Australian submarines: Joe Biden’s slap in the face of Europe (and especially France)

History, by its telescoping and coincidences, is often cruel. Wednesday September 15, right at the time (or almost) when Ursula von der Leyen gave a speech evoking the need to accelerate the construction of a “Defense Union”, her words were swept away by the announcement of an “agreement trilateral security “between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A triple trigger snub for Europeans.

Not only had they not been warned of the imminence of such an agreement between these three friendly countries, but in addition, the agreement in question was accompanied, for France, by the breaking of the “contract of the century” (to 35 billion euros) according to which Australia had committed in 2016 to acquire twelve submarines to the hexagonal manufacturer Naval Group. Wonderful, the contract has just taken off. Additional humiliation, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after having made an arm of honor to Europe with the Brexit, appears as the big winner of this streak.

This indeed consecrates the reactivation of the unwavering link between the United States and England – the famous “special relationship” which binds London to its former colony. And partly buries the transatlantic relationship so much vaunted by Joe Biden since taking office eight months ago.

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From Obama to Biden via Trump: the same vision of the world

“After declaring to the city and the world that the Europe-United States relationship was essential, the White House clearly indicates where its priorities lie: in Asia and not on the Old Continent “, notes Philippe Le Corre, expert on Sino-European relations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Foundation for Strategic Research.With the total withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan [et bientôt d’Irak, où il reste quelques milliers de GI’s] America had indicated that it would henceforth abandon “non-essential” wars in order to focus on a higher strategic objective: countering China. Here we are.

Started under Obama [qui, rappelons-le, est né à Hawaï au beau milieu du Pacifique] and continued under Donald Trump, the “pivot towards Asia” materializes with Joe Biden, under the influence of “Asia adviser” Kurt K. Campbell, a key man in the American diplomatic apparatus. “Campbell is the inventor of the expression pivot to Asia, points out Le Corre. In charge of Asia at the State Department, he is de facto number 2 in American diplomacy.”

For France – dismissed by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, ignored by Joe Biden and neglected by Boris Johnson – the pill is bitter. Since François Hollande’s presidency, Paris has consistently pleaded with Europeans in favor of an “Indo-Pacific strategy” for the EU. Which amounts to wanting to engage with the Americans and Australians in their policy of “containment” vis-à-vis China in South-East Asia.

“With its vast maritime space, the second in the world, in the Indian (thanks to Reunion and Mayotte) and the Pacific (thanks to New Caledonia and Polynesia) oceans, France, the only European country present in these two parts of the globe, has real legitimacy, notes the specialist in China and South-East Asia Valérie Niquet. Military cooperation had also developed with Canberra. And President Macron gave a speech in 2018. noticed from an Australian naval base. ” Since then, the French president has hammered out the same message with some success, offering himself the stature of an interlocutor aware of the major issues.

Le Premier ministre australien Scott Morrison en mars 2020 à Canberra

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in March 2020 in Canberra

afp.com/DAVID GRAY

Patatras! Far from including France, and even less Europe, in its military-strategic equation, Washington has just relaunched the “Five Eyes”, or “Five Eyes”, the Anglo-Saxon alliance of the intelligence services of the United States. United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. “By dint of exchanging secrets in a common language, these countries have built a reciprocal trust. This partly explains why Americans systematically favor the Five Eyes countries and why Australians side by side with the States. United, the only country powerful enough to guarantee their security in the event of a conflict with China, “continues Philippe Le Corre.

To this is added another alliance, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad”. Founded in the 2000s, but really activated in 2017 under Trump and even more so in 2021 under Biden, the “Quad” brings together the United States, Japan, Australia and India. The heads of state or government of these last three countries will be received by Joe Biden on September 24 in Washington.

Absent from the “Five Eyes”, the “Quad” and now from the AUKUS trilateral security agreement (for Australia, United Kingdom, United States), France and its European allies, despite the hopes placed in the Biden presidency, are disillusioned. The White House did not consult any European country before announcing the trilateral security agreement. “There is a continuity between Obama, Trump and Biden: it is ‘America first’, decrypts Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, who heads the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund think-tank. Thus, the new American diplomatic reality is affirmed by a very determined policy which gives priority to the United Kingdom and the Quad countries (Japan, Australia, India). And, among the priorities, the Indo-Pacific strategy replaces the transatlantic alliance. ”

Boris Johnson, “freed” from his European partners

To counter China, Washington is demonstrating diplomatic creativity. And engages in a war of political movements by betting on regional alliances with variable geometries. In terms of realpolitik, this means that transatlantic relations, without being called into question in principle, belong to a now ancient world. “Seen from Washington, the notion of ‘Europe of defense’ [défendue le 15 septembre par la présidente de la commission européenne Ursula von der Leyen], is assimilated to a hollow concept, without concrete reality, which is based only on sentences and declarations of intention “, observes Alexandra de Hoop Sheffer.

For his part, the expert Philippe Le Corre recalls that “the EU hardly exists at the naval level despite the efforts of France, whose fleet is however no match for the US Navy”. “Last August,” he continues, “Germany sent an attack frigate to the China Sea. It’s remarkable, because it’s almost unprecedented. But, of course, the Bundestag had to meet. beforehand to discuss the advisability of the thing … “However, having to convene the federal parliament for the setting-off of a ship carrying 230 men on board can only make smile on the other side of the Atlantic.

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In such a context, the United States prefers to bet on the United Kingdom, “freed” from its European partners since Brexit. For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this comeback is a considerable diplomatic success, which Europeans have not heard the last.


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