by Jonathon Kitson
Thursday, 16
September 2021
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14:42

The AUKUS pact is bad news for France

Australia's new security partnership with the US and UK is a snub to Paris
by Jonathon Kitson

An exhausting cabinet reshuffle last night left little attention for arguably the most important political story of the day. The UK, US and Australian governments have announced a new security partnership, focusing on the Indo-Pacific region. The headline news is that Australia will join the elite club of nations who possess nuclear submarines. Although not as quiet as diesel electric submarines, the range, power and diving depth make them fantastic assets for serious naval powers.

AUKUS (the term for the pact) doesn’t just cover submarines, but promises deeper cooperation on AI and other security technologies. The significance of the agreement is made even clearer by the transfer of nuclear technology. If you can build a nuclear reactor, you can arguably build nuclear weapons, and for obvious reasons the US is very careful about whom it shares this knowledge with. Previously, the US has only helped the UK build nuclear submarines.

This capability is not easily obtainable. Very few countries possess the technical knowledge to build submarines in the first place — Australia has only previously built diesel electric submarines, and the last one was completed over 20 years ago. The creation of the Collins class shared some unfortunate similarities with the UK’s nuclear-powered Astute class’s troubled construction, which the Royal Australian Navy’s eight new boats will probably be based on. Worryingly, some of the specific challenges involving welding are historic problems in both the UK and Australia’s experience of building submarines. Yard-specific knowledge and the difficulty of transferring technical skills will prove a significant challenge.

This programme should help reduce America’s burdensome task of patrolling the Pacific, but may also have some unintended consequences regarding NATO funding — after-all, if Australia is willing to take on such a significant burden, why can’t Germany pay more for its own defence?

New Zealand is quite pointedly excluded from the pact, perhaps due to concerns of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in Jacinda Arden’s Labour Party and Government. In order to afford this hugely expensive programme, the Australian Government has in all likelihood cancelled its AUS$90bn order for 12 non-nuclear French built submarines with very little, if any, warning. This is a huge blow to French industry, and one which may leave the French Government feeling rather puzzled. It was after all the Australian government which asked for a non-nuclear adaption from Naval Group, and the French are helping Brazil acquire its own nuclear submarine.

It should serve as caution to anyone supplying the Australian military; they will cancel on you if the goods aren’t up to scratch. The UK could potentially learn a lot from this approach. The MoD has tended to soldier on regardless of the issues in procuring expensive platforms — the current Ajax disaster is a depressing example of this. Not every development in international politics is a lesson for the UK, but in this case the UK should be learning from how Australia has prioritised its own needs, and acted accordingly. 

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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
10 months ago

It is only a matter of time before Japan, S. Korea and India join this alliance. Because China, for obvious reasons absolutely scares the pants off all six countries. Because it will need an alliance of that sort merely to keep China at bay over the next three decades. But for reasons that completely escape me, China doesn’t frighten the EU countries in the same way, especially Germany and France who seemingly want an accomodation with China.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Others too: Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore. Russia deeply worried about China but won’t say so obviously.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Can we say the T word?
T
I
Won.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
10 months ago

Yes. Forgot the most obvious!

David George
David George
10 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Yes, there is a growing realisation in the Asia Pacific that an alliance is needed to counter the massive influence/threat of China. Not from our naïve PM Ardern and her crazy crew though.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 months ago
Reply to  David George

NZ is going to find itself increasingly isolated unless it severely lessens its economic dependence on China and stops being so stubborn in it’s non nuclear stance. It’s one thing being morally opposed to nuclear weapons (although personally I think they’re a necessary evil more most major countries unfortunately) but to not allow even nuclear powered submarines in their waters is being belligerent for no obvious gain

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
10 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Is this likely to become an electoral issue in New Zealand?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

Probably not in the short term, world affairs and foreign policy aren’t big issues in NZ most of the time compared to domestic matters. There is a growing discontent though about the dependence on China financially so it may become more important in the near future

David Harris
David Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The French and Germans don’t have an awful lot of friends and assets in the Pacific so are not too worried about China. And the Germans sell a LOT of Mercs, Beamers and VWs to the Chinese.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
10 months ago
Reply to  David Harris

Yeah but that’s very short term thinking. The problem is, once the Chinese have enough global heft they will start imposing *their* standards, across technology and products for example, and start driving *their* agenda on social and cultural norms across the globe, on climate change for example. And I don’t think the Europeans would enjoy that at all – because it would all be geared towards securing Chinese interests. But they will be blackmailed into doing things they don’t want to simply because of China’s muscle. The time to resist this is now, before it becomes a lost cause.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

One only has to glance at a map of the ocean claimed as Chinese waters to see what a colossal threat there is. The CCP and its apologists claim that China is no threat, and that their claims for sovereignty over areas based on faint historical circumstances which would be despised, condemned and ridiculed if any other ex-colonial power were involved are justified.

