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France regrets US-UK-Australia security pact to take on China

New Delhi, September 16

France cast an early spanner in the trans-Atlantic solidarity to take on China after it was not consulted on a joint announcement by the US, France and the UK to share advanced technologies, including that of nuclear-powered submarines

“This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” said US President Joe Biden as two TV monitors by his side showed Australian and British PMs, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson, joining him virtually.

The partnership will be known by the acronym “AUKUS’’ which Biden said sounds strange but is a good one.

“We must now take our partnership to a new level,’’ said Morrison, while Johnson described it as “adding a new chapter in our friendship.’’

The trilateral will also share information and know-how in key technological areas like artificial intelligence, cyber, quantum, underwater systems, and long-range strike capabilities though nuclear powered submarines take centre-stage.

 

India, though is a member of the Quad and has recently flagged its interest in a security and defence relationship with the UK, has a long-standing tie-up with Russia for nuclear-powered submarines. It is now embarked on a project to construct these submarines on its own.

France found the sudden announcement galling from two perspectives.

First, it was left blindsided even though it had held a virtual meeting in the much-touted “two- plus-two” format with Australia on August 30.  

French Foreign and Defence Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly had spoken by videoconference with their Australian counterparts, Marise Payne and Peter Dutton, which the French Foreign Ministry had said confirmed the “very high degree of strategic and operational cooperation between France and Australia’’.

Second, France is virtually knocked out of the $90 billion submarine deal and Australia is now certain to opt for American-made nuclear-powered submarines, with assistance from the UK. The French were slated to manufacture a dozen submarines under the “Future Submarine Program’’ which was one of the biggest foreign contracts in an overseas market.

France trained its guns on both the US and Australia. “It is a decision contrary to the letter and the spirit of the cooperation which prevailed between France and Australia,’’ it said, adding that the American choice leads to the removal of an ally and a European partner like France “at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region’.’

While the joint communication on the European strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is published today, France confirms its desire for very ambitious action in this region aimed at preserving everyone’s “freedom of sovereignty”. The only European nation present in the Indo-Pacific with nearly two million of its nationals and more than 7,000 soldiers, France is a reliable partner which will continue to keep its commitments there, as it has always done.

The three countries, over the next 18 months, will work on the specifics of collaboration in cutting-edge technology in defence that the US has usually shared only with the UK. The centre of attention will be discussions on the transfer of nuclear material.