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Turnbull: AUKUS Subs Deal Is an ‘Own Goal’

7 230 1
07.10.2021

It only took hours for the Biden administration’s deal to build nuclear-powered submarines with Britain and Australia to create a diplomatic firestorm. France, whose contract to build diesel-electric submarines for Canberra was subsequently canceled, recalled its ambassadors from both Washington and Canberra. And now, the controversy is kicking up back in Australia.

Some of the harshest words for the trilateral submarine partnership, popularly known as AUKUS, are coming from a surprising source: former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who recently spoke out publicly against the move. He fears that his successor, Scott Morrison, has flat-out deceived the French, an emerging power in the Pacific, something that could have long-lasting consequences for Australian relations with Europe. (Turnbull's criticism might not be too surprising: his government signed the deal to buy French submarines in 2016).

“The bottom line is, if you double-cross people, there is a price to pay. And what Morrison did was reprehensible,” Turnbull said in an interview.

It only took hours for the Biden administration’s deal to build nuclear-powered submarines with Britain and Australia to create a diplomatic firestorm. France, whose contract to build diesel-electric submarines for Canberra was subsequently canceled, recalled its ambassadors from both Washington and Canberra. And now, the controversy is kicking up back in Australia.

Some of the harshest words for the trilateral submarine partnership, popularly known as AUKUS, are coming from a surprising source: former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who recently spoke out publicly against the move. He fears that his successor, Scott Morrison, has flat-out deceived the French, an emerging power in the Pacific, something that could have long-lasting consequences for Australian relations with Europe. (Turnbull’s criticism might not be too surprising: his government signed the deal to buy French submarines in 2016).

“The bottom line is, if you double-cross people, there is a price to pay. And what Morrison did was reprehensible,” Turnbull said in an interview.

Foreign Policy took the opportunity to talk to Turnbull about the controversial deal and its diplomatic fallout, Australia and its increasingly contentious relations with China, and Canberra’s growing role in the Pacific.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Foreign Policy: How do you see Australia’s role in the world changing as a result of its inclusion in the AUKUS grouping and in the Quad?

Malcolm Turnbull: I think that as Australia’s economy has grown, we have greater economic strength than we had 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. My view is that, in this region, Australia has to engage with its neighbors, particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Japan and South Korea, of course, and India. But it’s got to engage with its neighbors and look at the region less as a series of spokes leading into Washington or Beijing but more as a mesh. And that’s why I’ve ensured that the Trans-Pacific Partnership continued after the Americans pulled out. I mean, that was no mean feat. I had to persuade then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to stick with it, which he ultimately did, and we were able to keep that alive. You cannot assume that every relationship you have is one that goes through Washington. That’s really important.

And this is why AUKUS, the decision on the submarines, is such a disappointment and, I think, a very big mistake.

The best course of action for us, and I believe for the United States, would have been for Australia to have stuck with the French agreement; built the first three submarines, perhaps........

© Foreign Policy


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