Fallout from Australia’s Submarine Decision and other ramifications of the AUKUS Pact – Defense Security Monitor


Australia’s decision to roll back its $ 66 billion deal to purchase French-designed submarines in favor of a nuclear-powered option wrapped in a broader three-way security pact with the United States. United and the United Kingdom caused a shock wave across the world.

Nowhere have these shockwaves resonated more deeply than in France, which only two weeks earlier had issued a joint communiqué with Australia celebrating the strength of bilateral cooperation between the two nations. Aside from the loss of an important defense contract, the breakdown of a nascent strategic relationship in the Indo-Pacific region deeply piqued Paris.

Perhaps even more painful for France was to realize that the United States (and Britain) was helping Australia not only to orchestrate the alternative of buying submarines, but to redefining defense cooperation by launching a new military alliance within the so-called Anglosphere. Specifically, this was all undertaken in secret over a period of approximately six months.

For France, this amounts to another moment of betrayal by an ally, an injury to national pride and a sense of drift between mainland Europe and post-Brexit Britain. As at the right time, French officials stressed that the Australian decision coupled with American and British secrecy once again highlights the need for European strategic autonomy.

This is of course the default point of view of Paris, where any question involving sovereign decisions of nations considered to be French allies meets with official outrage and calls for a European defense pillar (naturally led by France) .

But amid the outcry – and there is no doubt that French government officials were quick to lash out and (hypocritically) accuse Washington of treason – there are indeed seeds of truth in the dismay. from France.

Most important is the lack of astute diplomacy vis-à-vis Paris. Yes, the United States, Australia and Great Britain have the right to act in their best interests as much as France. And yes, the disappearance of the agreement on submarines will have an impact on French naval jobs at several levels of the industrial chain (Tier One, Tier Two, down).

Australia had certainly started its future search for submarine supply on the basis of the idea of ​​including nuclear propulsion instead of asking Naval Group to redesign an SSN platform (the Barracuda, or as the French Navy calls it, the Suffren-class) for conventional purposes, so perhaps the feuds between the Australian government and the French shipbuilder may have grown under the weight of unorthodox demands opposed to false promises.

But it is also a question of moving France – an increasingly reliable security partner of Washington and of the NATO Alliance since 2007 – away from the American efforts to build a strategic counter in the Indo-Pacific of China.

France has a military presence in the Indo-Pacific with 7,000 stationed in the region, diplomatic reach, a large exclusive economic zone across the Indian and Pacific oceans, a history of industrial defense cooperation with “Quad” (Quadrilateral security dialogue) participating in India, and an interest in partnering with the United States and others to ensure continued freedom of operations across the South China Sea.

Instead, Paris now finds itself sitting outside, once again feeling unwelcome by the Anglosphere club. These feelings may seem overwhelming to most, but consider the key Five eyes intelligence-sharing alliance (including Canada and New Zealand) and wonder why a crucial regional strategic partner like Japan also finds itself left out despite the latter’s alignment on security with all participants and its own concerns strategic regarding China.

But the French are also not without reproach. The writing was on the wall regarding Australian discontent with the submarine project for far too long for French officials to be shocked by this result.

Moreover, the value placed on its strategic independence from the United States makes it lower in Washington’s order of priority than that of Australia and Britain.

Put simply, Australia’s close strategic ties with the United States and Britain outweigh Canberra’s concerns about relations with France. Australia will move even closer to the United States under the AUKUS Pact, with an opportunity to make leaps in technology sharing in artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and underwater capabilities, while creating synergies with its US and UK allies in cybersecurity (an area of ​​growing concern in Canberra).

While the strategic landscape from Australia’s point of view in 2016 might have seemed less alarming – thus not prompting to reconsider the acquisition of the conventional submarine (SSK) – China’s actions since then have warned them. Australian authorities that the threat from Beijing can not be downplayed anymore. With its long maritime approaches, Australia’s decision to move towards an SSN option – provided it receives the necessary assistance from the United States and Great Britain – therefore makes strategic and operational sense.

Australia will benefit from highly sensitive US nuclear propulsion know-how and increased operational capability with two of its three closest allies (New Zealand being the other), while also being part of ‘an ecosystem of submarine design, industry, technology and capability. Canberra, in turn, will need to do its fair share in the security partnership in all aspects of the fight against China, including possibly granting more military base rights to American troops.

Two other questions also arise in the wake of the flip-flop in the supply of Australian submarines and the announcement of the AUKUS security partnership.

First, India – a member of what’s known as the Quad alongside Australia, Japan and the United States – is reaching out to Washington for help with ihis own design and production project for six SSNs, and if so, does the United States agree?

And also, do South Korea and / or Japan (less likely) now considering designing and building their own nuclear powered submarines?

Ultimately, there is a lot to consider regarding future arrangements and the fallout of the latest news regarding the AUKUS security partnership. The ramifications have yet to be revealed.

Virginia-class submarine USS South Dakota (SSN 790). Picture – General Dynamics electric boat

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