Les Perfides Anglo-Saxons: Alliances Come Asunder Down Under?

Last week, the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia announced the formation of AUKUS, a trilateral security agreement to bolster allied interests in the Indo-Pacific, a region key to Washington’s grand strategy. AUKUS’s first initiative is to develop nuclear submarines for Australia, to be provided by American and British companies. The deployment of Australian nuclear submarines would be a major event in the Pacific, greatly increasing Australian naval capabilities. The announcement has already had geopolitical ramifications. China, while not directly mentioned during the AUKUS meeting, suspects the initiative is meant to curb its regional influence. Beijing has accordingly denounced AUKUS, asserting its participants have embraced a “Cold War mentality” detrimental to international cooperation. Other Indo-Pacific nations have voiced support or opposition to AUKUS, their opinions generally being an expression of their relationships with the U.S. and China. 

China’s indignation, however, pales besides that of France. In 2016 France signed a €56 billion deal with Australia to provide it with diesel-powered submarines. The Australians abandoned this deal in favor of American nuclear submarines offered under AUKUS. Furthermore, the French report they were not faithfully consulted on the development of AUKUS by any of its parties. To show its displeasure, Paris recalled its diplomats from the U.S. and Australia and suspended talks with the United Kingdom. Perhaps President Biden can mollify French President Emmanuel Macron in their upcoming discussions. Yet some fear that a lasting wedge may have been driven between America and its oldest ally in Washington’s efforts to confront China. 

Questions and Background

  • Why has President Biden prioritized building Australia’s military capability rather than that of other regional partners like Japan or India? How will the alliance strengthen U.S. capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region? 
  • How will the formation of AUKUS impact great power competition between the United States and China? How is China likely to respond to AUKUS?  
  • How will French outrage over AUKUS impact U.S. alliances? What approach should the U.S. take to mend its relationship with France?

A profound move for both Canberra and Washington
Richard Fontaine. Financial Review. September 16, 2021. 

Joe Biden’s New World Order 
Tom McTague. The Atlantic. September 16, 2021. 

Don’t Diss the French
Eliot Cohen. Center for Strategic & International Studies. September 20, 2021. 

Beyond AUKUS: 5 practical recommendations
Zack Cooper. American Enterprise Institute. September 21, 2021.

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