Aukus: why isn’t France happy with pact between UK, US and Australia - alliance and submarine deal explained

Boris Johnson said the new trilateral defence partnership will make the world safer - but could it lead to a ‘cold war’?

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Last week, the UK announced a new defence partnership with the US and Australia as Western allies look to keep a check on China’s growing power in the Indo-Pacific.

In a joint statement on Wednesday (15 September), Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the creation of a “new trilateral defence partnership”.

Johnson said the alliance, known by its acronym Aukus, would work “hand-in-glove to preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific”.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why was Aukus been formed?

Though China was not explicitly mentioned in the cross-continental briefing, there were frequent references to the changing situation in the region.

Tom Tugendhat, Conservative chairman of the Commons Foreign Committee, said: “The reason for all this is clear – China.”

He tweeted: “After years of bullying and trade hostility, and watching regional neighbours like the Philippines see encroachment into their waters, Australia didn’t have a choice.”

Earlier this year, in the integrated review of security and foreign policy, the UK Government outlined plans for a “tilt” in focus towards the Indo-Pacific.

The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was deployed on a voyage east – a decision said to be about sending a message to Beijing and Russia about Britain’s own military strength.

Speaking from Australia, Morrison said the world was “becoming more complex, particularly in our region, the Indo-Pacific”, and said the future of the geopolitical area “will impact all our futures”.

Biden, who thanked “Boris” and “that fella Down Under” for their contributions, said the “future of each of our nations, and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead”.

What does Aukus mean for international relations?

A Barracuda class nuclear attack submarine (Photo: NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images)A Barracuda class nuclear attack submarine (Photo: NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images)
A Barracuda class nuclear attack submarine (Photo: NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images)

In a live broadcast from Downing Street, the Prime Minister said the partnership would make the world safer.

Johnson said: “I’m delighted to join President Biden and Prime Minister Morrison to announce that the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States are creating a new trilateral defence partnership.

“The UK will embark on this project alongside our allies, making the world safer and generating jobs across the United Kingdom.”

Downing Street hailed the agreement as a “landmark defence and security partnership” and said it would “protect and defend our shared interests in the Indo-Pacific”.

Officials said working closer together would allow for an increase in technology sharing and “foster deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains”.

What will happen under Aukus?

The first initiative under Aukus will be for the three allies to work together to secure nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy – a move that will increase Western security capabilities in the Pacific.

The initial scoping phase for the submarines is expected to take 18 months, with the UK Government predicting the programme will “create hundreds of highly skilled scientific and engineering roles” across the country, as well as driving investment in high-tech sectors.

Johnson said Scotland and parts of the north of England and the Midlands would feel the benefit of the work on the nuclear-powered submarines, with the Government keen to exploit the Royal Navy’s decades-worth of knowledge of using such machines.

At a later press conference in Canberra, Morrison said it was undecided if Australia would purchase British-built BAE Systems Astute class submarines or the Virginia class vessels constructed in the US.

Why is France annoyed?

France has been left fuming after the UK, US and Australia agreed a new pact, which includes the development of nuclear-powered submarines – a deal which tore up an agreement for Paris to supply Sydney with diesel-electric boats.

Johnson urged French President Emmanuel Macron not to “worry” about the Aukus military alliance Britain formed with the US and Australia.

The Prime Minister insisted Anglo-French relations were “ineradicable” on Sunday after France suggested the UK was a lapdog to Joe Biden’s White House during a verbal attack.

In a rare step among allies, Macron ordered the recall of the French ambassadors to Washington and Canberra after Australia pulled out of its £30 billion submarine agreement with the French.

No such step followed for London, and France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune suggested it was because the UK was the “junior partner” which had accepted its “vassalisation” by the US.

But Johnson insisted Britain and France have a “very friendly relationship”, which he described as being of “huge importance”.

Could it start a war?

Dr Henry Wang, president of non-government think tank the Centre for China and Globalisation (CCG), has said the Aukus alliance is part of a “Cold War mentality by the UK and its allies”.

A cold war is a state of conflict between nations that does not involve direct military action but is pursued primarily through economic and political actions.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Dr Wang said: “I don’t think this is necessarily the right time to do this military alliance. It’s called security but if it’s not aimed at China why do they propose it at this time and in this region.

“I think there’s a question over the purpose of setting up such an alliance in peacetime in the 21st century.”

But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has insisted the new security pact between the UK, US and Australia is not about “sending a message to China”.

He told Times Radio: “This is about Australia seeking a new capability because it made a judgement it’s current acquisition programme for a diesel-electric submarine was not going to give it the strategic reach or indeed the undetectability that it would require in delivering a deterrent.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Wallace insisted Australia’s move to obtain nuclear-powered submarines was not “about antagonising anyone”.

He said: “China is embarking on one of the biggest military spends and military investments in history, it’s growing its navy and air force at a huge rate, extremely fast. Obviously it’s engaged in some controversial areas and disputed areas.

“It’s right that the UK, alongside other allies such as Australia, stand up for the rules-based system and international law.”

He added: “Australia have done a wise thing and a good thing today. It’s not about antagonising anyone, it’s about being able to protect its important sea lanes and its important position in the world.”

Where is the ‘Indo-Pacific’?

A map showing the Indo-Pacific region, with the region shaded in dark blue (Image: Eric Gaba/Wikimedia Commons)A map showing the Indo-Pacific region, with the region shaded in dark blue (Image: Eric Gaba/Wikimedia Commons)
A map showing the Indo-Pacific region, with the region shaded in dark blue (Image: Eric Gaba/Wikimedia Commons)

The Indo-Pacific, sometimes known as the Indo–West Pacific or Indo–Pacific Asia, is a geographic region of Earth's seas.

It comprises the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia.

It does not include the temperate and polar regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans, nor the Tropical Eastern Pacific, along the Pacific coast of the Americas.

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