Aukus turned ruckus: new nuclear pact sets back diplomatic relations

It’s safe to say that since its announcement on September 15th, the Aukus defence technology pact between Australia, the UK, and the US, has ruffled some feathers both across the channel and farther afield.

Artificial technology and cybersecurity are both notable exchanges that can be expected to take place under the new pact. Yet it is the proposed aid of the US and UK in Australia acquiring a fleet of nuclear-propelled submarines that has proven to be so incendiary in recent days.The latter has caused Australia to cancel a contract made with France in 2016 for 12 electric-diesel attack-class submarines: a deal worth £48 billion. Both the news and its ill-fated delivery left major dents in Franco-US and Franco-Australian relations.

Macron was reportedly left furious as French officials received the news of their contract’s cancellation via leaked reports from the Australian press on the day of the Aukus announcement. Though the French government had previously pursued concerns about the future of the 2016 contract, neither Australian Prime minister Scott Morrison nor US officials warned France during such enquiries.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated last week that “There has been a lie, there has been duplicity, there has been a major breach of trust, there has been contempt, so things are not right between us.”

France initially recalled ambassadors from both Australia and the US. Biden and Macron have since eased diplomatic tensions over a call on September 22nd, yet the threat of French retribution perhaps still looms for Australia as the EU continues to consider a free-trade agreement with the country.

Though a summit between French and British defence ministers was also postponed last week, the notable absence of any similar withdrawal of French diplomats from Britain is indicative of the Macron government’s dismissal of the UK playing a central role in the “duplicity.”

Whilst French officials have stressed Britain’s “irrelevance” as the reason behind the decision, evening likening Britain to “dishwater,” and Boris Johnson has provocatively asked the French government in Franglais to “get a grip,” the situation is unlikely to escalate beyond bilateral School-yard cattiness for the two nations.

This perhaps may not be said for the elephant in the room…China. Though all involved stress the contrary, the pact is largely seen as a response to an increasing military presence in the South China sea from the nation. A change in geopolitical positions is in the air.

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Hamish Davis

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October 2021
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