Australia breaks the “contract of the century” with France on submarines, in favor of American and British technologies

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed, Thursday, September 16, the breach of a gigantic contract, concluded in 2016 with France, for the supply of conventional submarines, preferring to build nuclear-powered submarines using of American and British technologies. “The decision we made 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”Mr. Morrison said.

In its wake, the United States has thus announced a vast security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom in the Indo-Pacific zone. “The first major initiative of [ce nouveau pacte appelé] AUKUS will deliver a fleet of nuclear powered submarines to Australia ”, said the Australian Prime Minister, appearing on videoconference, just like his British counterpart Boris Johnson, during an event chaired by Joe Biden at the White House.

France thus sees a contract worth some 90 billion Australian dollars (56 billion euros, but only 8 billion for the French part) escape its shipbuilding industry. The ministries of defense and foreign affairs immediately lambasted, in a press release, a “Regrettable decision” and “Contrary to the letter and the spirit of the cooperation which prevailed between France and Australia”. In his speech, however, Biden was conciliatory towards Paris, assuring that the United States wanted “Work closely with France” in this very strategic area. France “Is a key partner” from the United States, he said.

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Collaboration in cyber defense, artificial intelligence

“The UK, Australia and the US are going to be linked even more closely, which reflects the level of trust between us and the depth of our friendship.”, meanwhile said Boris Johnson, who garnered there a certain diplomatic success in his strategy to avoid international isolation after Brexit. “Based on our shared history of maritime democracies, we are committed to a common ambition to support Australia in the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines”, again let know the three partners in a joint press release.

“The only country with which the United States has ever shared this type of nuclear propulsion technology is Great Britain” from 1958, a senior White House official said earlier today. “It’s a fundamental, fundamental decision. It will bind Australia, the United States and Great Britain for generations. ” According to the same senior official, the pact “AUKUS” also provides for collaboration of the three countries in cyber defense, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.

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New Zealand, which has banned all nuclear-powered ships from its waters since 1985, has already announced that future submarines from its neighbor and Australian ally will not be welcome here.

Australia’s “Open Invitation” to Beijing

China is not mentioned in the joint communiqué of the Australian, American and British leaders, which on the other hand refers to the “Peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”. But there is no doubt that the new alliance is primarily aimed at addressing Beijing’s regional ambitions.

Joe Biden thus repeats, 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. On Wednesday he said he wanted “Invest in our greatest source of strength, our alliances” and want “Update them to better face the threats of today and tomorrow”. On September 24, the American president brings together the Australian, Indian and Japanese prime ministers in Washington to relaunch a diplomatic format, the “Quad”, which had been vegetating for several years. As for Mr. Morrisson, he said Thursday, after the announcement of the “Aukus” pact, that he was launching a “Open invitation” to dialogue with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A Barracuda-class submarine, from the French Naval Group, off Brest, in June 2020.
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This announcement risks, despite the language precautions of Mr. Biden, to throw a cold snap on another alliance, with France, since it torpedoed what was sometimes described as “Contract of the century” for the French defense industry.

The French Naval Group was selected in 2016 by Canberra to supply twelve submarines with conventional propulsion (non-nuclear), derived from future French nuclear submarines Barracuda. Worth A $ 50 billion (€ 31 billion) at signature, the contract is currently estimated to be worth A $ 90 billion due to cost overruns and currency effects.

The World with AFP

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