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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

The AUKUS Agreement Isn’t Perfect


On Wednesday, September 15th, 2021, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia announced a new trilateral security agreement, 'AUKUS', which has the purpose of improving collaboration in the defense sectors of the signatory countries including collaboration on artificial intelligence, cyber security, quantum technologies as well as undersea capabilities. Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden have made statements declaring that the first objective task of AUKUS will be to provide the Australian Navy with a modern submarine fleet. This is all seemingly great news; however, this agreement has a glaring issue. And this is an issue which risks undermining the efforts of the loose U.S. led coalition to counter China's increasing assertiveness in the Indo Pacific.

The problem in question is the fact that this agreement has completely ignored the interests and positions of one of the United States', and the U.K.'s and Australia's, closest allies – allies who are just as concerned about Chinese aggression as the U.S. This ally is France. In 2016, the company Naval Group, in which the French state has a majority share, won a contract to build 12 diesel-electric submarines (Shortfin Barracuda Class) for the Australian Navy, with the first of these due to be delivered in 2027. The newly signed agreement means that the contract with France is now cancelled, instead being replaced by non-conventional submarines, being made by the U.S. and U.K. French Foreign Minister Jean Yves le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly made a joint statement:

"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".

It is without doubt that France will be feeling humiliated after being kept in the dark about Australian plans to shift away from their agreement before the decision was made public to the world. If anything, such actions show a disregard for France's efforts in the region and its exclusion from an agreement in which it has an interest in being a part of. One could plausibly entertain the idea that such actions, or lack thereof, could lead to a resurgence in French anti-anglophone feeling that often accompanies the United States or the United Kingdom treating France as a non-high-table player on the international stage. This resentment induced from France being 'pushed around' by the United States has been felt before. In 1966, France withdrew from the military portion of NATO because of a general feeling in France and in Europe that Europe was being treated as a pawn in a much larger game played by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, a relegation of power it simply would not accept. This resentment could very well manifest itself again if the U.S. isn't careful. To avoid this from happening, the United States needs to accept that it needs a united front against China and to do this it needs to pay nations such as France, nations with a proud past, with just as much heed as it does its regional allies, such as Australia. This is something the U.S. is acutely aware of, but it isn't helpful when the U.S. becomes so engrossed in a project of great importance and value to its cause when it undermines its other interests at the same time. Namely in this case, continued French cooperation in military and economic alliances.

Another country that some argue has been disregarded by the AUKUS agreement is New Zealand. It is fair to say that New Zealand is widely regarded as being a country that goes together with Australia when it comes to its foreign policy. So why has it been excluded from an agreement that it clearly should be a part of? It turns out that the reason for New Zealand's exclusion is inoffensive. In the 1980s, New Zealand signed into law legislation which banned nuclear-powered vessels and nuclear power from its territory. Considering the fact that one of the key reasons for the agreement is to aid Australia gain access to a nuclear-powered submarine fleet, New Zealand would not be interested in participation from the get-go. Hence, relations between New Zealand and AUKUS countries should continue to be very strong; in fact, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reaffirmed her strong commitment to maintaining close security ties with Australia on Wednesday afternoon.

On the whole, the agreement laid out by the three powers is promising. Better collaboration between the signatories on matters of cyber security, undersea capabilities and other advanced technologies is a good step in the right direction. However, it would have been far better to treat the French with courtesy during the process as opposed to small players in a big game. Maintaining a strong and stable relationship with a major military power is in the U.S.' interest after all, and the U.S. surely wouldn't want to show its partners that they are worth very little to them, especially considering that the other side, China, is bidding for their affection.


"France Launches Suffren New Nuclear Attack Submarine of Barracuda Class.", July 2019, 

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