SCott Morrison’s determination to turn national security into a political twist by welcoming a new era of nuclear submarines (now brought to you exclusively from the Anglosphere) has undermined one of our most enduring and important global relations – namely the French Republic.
While the prime minister’s office would have been delighted with television footage from Washington and London to show the ‘guy downstairs’ mixing him up with the big guys and being shirtless about China, no one there seems to have thought about the cost to Australian interests that will come from Morrison’s cavalier treatment of France.
There are many reasons to question the wisdom of the government’s hasty decision to ‘go nuclear’ on the eve of a federal election – including the correctness of the technical assumptions regarding the noise footprint of different ships, their demands. coating, their levels of stealth, Australia’s ability, in the absence of a national nuclear industry, to build and maintain nuclear-powered ships, as well as the implications of full interoperability with US and UK nuclear fleets for future combined operations in our region.
All of this has been exposed in the public debate as the government’s continued incompetence on such a critical project over the past eight years has come under a microscope. But so far there has been little discussion of the impact of France being no longer Australia’s friend and trusted supporter in critical institutions around the world.
Adjusting the needs of our submarine replacement program based on changing strategic circumstances or critical technical advice is one thing. But to do it without even the most basic of courtesies to the French is quite another thing.
At the very least, and if only to save the Australian taxpayer the billions of dollars already spent (not to mention the lengthy legal process that could now ensue if Australia is sued for damages by the French Naval. Group), Morrison could have invited France to bid on a new tender, or to continue supplying the hulls while the Americans provided propulsion for the replacement nuclear-powered boats.
The French have been building nuclear powered boats for decades.
If, as Morrison would have us believe, his meeting with Joe Biden in Cornwall in June was extended to Boris Johnson in a bid to sign that deal, why did he not notify the French during his visit to Paris a few days later?
If this only happened more recently, how could he have allowed Marise Payne and Peter Dutton to stress the importance of the submarine affair to the French just three weeks before the contract was canceled?
But, most blatantly, how could he have allowed the French to learn this via media reports before a call from The Lodge?
For these reasons, it is understandable that the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, qualified this decision as “a stab in the back”. If this had happened in Australia, we would have reacted the same as we would have felt betrayed by a friend.
It might be easy to see the French reaction as a diplomatic theater. But France has now withdrawn its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington.
This is the first time the French have withdrawn their ambassador from the United States since establishing relations in the midst of the American Revolutionary War. Even at the height of their disagreement with Washington over the Iraq war, they did not take this step. Relations between Canberra and Paris also didn’t dip so low when we took them to the International Court of Justice for their nuclear tests in the Pacific.
Paris has a long memory.
Today, Morrison’s botched diplomacy has reverberated across the Atlantic, fracturing relations between the United States, the United Kingdom and France and undermining Western solidarity in the face of the global challenge of the rise of China. All because Morrison wanted to bring a huge change to the political agenda in Australia where he is now lagging behind in the polls because of his other big job: vaccines, quarantine and the pandemic.
For a middle power like Australia, being so flippantly prepared to destroy our relations with France risks having real long-term consequences. As an economy of the G7 and G20, a permanent member of the Security Council, a key member of NATO, one of the two main decision-makers in the EU and a power in the Pacific, France has a large global footprint. and regional.
This is why in 2012 as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I negotiated a new joint strategic partnership with France that I signed with my French counterpart in Paris. This agreement covers collaboration in all areas of foreign and defense policy, trade, investment, technology, international economic policy and climate. Malcolm Turnbull doubled down on this strategic partnership in 2017 even before the final submarine deal was reached.
So what could be the result? First, the EU will decide after the Glasgow climate change summit whether or not to impose “border adjustment” measures – tariffs – against countries that drag the chain on their national contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse.
This means a tax on Australian exports. And which way will Paris go on that one from now on?
Second, Australia is desperate to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU like Canada’s. What are the chances today that Paris will accept the demands of Australian farmers for better access to the European market, given France’s historic support for the common agricultural policy?
Third, what about Australia’s interests at the UN and the G7 where France, through the global French-speaking community, exercises enormous influence and can therefore thwart any future Australian multilateral initiative or Australian candidacy.
Beyond all this, the horrific message to our allies, friends and partners around the world is that our word now counts for nothing; that we should not be trusted; and that, ultimately, Australia refuses to go beyond the narrow cocoon of the Anglosphere by increasing its foreign policy and national security interests – precisely at a time when fundamental shifts in the balance of Global and regional powers are unfolding beneath our feet.