Best regards from Canberra

In the Temple of the Nations, Biden might have received a standing ovation a year ago. After all, a wind of change was blowing through Washington. Now he elicits a shrug at best. And at worst, the anger of the allies that he has been abusing for a few months. Indeed, in foreign policy, the break with its predecessor is not obvious. It looks a bit the same as the day before, but with flowers.

Within weeks, Biden showed he (too) disregarded the allies. This is evidenced by the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan (forcing in passing the catastrophic departure of the powers that had supported the operation since 2001) and the latest developments in the Indo-Pacific area. In the wake of the slide that began in the Trump era, Biden has made a series of decisions the magnitude of which could exceed his intentions.

First of all, the reorganization of alliances. Australia, which has long procrastinated on its own positioning in the region, cited increasing costs and delays to terminate its diesel-electric submarine contract with France and turn to the United States. Faced with growing pressure from Beijing, Canberra wants to have nuclear-powered submarines with greater autonomy and stealth than the French had to provide. Canberra’s geopolitical anxiety thus aligns itself with the Indo-Pacific pivot of Biden, who pointed out that “the United States has no more reliable and strong ally than Australia” – another stab in the face. the outline of alliances.

The United Kingdom is just as involved in this strategic realignment: leaving the European Union, it is also repositioning itself around the Indo-Pacific region. This explains why for the first time in 63 years (the last time was in the United Kingdom), the United States is transferring military nuclear propulsion technology to another country.

The termination of the Franco-Australian contract must be put in parallel with the conclusion of the AUKUS strategic agreement, an international security and diplomacy agreement (including cybersecurity issues,artificial intelligence and… the acquisition of US-UK nuclear submarines) which is limited to Australia, UK and US. He therefore immediately dismissed two residents of the Pacific and members of the Five Eyes – New Zealand… and Canada, relegated to folding seats.

In addition, the meeting of the members of the Quadrilateral Dialogue for Security (Quad) also leaves in the stands an important player: France, which has been a strategic partner of Australia for several decades and which claimed its membership two years ago. to the “Indo-Pacific axis”. With a military presence (7,000 people, 15 warships and 38 planes are permanently deployed there) in both the Indian Ocean and Oceania, where 1.5 million people live in its confetti of empire, France could if necessary represent a useful support in a containment strategy.

However, the magnitude of the crisis is such that it is reminiscent of that of 2003. And the shock is even stronger since it weakens the P3 (United States, United Kingdom and France), which In theory, it is possible to present a common front to the United Nations Security Council.

Then, the Indo-Pacific turn comes in a context where the United States is betting more than ever on Obama’s Asian pivot, but operating in a more aggressive perspective where China is clearly a threat. The Quad indeed includes two militarily heavy players – appearing at the top of world defense budgets – and sensitive to Chinese pressure: Japan and India (which has had trouble with Beijing on its Himalayan border over the past year ).

However, neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia fear increased tensions, an arms race and the risk of slippage. This is all the more convincing as several think tanks in the region point to the (unparalleled) intensification over the past year of US operations in the South China Sea and in the airspace around Taiwan, while, at the same time, Beijing (which now has the largest navy in the world) is increasing its demonstrations of force and extending its hold through the militarization of a large number of atolls by acquiring substantial military capabilities. The fact that the US Chief of Staff Mark Milley considered essential (according to Bob Woodward) to speak directly to his Chinese alter ego during the presidential transition indicates the region’s level of flammability.

Moreover, former British (Theresa May) and Australian (Paul Keating) prime ministers went further by asking what would happen if China attacked Taiwan and how close the partners of the United States could be. involved… starting with the role of the famous submarines.

Robert Gates wrote in his memoir a few years ago that in foreign policy, Biden always fell on the wrong side. The future will tell us if President Biden is able to issue a real doctrine or if he can only follow in the footsteps of his arsonist predecessor … with one nuance: “ America First », Yes, but with a smile.

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