According to unofficial sources in the Biden administration, the decision to launch a tripartite strategy for the Indo-Pacific theater based on providing nuclear submarines to Australia is part of the scheme to confront the Chinese push into the Pacific. The decision of the troika (U.S., Great Britain and Australia) brought about the cancellation of a $66 billion contract that had been signed by Australia and France for the sale of a large number of diesel subs produced in France.
The cancellation of the sale is a big deal because the nuclear subs for the Aussies will likely be built by the United States and will come with highly sensitive technology that historically is shared only with the British. The question, however, arises: given that diesel submarines with limited range and technological features are a terrible bet for the future, why were no steps taken early enough to negotiate a different kind of sale that would protect the interests of the French naval industry?
While it is true that the Aussies will get American all-nuclear F-135s rather than French Deux Chevaux, why wasn’t this power play agreed upon in terms that would not offend the French by getting them involved in a new way in the Indo-Pacific theater? Especially now that the U.S. is intent on finally launching the “pivot” of Asia?
There is more than enough to demonstrate that the new security arrangement concocted by the Biden administration diminished not just the role of the French naval industry but violated the letter and the spirit of the cooperation agreements between France and Australia.
In addition, the French were not even informed about the deal that was brewing. The damage is far larger than the loss to the French industry that in time will be mitigated by American and British concessions. The fracas of the subs for Australia supports those who decry the continuation by Joe Biden of the methods, if not the policies, of former President Trump.
In truth, the method adopted with the French offends. After all, France should be regarded as an important ally in confronting Chinese expansionism that is clearly the major component of Biden’s foreign policy. In addition, on a purely political plane, France represents the European Union in the Pacific since the British Brexit. The same Europeans are unfavorably impressed by the fact that President Biden is pushing the American interests in a revival of “America First” even when that damages bilateral relations with an important member of NATO. The silence of the European allies speaks volumes in a way that does not give credit to Biden but opens up the possibility of a revision of the strategic relationship with Europe.
Biden’s misstep hurts his credibility at a time when it is of the essence to this presidency. Damage control with French President Macron is now underway. Biden’s misstep will not be resolved by a change of messaging but it will call for, at very least, transparency in the relations with Europe. When Biden states, as he did at the U.N. Assembly, that “our own success is bound up with others succeeding as well,” he should have thought that the needs of one ally, Australia, should not compromise the meaning of those words.
(As seen in the Northern Virginia Daily).