France has just been humiliated by the United States, and even more than that. That is a fact. Before taking the plane to Paris, his Ambassador in Canberra publicly described, and in details, an operation spread over very long months, of a nameless duplicity as regards so-called allies. He recalled that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence of the two countries had still consulted together, two weeks before the announcement, and that the reference to the famous bilateral contract was well included in the final communiqué of the talks, without suggesting anything.
From the bilateral, we have moved brutally to a trilateral Alliance, on entirely new bases. Napoleon had told Tsar Alexander I during their meeting in Tilsit «that he slept only with two, never with three» and the sublime spectacle that the AUKUS offered us loved to be quite edifying. Biden’s new flirtation seems to have been so hasty or overwhelming that he could not even remember the name of the Australian Prime Minister in front of him (“this guy from down under”) in the company of the unspeakable B. Johnson.
Little has been heard of the British Prime Minister since the famous press conference on television and mondovision, apart from the expression of the assurance that the new alliance would contribute to “preserving security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”; and “(would) make the world safer.” We will have to come back to this assertion, which may prove to be erroneous.
B. Johnson was wise enough to be relatively discreet during the ceremony on the baptismal font of the new Alliance. While referring to his country’s long-standing use of nuclear submarines (“the first Royal Navy nuclear submarine, more than 60 years ago”), he was careful not to comment on how the United Kingdom launched such a program. While he stated that “a handful of countries had nuclear-powered submarines”, he did not specify that London did not have complete control of the propulsion system and that it had to resort to American assistance, as demonstrated by the sub-submarine equipment for the Astute class.
London’s role in the new alliance is therefore more a political and strategic choice than a technological contribution. Throughout the period leading up to Brexit, US officials made no secret of the fact that the exit of London from the EU would significantly reduce the interest that the US granted to the UK in Europe. They were obviously careful not to use the term “Trojan Horse”. Perhaps ANKUS offers London an opportunity to regain the role of «second fiddle » which is dear to him. But it must be admitted that after the Brexit’s submission to European market conditions, the way in which the UK was treated – with other partners – during the pathetic evacuation of Kabul, we are far from «Takes back control».
B. Johsnon stressed in his Urbi et Orbi Declaration of 15 September that the provision of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia would be consistent with non-proliferation constraints (cf. “fully in line with our non-proliferation obligations”). This is true to the letter if we stick to the NPT. But the Prime Minister did not mention the unwritten rule that nuclear powers refrain from transferring the technology in question. Only one sprain has ever been committed by the United States to the benefit of the United Kingdom. France, which has perfect control over nuclear propulsion, has never sold it and Australia has never asked for it.
Tomorrow, we will have to question J. Biden how he intends to take up the torch of the crusade against nuclear proliferation and how he will bring Iran back into line, even though this is a significantly different issue. The risk of proliferation is not totally minimized by the assumed reliability of the beneficiary of the technology transfer, there is a mechanical risk, accidental or not, linked to the multiplication of equipment.
Australia has put itself in great difficulty in this matter, even if it is not fully aware of it. This is not just its problem, because in doing so, it has exacerbated regional uncertainties, contrary to what the British Prime Minister says. ANKUS is indeed a true declaration of war against China. The French submarines met an understandable need for national security; American submarines are the essential instruments of an anti-China system in gestation whose scope will concern the world as a whole. Canberra, faced with an opinion that may be reticent, will not master the technology, will see its sovereignty still reduced keeping the country, in the best case, in a status of regional power and the world will out of reach many possibilities of dialogue.
It is important and urgent to break this fatal chain that seems to have been perceived as such by major Asian countries, Japan, South Korea and perhaps India, which must not be very eager to “die for Canberra”., as was claimed for Dantzig. This is why France must, very quickly, distance itself from the integrated military organization of NATO, the first step towards a revision of the terms of the Atlantic Alliance. The way will be arduous, narrow and perilous; it will involve a certain loneliness but it is absolutely necessary in the face of an irresponsibility of another age.