France’s government is fuming over President Biden’s decision to exclude the NATO ally from a three-country security pact called AUKUS that will provide nuclear submarines to Australia, likening the snub to being stabbed in the back.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio, “It is really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed and I’m angry today, with a lot of bitterness, about this breach.”
The AUKUS initiative includes the UK and aims to strengthen cooperation as China emerges as a strategic threat. It also affirms the US alliance with Australia after Biden snubbed the country’s prime minister during the recent Afghanistan troop pullout.
“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret,” the French embassy in DC said in a statement.
Le Drian and Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly signed the rebuke.
“This decision is contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as well as on the development of a very high-level defense industrial and technological base in Australia,” the statement said.
The French officials noted that their country, which controls the large island territory New Caledonia east of Australia and other Pacific and Indian Ocean islands, is “the only European nation present in the Indo-Pacific with nearly 2 million citizens and more than 7,000 military personnel.”
France was upset not just about being excluded, but about Australia shelving a conventional submarine-building project that a French company called Naval Group had hoped to support.
The company said, “This is a major disappointment for Naval Group, which was offering Australia a regionally superior conventional submarine with exceptional performances.”
France, like the UK, possesses nuclear weapons and the country is a leader in nuclear energy, which generates nearly 80 percent of the country’s electricity.
The US announced the AUKUS framework after Biden’s decision not to call Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the US troop pullout from Afghanistan drew concern about the status of the longstanding alliance.
Biden didn’t consult Morrison ahead of his April decision to remove US troops from Afghanistan or call him amid the chaotic evacuation of Americans and US allies in August — despite Australia’s support for the US throughout the 20-year war.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported this month that Biden’s lack of engagement fueled “concerns the alliance between the two nations, as well as the relationship between Mr. Biden and Mr. Morrison, was strained.”
The US already had a military alliance with Australia through the 1951 ANZUS treaty that also includes New Zealand. The exclusion of New Zealand from the AUKUS pact was apparently because the island country refuses to allow nuclear-fueled ships and submarines in its waters.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wasn’t insulted.
“No, we weren’t approached but nor would I expect us to be. The centrepiece of this arrangement is the building of nuclear-powered submarines … and indeed all partners are very well versed and understand our position on nuclear-powered vessels and also nuclear weapons,” she said.
But one New Zealand columnist wrote that the country apparently learned of the new initiative through press reports and that “New Zealand’s exclusion reflects our ‘friend, not ally’ status with the US” amid the rivalry with China.