Australia's nuclear submarine deal with US miffs France, says it is "stab in the back"


France has been helping India design its submarines (Photo: IANS)

The trilateral security group launched by the US, the UK and Australia to create a security umbrella for the Indo-Pacific has drawn sharp comments from NATO ally France.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the media: "It's really a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia, this trust has been betrayed. I am very angry today, and bitter... this is not something allies do to each other".

France is furious as the formation of the trilateral grouping has led to the cancellation of French shipbuilder Naval's contract to build 12 submarines under a $36 billion contract. The deal had first been signed between France and Australia in 2016. Australia was reportedly unhappy over delays as well as the rise in costs.

France is unhappy with both—Australia for cancelling the deal unilaterally and with the US for the "stab in the back". Le Drian recalled former US President Donald Trump for his unpredictable behaviour, saying: "This unilateral, sudden and unforeseeable decision very much recalls what Mr Trump would do".

Paris is mad with President Joe Biden for dangling an alternate deal before Australia. 

The foundation of the trilateral AUKUS rests on providing a security umbrella to the Indo-Pacific by giving nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. The US has provided such submarines only to a handful of chosen partners. Australia is elated over the deal, as it has been feeling intense heat from China.

A hostile assertion by China had led to countermeasures by many nations led by the US. The European countries too had responded to Biden's call to take on Beijing and to keep the Indo-Pacific open and free. The Europeans also felt that the Biden administration was rekindling its traditional proximity with Europe which had frayed considerably under the inward-looking Trump administration.

But as the three English-speaking allies forge a military alliance with clear objectives, it will force many countries in Europe to re-evaluate where they stand on the global podium regarding relations with Washington.

Biden's policies are under global scrutiny, with many European allies feeling miffed over the Afghan pull-out debacle and the evacuation of their nations. The strong French reaction to the cancellation of the deal will add to that disenchantment against the US.

Both the US and Australia tried to pacify France. Biden said on Wednesday that France remained a "key partner in the Indo-Pacific zone." On the other side of the world, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "France is a key friend and partner to Australia and the Indo-Pacific."

French company Naval, which is partly owned by the State, is likely to seek compensation from Australia for unilaterally breaking the contract.