Last edited 10 months ago by Colin Elliott
willy Daglish
willy Daglish
10 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The main future alliance is likely to be EU + China + Russia. The European Commission and the CCP have more in common with each other -anti-democratic, mercantilist, protectionist, self-righteous – than they have with the hated Anglo-Saxons.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
10 months ago
Reply to  willy Daglish

I agree this looks an increasingly likely alignment. If that happens, UK-EU relations will become a disaster, with the two blocks snarling at each other across the Channel.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 months ago

The French sub deal never looked like a good one and seemed to have more to do with placating shipyard unions and buying votes in South Australia.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 months ago

I’m sorry for the French disappointment, especially because it seems that negotiations were advanced and the cancellation was at short notice, and I recognise them as a strong ally of both UK and Australia, but their government takes every opportunity to be both mercenary and ruthless. What is more, it seems surprising to me that such naval co-operation between the UK and Australia hasn’t happened sooner. Obviously, one cannot rely on past associations in preference to quality and value for money, but it seems the French are more effective than the UK in obtaining such deals, seeing as the latter start with obvious advantages. Indeed, the UK government has often seemed more eager to place orders abroad than at home, let alone obtain orders.
I would like to know why. Is it the quality of civil servants? Their training or motivation? Has French industry significantly surpassed British industry since 1945, and if so, how and why?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago

…nuclear submarines. Although not as quiet as diesel electric submarines

Oh dear. Exactly wrong.

Hubert Knobscratch
Hubert Knobscratch
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Couldn’t agree more – the UK nuclear subs are the best out there, and have been for decades – read about Operation Barmaid.

George Knight
George Knight
10 months ago

I do not see it as a snub to France, it is simply a better strategic decision as over time France will be pulled deeper into the EU military strategy…whatever that is, and it has no strategic interest in the area post Vietnam.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
10 months ago

I don’t think the Australians cancelled the French subs because the goods weren’t up to scratch but because they were told to. French Twitter is not happy.

John Hicks
John Hicks
10 months ago

That secrets to the entire technology of French submarine construction became public in August 2016 may be another reason. That, and the encouragement of Angela Merkel to rid the EU of the UK that has shifted US defence interests elsewhere. French twitteratti will get over it; France itself may well join the AUKUS or Quad alliances/pacts at some time in the future. However, I think Germany and other NATO countries should be particularly concerned. Reliable US allies (and their interests) are just not part of the EU anymore.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
10 months ago
Reply to  John Hicks

I wonder if this reinforcement of the relationship between US, UK & AUS is partly a response to uncertainty with regard to EU.
France may complain about exclusion but how can they be included when they are committed to an EU policy that has just reinforced ties with Russia for gas and China for trade.
It is time for the EU to decide whose side they are on.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jeff Carr
David Harris
David Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

The Germans already have.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
10 months ago

There is a lot of discontent in Australia about the French contract. Massively ballooning costs, slippage in program timeframes and not a single boat built.

Of course you could argue that that’s defence contracts everywhere, but it was becoming a political hot potato and Australia now finds it’s going to have to spend money extending the life of the current fleet.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
10 months ago

French Twitter is not happy.
Le Twitteur n’est pas content ?

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
10 months ago

New Zealand is quite pointedly excluded from the pact, perhaps due to concerns of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in Jacinda Arden’sLabour Party and Government.
New Zealand has pointedly excluded itself from this type of thing for many years now. Remember the French attacking them in their own harbour for resisting French nuclear testing in the Pacific?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 months ago
Reply to  Penelope Lane

They attacked the Greenpeace boat.

