The immediate cause of the conflict is Australia’s cancellation of a $ 90 million contract with France to build a fleet of 12 diesel attack submarines. The scuttling of the long-standing deal was publicly declared in September, when AUKUS, an aggressive military alliance of the United States, Britain and Australia, aimed at preparing for war with China, was unveiled.
As part of the pact, Australia had access to US military technology to facilitate its construction of nuclear-powered submarines. It is very likely, however, that Canberra will simply buy off-the-shelf ships from the United States or Great Britain.
While the financial loss resulting from Australia’s abandonment of the French contract is undoubtedly a source of tension, it more broadly reflects the profound implications of the AUKUS agreement.
Declared without prior discussion with other NATO states, and explicitly directed against China, AUKUS has sidelined European powers, which have their own ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, and expressed concerns about at the prospect of a large-scale US-led confrontation with Beijing. France, in particular, which still has colonial territories in the Pacific, sees itself as a power of the Pacific.
Shortly after arriving in Rome for the G20 at the end of last month, Morrison announced that he and Macron had had their first phone conversation since signing AUKUS. While the readings of the discussion differed markedly on the French and Australian sides, Morrison described the call as the start of the “road back” to normalization of relations. Initially, the French ambassador was recalled to protest AUKUS and Macron refused to answer appeals from the Australian prime minister.
Morrison then pointedly approached the French leader for a photoshoot as the summit began, with the photos then released by his office.
The suggestion that tensions had subsided was immediately contradicted by Macron. Approached by the Australian media the next day, Macron said that “when you have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in accordance and coherence with this value”. When asked if he thought Morrison lied to him by failing to give notice that the French deal would be terminated, Macron replied: “I don’t think so, I know. “
Morrison’s problems then worsened when US President Joe Biden told Macron that the handling of the AKUS announcement had been “awkward.” “I had the impression that France had been informed long before the [French] the deal was not done, ”Biden said.
The comments clearly implied that it was the Australian government that had misled France, with much of the Australian media reporting them as “Biden throwing Morrison under the bus”.
Regardless of the precise details of the talks leading to the termination of the French Submarine Crisis Agreement, there is no doubt that the sudden announcement from AUKUS was meant to send a message, not just to China. , but also to nominal allies of the United States. It was a statement that, under Washington’s leadership, the United States, Britain and Australia were increasing preparations for a major war to levels not seen in the past eight decades, and that they would act outside the old NATO and other alliance relationships in the process. .
Biden’s comments were aimed at easing immediate tensions after France responded to the AUKUS announcement by also withdrawing its ambassador to the United States amid official French denunciations of “unilateral, brutal and unpredictable decisions.” Biden reportedly discussed the China issue at length with Macron, both affirming their commitment to NATO and their support for “robust” collaboration in the Indo-Pacific. At the same time, Macron told reporters after the meeting: “Trust is like love: statements are good, but proof is better.
The seriousness of the tensions was underscored by extraordinary leaks. Australian media received a copy of a confidential report prepared by Biden’s National Security Council ahead of the UKUS announcement that the US administration knew France would be caught off guard by the initiative .
Text messages between Morrison and Macron claiming to show Australia had warned that the French contract could be terminated also caught on in the media. In this case, government leaders all but admitted to the leak, saying it was necessary to refute Macron’s claim that the Australian prime minister lied.
Last Wednesday, the French Ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thébault, delivered an address to the National Press Club of Canberra in which he described the abandonment of the previous submarine contract as “a stab in the back “and insisted that the” deception had been intentional.
Thebault pointed to the underlying source of the tensions, insisting that France would remain an Indo-Pacific power. He complained that the AUKUS announcement was “in stark contrast to Australia’s alleged intention to seek greater involvement of European allies in the Indo-Pacific region”.
The still unresolved clash intensified a crisis in the Morrison government. It faces widespread popular opposition, as well as concerns within the ruling elite that it is not moving forward fast enough by imposing austerity measures in the interests of big business and accelerating the build-up. military of Australia.
In the press, much of the attention was drawn to the immediate details of the dispute and how the government handled them. The broader implications of AUKUS, placing Australia on the front line of a potential world war, have been largely obscured.Foreign Minister Marise Payne noted last week that submarines were only one aspect of the New Deal. In addition, it provides for expanded military collaboration at all levels between Washington, London and Canberra, as well as expanded base agreements for the United States in northern Australia and elsewhere in the country.
The shift to more expensive nuclear submarines itself indicates preparations for the conflict. The ships have superior stealth, range, endurance and speed than their diesel-powered counterparts under conditions in which one of Australia’s central roles in a war with China would be to help dominate the waters. of the Indo-Pacific.
The response of the AustraliaThe foreign editor of Greg Sheridan’s diplomatic crisis with France was revealing. After initially blasting Biden’s response as an attack on the Australian government, he changed course late last week.
Whatever problems arose, Sheridan insisted, the key question was to move forward. Columnist Murdoch, who has close ties to the military intelligence apparatus, revealed that the Australian and US governments “will begin in the coming weeks to roll out a series of announcements and initiatives under the deal. AUKUS to complete the agreement. to life, and to demonstrate the work in progress – now with some urgency – on the nuclear-powered submarine project.
Dozens of full-time military agents are working on the project in both countries, Sheridan reported. Completion of a submarine project review could be brought forward from 18 months to 9 to 12 months. The United States could begin leasing nuclear-powered submarines within five to ten years.
Sheridan called for a campaign to “continually” explain the importance of AUKUS to “the electorate”. Although it did not expand, it was a veiled reference to the need for the political and media establishment to overcome mass opposition to militarism and war among workers and youth.
For its part, the opposition Labor Party responded to the diplomatic impasse with France by questioning Morrison’s ability to advance “the national interest” on the international stage. Labor, as the pro-war party of big business and banking, says it would be better placed to advance the interests of Australian imperialism, including its preparations for a US-led war with China.
Labor enthusiastically welcomed the AUKUS announcement. Its federal leader, Anthony Albanese, lamented last week that the conflict with France could “create problems for our relations with the United States”.
The diplomatic cleavages, which are a symptom of the advancing movements towards war, demonstrate the urgent need to build an international anti-war movement of the working class, directed against all governments that plot conflict, and capitalist profit. system which is the root cause.