September 21, 2021
Experts react: The AUKUS deal has shaken the transatlantic alliance. What should the US and its allies do now?
In recent weeks, the transatlantic alliance has endured several serious stress tests. First came the largely unilateral US decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan and the chaotic aftermath of the American exit. Then Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced a nuclear-submarine deal known as AUKUS that sidelined France, prompting Paris to recall its ambassador to the United States for the first time in the 243-year-long alliance between the two nations.
The Biden administration came into office issuing sunny declarations about America being “back” on the world stage. But these latest developments serve as a sobering reality check about the difficulties inherent in revitalizing US alliances to meet the twenty-first century’s defining challenges.
So what now? How exactly can the United States and its allies navigate the diplomatic upheaval, find their way out of this crisis, and chart a promising way forward? We asked the Atlantic Council’s global network of alliance experts to send us their best ideas. Check them out below; we’ll be updating the post as more proposals come in.
Jump to an expert reaction
Christopher Skaluba to the US: Don’t panic, let France cool down, and staff up—finally
John Deni to the US: Tailor fixes to the three P’s—politics, process, policy
Marie Jourdain to the US: Let Europe step up in the Indo-Pacific
Barry Pavel to the US: Reinvest in the alliance with France
Hans Binnendijk to the US: Broaden AUKUS to include France, others
Olivier-Rémy Bel to the US: Reflect on the nature of your alliances
Michael Williams to the US: Reconsider your post-war hegemony
Christopher Harper to France: Move on
Stefano Stefanini to the EU: Don’t follow France down a path of escalation
Ben Judah to everyone: Understand your allies better
To the US: Don’t panic, let France cool down, and staff up—finally
First, France has the right to be upset on a couple of levels. However, some of the reaction is driven by domestic political calculation regarding anti-American sentiment that has a long tradition in France, especially given the industrial angle, which hurts President Emmanuel Macron with a key constituency. How much of the international “overreaction” is tied to Macron’s personal standing? Where are his political competitors on this?
Second—and this will be tough for our European friends to hear—the AUKUS deal was primarily about China. Europe was an afterthought. As with the pivot to Asia in the Obama years, the Biden administration’s (ultimately successful) calculation was to make a bold, surprising announcement to catch Beijing off guard, damn the collateral damage. I worked in the Pentagon’s Europe and NATO policy office during the announcement of the Asia rebalance, and it was difficult having to explain or justify what it meant to European allies and partners. So while I’m not excusing the lack of consultation with France, the foremost consideration for the United States here was the element of strategic surprise. The Biden administration’s understaffed Europe team (with Julie Smith, Karen Donfried, Celeste Wallander, and Mark Gitenstein still not confirmed) either underestimated France’s reaction or did not have a strong enough voice to change the administration’s calculus.
Third, there are significant, entrenched concerns in American intelligence channels about trusting France with technology as sensitive as nuclear-powered submarines. The American policy community is generally open-minded about increasing intelligence-sharing with France, which is robust in many important areas. Still, there are sensitive subjects where the vault doors stay closed for reasons of tradecraft, I suspect. I believe these concerns make it difficult to include France in the AUKUS agreement. While cooperation with Paris might have been possible with respect to other elements of the deal, doing so would have involved confronting France directly over its intelligence practices.
What can the United States do about it?
- Don’t panic. While the United States certainly has a crisis to manage with France, Paris and Washington have endured serious bilateral turbulence at routine intervals—the most serious being the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, which happened over Paris’s direct objection. The Trump era is another example. The dynamics and context of this situation are different and could take it in unpredictable directions, but the smart money is on the United States and France finding a constructive way through this. Serious, senior-level talks on intelligence-sharing and industrial collaboration would be a place to start.
- Do no harm at NATO or the EU, where France may try to make waves. Scrambling to block France from flexing its muscles on NATO’s new Strategic Concept or protecting American carve-outs for Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects are important but secondary concerns. Letting France cool down and keeping dialogue in direct bilateral channels—when France is ready for it—should be the priority, even as Paris uses this incident as proof positive of the need for European strategic autonomy and pushes its weight around in NATO and the EU. US officials do need to be concerned about the middle-tier EU powers who will be pressured by France to sidle away from Washington. There is diplomatic work to be done here in quiet channels.
- At the Atlantic Council, we have some excellent ideas already in circulation that should be given serious consideration. The main recommendation from The China Plan was Frank Kramer’s adapted idea for a voluntary Transatlantic Coordination Mechanism on China that includes the NATO and EU institutionally and all the member states of both organizations. Our study found that existing mechanisms to coordinate on China, given the breadth of the issues at stake, are insufficient. A coordination council would provide an overarching mechanism for dialogue where European perspectives are better appreciated by the American policy community.
