The recent actions and statements made by the French Government in response to the AUKUS deal have held the international attention. The AUKUS deal signed last week brought into light a trilateral security partnership between US, UK and Australia. It aimed at strategic partnership to promote mutual interests. It has not gone down well with France who had other hopes.
The source of confusion is the scrapping of an agreement between France and Australia worth USD 90 billion deal. According to that, the French Naval Group were to supply 12 submarines to Australia but they did not meet the defence’s requirements any more. Hence, the sudden change in the decision came as a shock to France especially since they apparently did not receive a heads up about the same.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the step by saying that it was in the country’s national interest. Australia earlier stated that their security concerns now required much more superior submarines and so they had approached the US and UK for the same.
In a drastic reaction, the French recalled their ambassadors to US and Australia. This was seen as a display of serious diplomatic response. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian accused the Australians and Americans of “lies and duplicity”. He said that the French were deeply hurt and this was just the “tip of the ice berg”.
The ambassadors based at the UK were not called back since the British played the role of the “fifth wheel on the wagon”. But France pulled out of the defence ties with the UK amidst the tension. UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that “Britain and France on many issues are joined at the hip”. He said there was no intention to slit, upset or drive a wedge” between the countries.
The French have taken this development as a failure of trust between the allies. They see it as a betrayal in the formation of a strategic relationship more than just an arms contract.
Moreover, this has has an impact on Australia’s prospects with the European Union. The EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen demanded that Australia give an explanation for pulling out of the deal with France. She said that France had been treated in a way that was “ not acceptable”.
Germany has extended support to France. In fact the EU ambassadors decided to postpone the proceedings for an inaugural trade and technology council with the United States. The EU said that the members were analysing the impact of the AUKUS agreement on its trade negotiations with Australia.
The United States too has landed in a tough stop. US President Biden will speak to French Prime Minister Macron in the coming days to “reaffirm the US’ commitment to working with France on a range of global issues”. US and UK have been attempting to improve the current state of affairs by reaching out.
The deal that was decided upon as a display of strength of western countries against the Chinese influence has turned to be the cause of a major rift between them. The security of the Indo Pacific has been a source of concern for the countries. Thus this deal had political as well as strategic relevance.
In the light of the recent developments, it seems unlikely that the deal will be easy to continue. Representatives from US, UK and Australia are busy in trying to get a breakthrough in this unexpected advance of things.
At a time when China has been critical of the AUKUS, the French stand is critical. China had denounced the pact and has been describing it as another exhibition of selective politics that the western countries follow. China had warned that the AUKUS alliance will “hurt their own interests”. It had also urged the western countries to let go of their Cold War mentality which was evident in the AUKUS agreement.
It is important that the countries resolve the matter through discussion. The current international mood is exuding a lack of trust. This issue is testing that situation even more. It is imperative that all the shareholders talk and unite to face common challenges. For the Biden administration, this is another addition to the difficult choices.