by Jean-Luc BASLE for the Saker Blog
In a September 20th interview with French newspaper Ouest France, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explains that the Australian submarine contract was part of France’s Indo-Pacific strategy – a strategy which included India* and whose objective was to ensure stability in a region critically important to world peace and prosperity and, incidentally, where two million French people live. This tripartite de Gaulle-type initiative on the part of France in an area the United States regard as its private reserve since the late 19th century, could not be tolerated. Washington DC had to put an end to it. It did it in a rather abrupt and inimical way, considering France is its oldest ally.
In practical terms, what will come out of this new AUKUS alliance? Nothing, if we believe Scott Ritter, former US Marine Corps intelligence officer which views it as a “dangerous joke”. Why a joke? Because Australia has neither the industrial nor the financial wherewithal not to mention the personnel necessary to build (partially) and fully manage a fleet of nuclear submarines. Why dangerous? Because Chinese leaders see AUKUS as a threat directed at China, and also because other countries may follow suit Australia’s example.
Noting that “a US ally could be armed with nuclear weapons anytime” and that the international community has reason to question Joe Biden’s sincerity when he states that the Australian submarines will not be equipped with nuclear weapons, Yang Sheng observes that: “a nuclear submarine is one tasked to launch a second-round nuclear strike in a nuclear war”. Furthermore, Chinese leaders consider the submarine contract as a violation of the non-proliferation treaty and a de facto legalization of “the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines by all countries”. In a rather corrosive article, the Bulletin of American Scientists stigmatize the members of the AUKUS Alliance, especially the United States, for facilitating “the proliferation of very sensitive military nuclear technology in the coming years”. It further notes that there is little the International Atomic Energy Agency can do to stop Iran from acquiring “enriching uranium to HEU levels** to pursue a submarine program”.
Will this lead to a new arms race between the United States and China, as some people fear? Hopefully not. China knows it is winning its competition with the United States. Why waste useful resources in such a race? Chinese are patient people – a virtue Westerners lack.
In his bi-weekly foreign policy video, geopolitical analyst Alexander Mercouris sees AUKUS as further proof of U.S. amateurish foreign policy. Amateurish, indeed, but potentially devastating for world peace coming after George W. Bush’s cancelation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In its January 2020 bulletin, the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists move the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight – the closest to midnight it has ever been in 75 years. In their January 2021 bulletin, the board left it there. Where will it be in January 2022? The French initiative, for all its shortcomings and challenges, had the advantage of not upsetting the global apple cart. Brutally left in the cold by its Anglo-Saxon friends, the French should waste no time in offering its nuclear-powered Barracuda submarines to India in replacement of the nuclear-powered submarines the Indian Navy leases from Russia. What a sweet victory this would be.
*India is a long-time client of France’s armament industry.
** Highly Enriched Uranium