17 September 2021 — Internationalist 360°
Exactly one month after the fall of Kabul and the disgraceful withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the United States has come into the world limelight with the Aukus Pact, an alliance that takes the initials of the names of the three signatory countries (Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom), with which it intends to “contain” Chinese expansion. The confrontation with the Asian giant is a way for the United States to demonstrate that withdrawal from Afghanistan does not mean a retreat in international affairs. When Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban, the whole world questioned Washington’s credibility and, above all, its ability to guarantee security.
Joe Biden’s almost immediate response has been to exacerbate the conflict with China by opting for a traditional alliance with its old allies, on the one hand, the United Kingdom, concerned about its relationship with the United States, and Australia, its faithful ally since the Korean War in the 1950s. It is to be expected that in the near future there will be serious tensions in this area, that the theater of operations will shift from the Middle East to Asia and especially in the South China Sea, where Beijing has built militarized artificial islets.
The Aukus pact highlights the organization of a U.S. “bloc” in Asia, which excludes Europe because it refuses to participate in a confrontation with the Asian giant. This September 16, when presenting the Indo-Pacific strategy, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, declared that the objective is “cooperation, not conflict” with Beijing, adding the European Union’s concern for the defense of democratic values. However, this is not enough in the eyes of the Americans, who have effectively entered into a “Cold War” logic.
The Aukus Pact includes the signing of an agreement between Australia and the United States for the production of nuclear-powered submarines, annulling the previous agreement signed with France. For Paris, the suspension of the submarine contract is a heavy blow to its arms industry, in figures it is the loss of 30 billion dollars. The French government issued a communiqué in which it lashes out mainly against the United States, accusing it of “incoherence” in excluding “a European ally and partner such as France from a structural alliance with Australia” and, it adds, that this decision “reinforces the need to put the issue of European strategic autonomy at the forefront”.
Evidently the French were taken by surprise, as they had been relying on the signature of the juicy contract six years ago with Australia for the supply of twelve hybrid, diesel and electric propulsion submarines. Moreover, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Paris just three months ago and had supposedly confirmed the deal.
It should be noted that France has no intention of entering into the escalation of the cold war between China and the United States, but with this treacherous blow Washington would be pushing Paris even further to seek a “third way” in its relations with China. On the other hand, Jean-Yves Le Brian, French Foreign Minister, declared that Biden behaves “like Trump”, a clearly undiplomatic assertion. This illustrates that, like the previous occupant of the White House, the Biden administration continues to treat its European allies with the same disregard, making it clear that in the post-Kabul world the countries of the old continent are not the heavyweights.
In other words, for the United States, the European Union is not a decisive geopolitical actor, despite its willingness to respond to the American call and its interest in preserving free navigation in the Indo-Pacific, keeping maritime routes open between the Asian and European markets. Even more so, with Ursula von der Leyen’s announcement of the Global Gateway infrastructure plan, designed to compete with China’s new silk road, but which does not mark an unequivocal confrontation with the Asian giant.
The French are the only ones who could play a significant role in the confrontation with China in military terms, but like the British, the Pentagon is sending them a message: “if you want to stay in the Indo-Pacific, you have to do it on our terms”. Perhaps this incident will not have major repercussions, although at this boiling point the French government is dusting off its anti-Yankee position, and it is most likely that they will receive some compensation in the coming weeks, through new contracts or renewed support from Washington in the Sahel or North Africa. What is certain is that the United States made a pragmatic decision by equipping Canberra with unconventional submarines, capable of turning the Australia into a pillar of China’s maritime containment, a step that France could not guarantee. This may complicate the situation of the Asian dragon in the maritime spaces, but more importantly, it may define the fragile future of peace worldwide.
Yoselina Guevara: Correo del Alba Venezuelan correspondent in Italy