After meeting with their French counterparts, US officials did not provide any details about their plans to terminate France’s largest defense contract.
The United States and Australia went to extraordinary lengths to keep Paris in the dark as they secretly negotiated plans to build nuclear submarines, rejected France’s largest defense contract and so angered President Emmanuel Macron. On Friday, he ordered the withdrawal of French ambassadors to both countries. .
Mr Macron’s decision was a surprising and unexpected escalation of the rift between Washington and Paris on a day the two countries planned to celebrate an alliance that goes back to Britain’s defeat in the Revolutionary War.
Yet it was inspired by France’s realization that two of its closest allies had been negotiating in secret for months. According to interviews with US and British officials, the Biden administration had been in talks shortly after President Biden’s inauguration to arm the Australian Navy with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines that patrol areas of the South China Sea. and beyond that Beijing was trying. To dominate with your military forces.
But one thing was coming their way: a $60 billion deal that asked Australia to buy a dozen less sophisticated, and much noisier, conventionally powered submarines from France.
For Mr Biden, who has made China a central tenet of his national security policy, French submarines will not do that. They did not have the ability to encircle the Pacific and show up unexpectedly from Chinese shores – adding an element of military advantage to the West. And Australians, officials say, reached the same conclusion long ago, after being bullied by an increasingly upbeat China.
In meeting after meeting with their French counterparts – Mr Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. The Americans – including Blinken – did not give France any information on their plans to pursue the French deal, with officials seeking anonymity saying the sensitive diplomacy was discussed by Mr Biden, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Prime Minister. US officials briefed the French about the agreement hours before it was publicly announced at the White House in a virtual meeting with Minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Biden’s decision was the result of a brutal calculation that nations sometimes make in which one ally is more strategically important than the other – something national leaders and diplomats prefer not to publicly acknowledge. And it was a sign that as Mr Biden began to execute what he called the Obama administration 12 years ago “the pivot to Asia”, there is a risk of stepping on the mines of political land as traditional in Europe. Allies feel left behind.
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Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, both of whom have long ties to Australians, described the “pivot as much as pivoting toward Asia without turning away from elsewhere is not possible.” ” And American players announced the deal on Wednesday. “Military resources are limited. Doing more in one area means doing less in another.
Apparently it also means hiding conversations from some of his closest associates.
By the time the Biden administration began to take Australia and Britain seriously about their emerging strategy to counter China, a three-year contract worth $60 billion or more for a dozen submarines, built on a large scale But had to be done by the French, was already over budget and US officials said. The submarines were based on a propulsion technology that was so limited in range, and so easy for the Chinese to detect, that by the time the first submarines were placed in the water, it would be obsolete, perhaps 15 years from now. till.
There was an obvious alternative, like the nuclear-powered submarines deployed by the Americans and the British. But American and Australian officials agreed that if the French were to wind up with the fact that the plug was being pulled on one of the biggest defense contracts in their history, they would almost certainly try to sabotage the alternative plan. Will, who according to officials were familiar with discussions between Washington and Canberra.
In addition, Australian officials concluded that French technology – even their own nuclear submarines – would not be compatible with the American and British submarines they intended to emulate. And he suspected that as the Chinese improved their anti-submarine capabilities, which are somewhat limited today, the French model would be more likely to be explored.
So he decided to keep the job for a much smaller group of officials, and made no mention of it to the French, even when Mr Biden and Mr Blinken met with their French counterparts in June.
Mr Biden made no mention of the plans during talks with Mr Macron at a summit meeting in Cornwall in June, where he sat on lawn chairs by the sea and talked about the future of the Atlantic Alliance. (Mr Biden, Mr Johnson and Mr Morrison met together on the same day, to discuss the emerging deal, and in a vague statement that reveals more today than at the time, what is called a “strategic cooperation between the three governments”. “Meet the changing defense environment in the Indo-Pacific.) Three days later, Mr. Morrison met separately with Mr. Macron, but left no impression that he was reconsidering the deal, The French insist.
According to French officials, Mr Blinken also remained silent on 25 June when his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, welcomed him in Paris – where Mr Blinken spent his high school years – and praised the importance of the French submarine deal. . .
And as recently as August 30, when the French and Australian Defense and Foreign Ministers held their annual “consultations”, they issued a joint communiqué stating that the two countries are committed to deepening cooperation in the defense industry and “Underlined the importance of the future submarine program.”
By that time, Australians knew the program was over.
The French ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne, said in several interviews that he first heard of the deal in leaked news reports appearing in the Australian media and Politico. Other French officials said they suspected something had happened a week ago, but Mr Blinken or Defense Secretary Lloyd J. There was no immediate response from Austin III. Hours before the public announcement on Wednesday, the first US official to discuss details with Ambassador Etienne was National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
US officials insisted that it was not their place to talk to the French about their trade deal with Australia – it was for Australian officials to discuss.
The Chinese government also received no heads-up, no surprise as the official US position is that the submarine deal is not aimed at any particular nation. But China’s first reaction to the alliance, oddly named AUKUS (for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States), was “extremely irresponsible” and would start an arms race. In fact, the most recent Pentagon China report states that the Chinese Navy has built a dozen nuclear subs, some of which can carry nuclear weapons. Australia has vowed never to deploy nuclear weapons.
Even before Mr Macron recalled the ambassadors, Mr Biden’s aides seemed baffled by the furiousness of the French response, particularly by Mr Le Drian’s characterization that it was a “knife in the back”. He has suggested that the French were overly dramatic and believed that the two countries would gradually return to normal relations. History suggests they may be right: a major breach prompted by the British and French invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956 eventually ended, as was the “Nixon Shock” with the Japanese in 1971, when the United States retaliated. I had not given any notice. The decision to exit the gold standard
In this case, US officials said that the decision to terminate the existing French-Australian contract and replace it with one that would technically and strategically bind Australia to a nuclear submarine program generated virtually no internal debate, the participants said. he said. The reason was simple: Biden in the White House, the imperative to challenge China’s growing footprint, and its efforts to push the US Navy east to the next island chain in the Pacific are supreme.
“It says a lot about how Washington understands …