By Clement Bigot, legal expert and consultant in international relations, for Eurasia Business News – September 18, 2021.

Open crisis between France and two of its allies, the United States and Australia, after the unexpected cancellation by Canberra of the contract to supply French submarines in favour of the new strategic partnership with Washington and London (AUKUS).

The diplomatic crisis between France and two of its allies, the United States and Australia, is taking on a new dimension. Trampled and humiliated after the unexpected cancellation by Canberra on September 15 of the contract signed in 2016 to supply 12 French submarines to the Australian Royal Navy for the benefit of the new strategic partnership with Washington and London (AUKUS), Paris does not release the pressure vis-à-vis Canberra and Washington.

France recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia for consultations on September 17 in response to statements made by those countries on September 15, when they announced a security partnership with Britain and Canberra and the termination of a 56 billion € contract signed in 2016 with Paris over the supply of 12 ocean-class diesel-electric submarines by Naval Group. This was announced on Friday by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

As decided by the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, I ordered an immediate recall to Paris for consultations of our ambassadors from the United States and Australia,” the press service of the French Foreign Ministry quoted Jean-Yves Le Drian.

This decision is due to the exceptional seriousness of the statements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States.”

The French Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out that this is about Australia’s withdrawal from the contract for the supply of French ocean-class submarines and entering instead into a new partnership with the United States to build nuclear powered submarines. 

This is an unacceptable behaviour in relations between allies and partners, its consequences affect the very concept of alliances, partnerships and the significance of the Indo-Pacific region for Europe,” the minister said.

Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced on September 15 a new security partnership – AUKUS. As part of the agreement, Australia, in particular, plans to use US technology to build at least eight nuclear submarines, the first of which will enter service in 2036, as well as to re-equip its armed forces with US cruise missiles. Because of this, Canberra tore up the largest defense contract in its history with France, where this decision has already been called a “stab in the back.”

“This is not a change of mind, it is a change of need,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said to justify the decision. A choice that is part of a new security alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia in the Indo-Pacific zone vis-à-vis China. 

The French Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian previously stated that “the story [with the change of partners] is not over.” According to him, the Australian side should explain how it is going to withdraw from the binding contracts signed with France. Paris, he warned, intends to be more firm on this issue. He stressed that France “also has questions about US behavior.”

Due to the current situation, the French Embassy in Washington has cancelled celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Chesapeake – the decisive battle during the American Revolutionary War, won thanks to the ships of the French Royal Navy, under the command of the lieutenant-général des armées navales François Joseph Paul de Grasse.

A high-ranking officer in the French Navy, who had come to Washington to attend the event, will return to Paris.

In France, the announcement of the Australian decision aroused strong disappointment among diplomats, defense professionals and businesses. Many consider this announcement unacceptable between allies and partners. France is indeed the oldest ally of the United States, having financially and militarily supported its accession to independence between 1776 and 1783.

The current crisis appears to be the deepest for the transatlantic partnership since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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© Copyright 2021 – Clement Bigot, legal expert and consultant in international relations.