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Will AUKUS Hit China Where It Hurts?

18 6 11
24.09.2021

Matthew Kroenig: Hi, Emma! I hope you are enjoying the first few days of autumn.

Hey, I have a question for you. I was invited to a small group dinner with France’s ambassador last Wednesday and it was canceled at the last minute. Any idea why he was unavailable?

Emma Ashford: Good morning, Matt! I hate to be the bearer of bad news for Washington’s think tank community, but it looks like the French won’t be hosting gourmet dinners or elegant soirees at the embassy anytime soon. They’re pretty angry at the United States, and it’s all the result of AUKUS.

Matthew Kroenig: Hi, Emma! I hope you are enjoying the first few days of autumn.

Hey, I have a question for you. I was invited to a small group dinner with France’s ambassador last Wednesday and it was canceled at the last minute. Any idea why he was unavailable?

Emma Ashford: Good morning, Matt! I hate to be the bearer of bad news for Washington’s think tank community, but it looks like the French won’t be hosting gourmet dinners or elegant soirees at the embassy anytime soon. They’re pretty angry at the United States, and it’s all the result of AUKUS.

MK: We really should avoid offending countries that are so good at entertaining.

But, of course, that’s the reason. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia announced a big, new strategic partnership that includes selling multiple nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. As a result, Australia canceled a preexisting submarine deal with France. France is upset and has recalled its ambassadors to both Canberra and Washington. Fortunately, U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on the phone earlier this week, so there is hope for healing the rift in the relationship—and for future soirees.

What is your take on this episode?

This is probably the worst crisis in French-American relations since the 1960s.

EA: “AUKUS” sounds like a dying seagull, and it was received about as warmly by the French, who recalled their ambassador from Washington and canceled the gala celebrations of the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes. Those are both pretty extreme steps. And to make it worse, French leadership has publicly described the incident as a “stab in the back” moment from a close ally. In short, this is probably the worst crisis in French-American relations since Charles de Gaulle pulled out of NATO’s joint command in the 1960s.

It’s not hard to see why the French are upset. On the economic side, they just lost a $60 billion defense contract, which supported jobs and exports in France. And on the diplomatic side, they were apparently completely blindsided; the Biden administration left notification up to the Australians, who didn’t actually tell the French in advance of the announcement.

MK: I also understand Paris’s anger. But let’s focus on the bigger strategic picture first. Overall, this is a good deal for the United States and the free world. The military balance in Asia is shifting in China’s favor, Washington wants to maintain a favorable balance in the region, but it cannot do it all on its own. It needs its allies to do more. So these capable Australian submarines help in that regard.

EA: So I suspect you are right that this is probably a good move for the United States over the long term, even if executed poorly. But let me play devil’s advocate here for a moment, because I do think there are some serious concerns we should consider.

First, Biden is alienating France, which not only is one of the more militarily capable members of NATO but is also technically an Indo-Pacific power. There are 1.5 million French citizens who live in the Indo-Pacific region, which is one reason why France has actually been pretty responsive to U.S. calls for Europe to do more in the region.

MK: OK. This is an important issue. Let’s return to it in a........

© Foreign Policy


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