Contract of the century submarines: when Australia torpedoed France

the essential Camberra broke the contract of the century with the French Naval Group to ally with the United Kingdom and the United States, the latter selling it nuclear submarines. Anger in Paris … but also in Beijing, whose maritime ambitions are targeted by the new strategic alliance.

Shock, misunderstanding and anger. France went through all these stages yesterday after Australia reneged on its word by breaking the contract of 84 billion Australian dollars (56 billion euros) signed in 2019 with the French company Naval Group, who was to provide him 12 under- sailors with conventional propulsion, that is to say non-nuclear. A “contract of the century” which ends with the slap of the century from one ally to another. Suffice to say that yesterday morning, the French executive was both stunned and angry.

Le Drian: “Un coup dans le dos”

“This unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision is very similar to what Mr. Trump was doing”, underlined the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, lambasting “a blow in the back” , while the Minister of the Armed Forces denounced the questioning of “the word given”. Because this huge contract which was to mobilize 286 people in Cherbourg, was the result of ‘a very long negotiation between France and Australia with many concessions on the French side. 56% of the value of the program “Future Submarine Program Was to return to Australia; it was planned to create 2 500 jobs in Australia for the manufacture of submarines via 137 companies.

To read also: Submarines: five questions to understand the breach of the “contract of the century” between France and Australia

And since the signing two years ago, Australia has continued to put pressure on Naval Group, accusing it of being late and over budget to the point that last June Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison already evoked a “plan B” … while officially, France and Australia assured of their determination to work for the success of their collaboration.

Le 15 juin dernier, Emmanuel Macron recevait à l’Elysée Scott Morrison, le Premier ministre australien. Les relations étaient alors au beau fixe.../AFP.
The 15 last June, Emmanuel Macron received Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, at the Elysee Palace. Relations were then in good shape … / AFP. AFP – THOMAS SAMSON

New AUKUS alliance

The change Australia’s footing in favor of the hitherto secret plan B, mentioned in recent days by leaks in the press, would have been provoked by the United States. The breach of the Franco-Australian contract stems, in fact, from the decision of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia to launch a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific zone, called AUKUS, of which one of the first initiatives is the delivery to Australians of nuclear-powered American submarines.

Wednesday evening in Washington, Joe Biden formalized this new alliance by videoconference with Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson. All smiles, the American president explained that he hoped to “work closely with France and other key players” in the Indo-Pacific region. “France, in particular, has a significant presence in the Indo-Pacific and it is a key partner and ally,” Biden said. France is, in fact, the only European nation present in the region with nearly two million of its nationals and more than 7 military…

La signature de l’accord entre Naval Group et l’Australie le 11 février 2019. / Photo Naval Group
The signing of the agreement between Naval Group and Australia on 11 February 2019. / Photo Naval Group Naval group

Johnson wants to preserve Franco-British relations

For his part, Boris Johnson assured that the initiative, which will contribute to “peace and security” in this region of the world which is a source of tension, “does not aim to oppose any other power , but it just reflects the close relationship we have with the United States and Australia ”. It is true that across the Channel, there is a certain embarrassment after the Trafalgar coup inflicted on France because in terms of defense, the British and French collaborate strongly. Boris Johnson thus assured that “the military relationship” of the United Kingdom with France was “extremely solid”, in particular in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel or during a NATO operation in Estonia.

To read also: “Biden pursues an old policy of torpedoing” explains Eric Dénécé, director of the Center French intelligence research

The alliance with the United States also allows it to put its post-Brexit idea of ​​Global Britain back in the saddle, undermined by the unilateral withdrawal of States -Unis d’Afghanistan, carried out without London having been consulted …

On the Camberra side, yesterday we justified the breach of the contract. “The decision we have taken not to continue with the Attack class submarines and to take another path is not a change of mind, it is a change of need,” the Prime Minister dared yesterday Australian, who can look forward to benefiting from US nuclear technology – shared only with UK since 800 – but also a vast cooperation program in cyber defense, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.

Video conference by Scott Morrison, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson AFP – BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

Strategic autonomy

In the end, the snub inflicted on France, if it does not in question the meaning of its alliances according to several experts, should sound like an electric shock t both to measure our real influence and to become aware of the new geopolitical issues that are today in the Indo-Pacific zone.

After the spying on Europeans by the NSA, the absence of support for France in Syria in 1958, the Swiss about-face on the sale of Rafale or the unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, the bad attitude of the United States towards France has at least one advantage: putting the question of European strategic autonomy back at the heart of debates on Defense. towards the United States and NATO.

To read also: China Sea: explosive zone for future conflicts


Wrath of China

Facing the new alliance AUKUS, which will operate in the Indo-Pacific zone, and therefore shit China and the sale of American nuclear submarines to Australia, Beijing was quick to react. “Cooperation between the United States, Great Britain and Australia on nuclear submarines seriously undermines regional peace and stability, intensifies the arms race and undermines international nuclear non-proliferation efforts,” Chinese diplomacy spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

China was not mentioned in the AUKUS founding press release but there is no doubt that the new alliance aims first of all to face Beijing’s regional ambitions. Joe Biden has been repeating since his election that he intends to confront China, like his predecessor Donald Trump, but in a very different way, without locking himself in a face-to-face meeting.

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