Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
Eiffel Tower in Paris, FranceFlash 90

Australia has announced that its $90b contract of 2016 with France to build a new generation of submarines is to be terminated. Instead a new alliance called AUKUS, consisting of Australia, the UK and US will be formed to meet growing challenges from China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Under the agreement, the UK and US will share nuclear powered submarine technologies with Australia and develop new capabilities. In addition American forces in Australia will be expanded.

As expected, France and its European partners were outraged, claiming there were no discussions let alone a warning. The repudiation of the contract is a further blow to the EU which was already weakened by Brexit. It would have been difficult to imagine the UK in the EU embarking on AUKUS. It surely is no coincidence that this alliance consists of countries with a common British heritage, culture and language- another manifestation of the growing trend of identity politics.

The repudiation of the contract is a further blow to the EU which was already weakened by Brexit.
Perhaps another casualty of AUKUS is NATO which had to redefine itself when the Warsaw Pact era ended and probably needs to continue establishing some new identity and purpose.

France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the most powerful member of the EU after Germany, has been humiliated.

France immediately recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia-unheard of between close allies- and promised further punitive measures. However the French colonies of French Caledonia and French Polynesia are situated in the very area where China is becoming more emboldened. When tempers cool, France will likely realise that a strong AUKUS Alliance could serve its interests.

For now, French indignation is to let off steam and to play the victim role with a helpless Brussels providing little more than sympathy. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did not mince his words when he publicly accused Australia of “duplicity…breach of trust… contempt” and stated that “allies do not do this to each other.”

To a large extent France is hypocritical.

After the 6-Day War, Israel realised it had to strengthen its navy and not only signed a contract for France to build Sa’ar Class patrol boats but fully paid for them before delivery. President Charles de Gaulle however placed a politically motivated arms embargo on Israel and added the patrol boats to the list following the embargo of 50 Mirage warplanes.

Late on Christmas Eve 1968, Israeli sailors released the five boats from their moorings in Cherbourg and sailed into a stormy 9 Force gale, eventually arriving in Haifa on New Year’s Day. The French were of course livid.

The embargo would prove to be a costly political and financial decision for France, as Israel formed closer ties with the US while accelerating the development of its own defence industries.

France has always insisted on playing a major role in the Israel-Palestinian Arab conflict. However its credibility and status as a senior partner again has been eroded, this time by the AUKUS Alliance.

France will have to adjust to the fact that it is a declining power with a reduced sphere of influence.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is the author of the satirical novel on antisemitism, the trombone man: tales of a misogynist, the Kristallnacht Cantata: a voice of courage, and the stage play BEST.