15
Sep
2022
media Ifri in the Media
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France and AUKUS: A Necessary Reconciliation

One year on, the announcement of the Australia-U.K.-U.S alliance has not been accompanied by any major changes to France’s Indo-Pacific defense strategy.

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Back in September 2021, the sudden announcement of AUKUS – a defense partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – came as a shock to Paris. It not only meant the brutal termination of the submarine deal France had signed with Australia in 2016, but also brought a deep crisis of confidence in France’s relations with key partners, shedding light on the divergence of approaches regarding the Chinese challenge. Finally, it called into question France’s strategic positioning in the Indo-Pacific.

One year later, however, AUKUS has not marked a major turning point for France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. After the initial shock, the bilateral relationships with Washington, Canberra, and even London slowly recovered.

Rather than prompting a radical change in Paris’ Indo-Pacific approach, AUKUS highlighted a fault line between the strategic level/political rhetoric and the defense operational level in the French engagement in this region. The defense deal was also a reminder of the necessity of working together to tackle the multiple challenges and the growing risks of naval combat and high-intensity conflict in this region.

Strategic Partnerships With the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.: Bouncing Back

France’s political relations with the United States recovered quite quickly, thanks to proactive efforts from the Biden administration. The discussion between Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden on October 29, 2021, in Rome, when the U.S. committed to “systematic and in-depth consultation and coordination” and welcomed the French and EU strategies in the Indo-Pacific, allowed the bilateral relationship to get back on track. Moreover, the allies signed the Strategic Interoperability Framework in December 2021, deepening their capacities to fight together at sea. Since then, French officials have repeatedly praised the unprecedented level of consultation by their U.S. counterparts.

In the Indo-Pacific, France-U.S. relations run along the same lines as before: a strong partnership, tempered by French caution about Washington’s anti-China tone. Paris has therefore kept its distance from initiatives such as the Quad or Partners in the Blue Pacific, favoring ad hoc cooperation rather than a full association.

The diplomatic reset in Australia-France relations followed the 555 million euros of financial compensation granted to France’s Naval Group, the jilted party in Australia’s submarine saga. The visit of new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to Paris on July 1 continued the positive momentum. The joint statement provided the political impulse to set up a new, ambitious roadmap reviving the strategic partnership, in which defense and security cooperation will be central. This was highlighted by the visit at the beginning of September of Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles to the naval base of Brest in Brittany, which hosts France’s nuclear submarines.

However, operational cooperation never ceased during this last year, as France’s and Australia’s interests are inseparable in the South Pacific. Canberra (along with Wellington) activated the FRANZ mechanism to coordinate with the French Forces and provide an emergency humanitarian assistance to Tonga after a violent volcanic eruption hit the archipelago in January 2022. Australia also actively participated in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises organized by France, such as MARARA in May 2022 and the first coast guard seminar organized by France in October 2021. Both countries also took part in the coordinated maritime patrols in support of the Pacific islands within the framework of the Pacific Quad.

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Read the entire article on The Diplomat's website.

Keywords
Alliance AUKUS Australia France Indo-Pacific Taiwan United Kingdom United States