Australian Submarines: for France, 2 Slaps in the Face and a Knife in the Back

While it was supposed to buy a new fleet from France, Australia changed sides and signed with the Americans. A snub for the Elysée that calls into question Emmanuel Macron’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

The slap comes from the other side of the world, and it only stings all the more. The United States announced on Wednesday, Sept. 15, along with Australia and the United Kingdom, a vast security partnership in the Indo-Pacific, throwing France, and its military aid, out of its agreement with Canberra. The first effect of this development is Australia’s unilateral breaking of the “contract of the century,” a deal to buy a 56 billion euro fleet of French submarines. That Paris learned of it via a public videoconference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the White House, flanked by his buddies Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, is the second smack of the day.

”A New Era of Engagement”

But in reality, France’s entire strategy in the Pacific is falling apart — a strategy that Emmanuel Macron has patiently built and refined since the moment he took office. In 2018, the president stood on a warship at the Garden Island Military Base in Sydney and promised “a new era of engagement” in the Indo-Pacific. This was the second time a French head of state visited Australia in four years, a diplomatic voluntarism that Macron explained by saying France wanted to defend the balance in this region.

In June of this year, the head of state reiterated to the Australian prime minister that this partnership was “at the heart of our strategy in the Indo-Pacific.” His weary interlocutor has already approached Washington, using the Group of 7 to seal a new alliance with Biden and Johnson. “America is back,” Biden declared. Without a doubt, we should have measured the full impact of these words that send us back to the Cold War, without Gen. Charles de Gaulle and with China as a secondary actor. As it recovers from this “knife in the back,” France would do well now to plan its own comeback.

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