On September 21, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with US President Joe Biden at the White House. The talks are tantamount to a diplomatic coup in London.
They appeared after the so-called AUKUS announcement, which is a tripartite partnership between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. According to its terms, the Canberra government agreed to purchase US nuclear-powered submarines to modernize the Australian Navy.
Britain also joined in, turning the defense agreement into a security agreement for the Indo-Pacific region. All of this is not good for France. The US$38.6 billion contract between France and Australia to build 12 diesel submarines was cancelled.
For Johnson, this whole story feels like a defense for the global United Kingdom. The mantra holds that the post-Brexit United Kingdom has freed itself from the shackles of Europe and is free to play a greater role in world affairs and make its foreign policy partnerships. diversification. The recent free trade agreement with Australia and the right to host COP26 of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021 are the other two feathers in the British Prime Minister’s ceiling—although he has not yet received the signal that Washington’s much-needed trade agreement is a priority for the United States.
Although the Biden administration is involved in a fight with France over submarine sales, the United Kingdom seems to be the preferred partner of the United States, rather than an annoying European, when confronted with China, its main geopolitical opponent.
As always, reality is more complicated than Johnson wanted to present. First, neither Britain nor France has the ability to influence the military balance in the Indo-Pacific region. The British Royal Navy has deployed one of two aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth, as well as a strike group and two other patrol ships in the area. This fact has hardly changed. The same is true for the French mission of Joan of Arc and Clemenceau 21 or the presence of military personnel in the area.
What is happening in the region is a strategic game involving China on the one hand, and the United States and its regional allies and partners, such as Japan, Australia and India (the so-called four countries), South Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand on the other.
For Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the opportunity to deepen defense ties with the United States has strengthened Australia’s power against an increasingly tough China. To be fair, there are costs: the submarines built by the United States will not be put into use for a long time in the future, while the French contract could have been put into use faster to provide power to the Australian Navy. But in fact, the United States is an important security participant and can provide protection for China.
Will AUKUS upset NATO and cause the two major European allies, Britain and France, to diverge? According to a recent article in the Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese government, and some observers, the North Atlantic Alliance is bound to be hit. In fact, the fierce exchange of words, the withdrawal of the French ambassador from Canberra and Washington, and the cancellation of the Anglo-French missile cooperation ministerial meeting may all create a deepening impression of the crisis.
But this is probably only a temporary quarrel. There are several reasons why more serious cracks cannot occur.
First, London and Paris have had conflicts more than once before, especially the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but none of them produced a lasting crisis.
Second, the two countries have strong bilateral relations in terms of security and defense. In 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron signed the so-called Lancaster Court Treaty, which underscores this point. The treaty covers many issues-from cooperation in maintaining nuclear arsenals. To establish a joint expeditionary force to combat terrorism.
Third, other NATO member states and Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stay away from disputes to avoid negative effects. They would rather wait for the French and Americans to fix the problem, and there are already signs that this is happening. After the telephone conversation on September 22, President Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron issued a joint statement of reconciliation. The French ambassador will return to Washington next week, and discussions between the two leaders are imminent.
But Beijing has reason to be happy. The AUKUS crisis provided France and the rest of the European Union with an excuse to distance themselves from the Biden administration’s tough stance on China.
What about the European Union? France used this crisis to justify a stronger European foreign policy. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly issued a statement saying that the submarine crash “will only increase the number of loud and clear questions of European strategic autonomy. necessity”.
The President of the European Council Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Lein also support Macron, accusing Biden of following Trump’s footsteps and his U.S. priority policies.
However, it is far from clear whether this message will ring in EU capitals. Of course not in Berlin, the upcoming federal elections are the top agenda. There are also doubters who believe that the strategic autonomy agenda will undermine the alliance with the United States.
Others worry about being dragged into unnecessary battles with the Americans because of the French. “The worrying thing is that Paris is proposing something that is essentially a bilateral commercial agreement as a blow to the European Union,” a diplomat from Central Europe, who asked not to be named, told Politico.
However, the French part is correct. As the United States pays more and more attention to China and the Indo-Pacific region, Europeans should take care of their own safety. This includes confronting Russia, maintaining stability in the Mediterranean region, combating malicious interference in internal affairs, combating transnational terrorism and crime. To achieve these goals, close cooperation between France and the European Union is required on the one hand, and close cooperation between the United Kingdom on the other hand.
Sadly, the prospects for such cooperation are not good. There may not be a full-scale rift between Paris and London, but the relationship is not good and it is unlikely to improve. AUKUS is by no means a turning point for European security, but it does not help.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.