and Australia launch pact to counter China ». BBC News. 16 September 2021. Archived from the original on 16 September 2021. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  • Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian; Minister for the Armed Forces of France Florence Parly; Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women of Australia Marise Payne; Minister for Defence of Australia Peter Dutton (30 August 2021). « Inaugural Australia-France 2+2 Ministerial Consultations ». Department of Defence Ministers (Press release). Archived from the original on 25 September 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  • « EU chief: Treatment of France ‘not acceptable' ». CNN. Archived from the original on 21 September 2021. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  • « EU chief Michel denounces ‘lack of loyalty’ by US ». France24. 20 September 2021. Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  • « Le ministre du Commerce extérieur Franck Riester refuse de rencontrer son homologue australien » [Foreign Trade Minister Franck Riester refuses to meet his Australian counterpart]. Ouest-France (in French). 24 September 2021.

Laisser un commentaire

Fermer le menu