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
10 months ago

Yes, knowing full well of New Zealand’s principled, well-established and unequivocal anti-nuclear stance, and in the face of it, French secret service agents covertly smuggled themselves into New Zealand and carried out a terrorist attack in New Zealand’s domestic harbour against a Greenpeace boat assisting in the anti-nuclear protests.
The attack caused the same sort of outrage—at such a violation of New Zealand’s sovereignty and subversion of friendly foreign relations—as the French now express at Australia for tearing up the submarine contract behind their back. So the French are in no position to complain and claim some sort of moral superiority now.
But nor have I any sympathy with the three parties—US, UK, or Australia—involved in this latest act of unethical unfriendliness, in particular not with Australia, which has done far more than just turn its back on the French—it has poisoned anew its future relations with New Zealand, too, and, building on that, with New Zealand’s allies in the Pacific and elsewhere.
Things have reached the point here downunder where I am ashamed to be an Australian citizen, both domestically and on the international stage. Whereas the US and UK are old hands at this sort of game, and people have been expecting some sort of new, coordinated policy approach to Chinese territorial and economic threats, an approach backed up with military muscle, Australia, by contrast, had some real choices about the degree to which it might have chosen to align itself with the US/UK, or the manner of such engagement. We could have continued to decline the nuclear bit, but opened ourselves to more involvement on the intelligence-gathering 5 Eyes side, for example.
But no, blindly as ever, this authoritarian nation of ex-convicts unthinkingly tips its hat once more to its imperial masters. “All the way with LBJ!” never went away.
And I remember standing on a beach on Guam watching the B52s take off, laden with defoliating Agent Orange to spray over the forests of Vietnam. (How dare they try guerilla warfare on us! We’ll show them… expose them naked by taking their forest cover away…!) I remember vividly the feeling of bearing witness to an act of real evil.
Reading subsequently, over many years up to this present day, of the persistent deformities caused to the Vietnamese people by that genocidal filth, the knowledge of those crimes against humanity stays with me. And I cannot ever forget the piercing moral pain of seeing that photograph of a napalmed toddler running naked, screaming, terrorised, from an attack. We did that. Yes, we Australians did that. Own up! Each of us, we need to accept our shared responsibility as a nation for those crimes… mea culpa!
So have we learnt anything from those errant, misguided, truly sinful “mistakes”? Have we taken to heart the fact that the Viet Cong “enemy” retained far more of the sympathy of the Vietnamese people than those minorities adhering to the supposedly “free” government in the South, artificially propped up as it was by the US/Australian alliance… and… Oh yes, have we noticed how much better the Vietnamese people are doing since we Australians came to our senses and withdrew our forces from Vietnam? Again, I bear witness to that unprecedented crowd of 100,000 people gathered in Bourke St, central Melbourne, to witness Jim Cairns declare to the crowd that now, finally, we were done: the new Australian government was now getting out of the place. The thrill of witnessing a return of blessed human decency to the cesspit of war that Vietnam had become at the aegis of our previous Australian government—that gave me renewed hope and faith in our human evolutionary project—a hope and faith which also has stayed with me to this day.
So—have those of you reading this post discerned the multiple parallels between then and now? Vietnam … Afghanistan? What lesson should the Vietnamese people have taught us Australians about military intervention as a primary problem-solving mode?
What are we now going to do about Afghanistan???
What does this new triplicity of The Three Nuclear Brothers of Evil portend? — for the future prosperity, and future peaceful coexistence, of peoples, not just in the East Asian region, but around the world?
Australia and the US are conjoined at the hip like wicked twins in the history of the past half-century. The UK’s experience differed somewhat, however, in that it had a rare flash of wisdom and declined to join the US and Australia in the Vietnam War. But it more than made up for that in its major intervention in Iraq.
A point of real interest that emerges from this history is that, while it was a Labor government which released the agonising, mental-blindfold grip of the “freeworld” ideological trap of the Vietnam War from the population in Australia, it was New Labour under Tony Blair in the UK which delivered that same trap, set it and sprang it on the British people, in the form of the Iraq War.
The takeaway here is that the political party per se is not the determining factor of successful outcomes.
I suggest that the true determining factor is an evolved, developed moral/ethical sense. Wherever that predominates in a population at any given time, and is faithfully represented in its governing institutions, then will beneficial outcomes ensue.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
10 months ago

Not sure that it’s so smart from the Australains to rely on anythging from the US in the current climate, given how unreliable and untrustworthy the US is. Moreover, the Australians are more than capable of developing their own nuclear technology without any help from anybody, as are the Japanese and South Koreans.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Co-operation of the military between Australia and USA is one of the enduring truths since WWII, whoever has been in power. And it makes no sense for Australia to develop nuclear technology when co-operation with both the USA and UK is available.
We are surely all aware of the close links between RAN and RN, so who better to assist in training Australians in the operation of nuclear attack submarines?