- Get the Biden administration staffed on the Europe side. With no confirmed US ambassador in Paris, at NATO or at the EU, and without confirmed assistant secretaries for Europe at State or Defense, it’s not surprising that France’s reaction to the AUKUS news was underappreciated. While there are terrific career professionals holding these jobs, they naturally do not have the visibility or bureaucratic gravity that Senate-confirmed officials do to have their voices heard at senior levels of the US government. Maybe the administration would have still made the same decision on AUKUS with Senate-confirmed officials in place. But odds are the administration would have been better informed about the fallout from Paris and more prepared with options to deal with it.
—Christopher Skaluba is the director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, and the former principal director for European & NATO policy at the US Defense Department
To the US: Tailor fixes to the three P’s—politics, process, policy
Paris is angry at Washington. Some of that anger is merely dramatic and some of it reflects genuine frustration, but all of it is the opposite of what the United States needs now when it comes to repairing European relations following Donald Trump’s presidency. Fixing Franco-American relations in the wake of the Australian submarine deal and the unveiling of the AUKUS initiative requires effort at the political level, in terms of process, and with regard to policy.
At the political level, French President Emmanuel Macron has left most of the public reaction to his underlings, especially his foreign minister. Macron’s relative lack of engagement on this issue creates some diplomatic room for the White House to maneuver—in other words, Washington doesn’t need to talk Macron off the ledge because the French leader hasn’t ventured there (yet). During their impending telephone conversation, President Biden could soothe relations with Macron by inviting him to be the first foreign leader Biden hosts at Camp David—or, even better, at Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Promoting warm, even chummy relations between the two would build on the rapport established at the June Group of Seven (G7) summit and it would allow them both to take political credit for “restoring” the relationship. This likely would appeal to both leaders but especially Macron, who faces the French electorate in spring 2022.
At the level of process, the mishandling of consultations with the French over the sub deal marks the third occasion in the last eight months in which the Biden administration appears to have committed an unforced error vis-à-vis alliance relations. The other two are the apparent lack of operational coordination with allies over the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the anger in Central and Eastern Europe over Washington’s willingness to accommodate Germany on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. For an administration that came into office preaching the importance of allies, these three instances paint a disconcerting picture of a team that either doesn’t prioritize relations with some close allies like France or cannot run an effective policy-formulation process that balances competing interests. Certainly, the lack of confirmed appointees at the departments of State and Defense matters to some degree here, yet these unforced errors occurred despite the fact that the president’s team is in place at the National Security Council. In order to convey the notion that the president won’t tolerate any more missteps with America’s closest allies—and to genuinely fix whatever isn’t working within the National Security Council (NSC)—the White House should reallocate responsibilities, juggle titles, and/or create a special assistant position in the NSC for coordination of allied efforts vis-à-vis Moscow and Beijing.
Finally, at the level of policy, the United States can do much more to pull European allies into its efforts to compete with China. France can and should be a particularly important partner in this regard. It is the only European country with territory and citizens in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It’s also one of the few to have developed an Indo-Pacific strategy. Although its economy and the operational demands of missions closer to home are likely to limit French military capacity and capability to engage in the massive Indo-Pacific theater over time, there are smaller policy steps Washington can take to draw the French further into the region. For example, in addition to the occasional military exercise involving French forces, US officials ought to consider inviting the French to appoint a senior officer to the command group of Hawaii-based US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), US Forces Japan, or any of USINDOPACOM’s other subordinate commands or units, similar to an arrangement with Australia in US Army Pacific. At a more operational level, the United States could also consider inviting a French commitment to the rotational presence of US Marines in northern Australia, which could help not one but two key partners soothe relations with Paris as well as build interoperability.
—Dr. John R. Deni is a research professor at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. The views expressed are his own.
To the US: Let Europe step up in the Indo-Pacific
The United States’ Indo-Pacific priority in regard to strategic competition with China represents a degree of continuity with previous administrations. The difference with the Biden administration was supposed to be in the approach, considering their allies as “force multipliers” (hence the revival of the Quad, for instance, but also stronger language on China from NATO). At the same time, the Biden administration called for greater European awareness over the Indo-Pacific challenges and, as such, a growing engagement. Now the AUKUS decision (and its handling with the Europeans, especially France) underlines that the United States does not bet on Europeans stepping up.
The inclusion of the United Kingdom in AUKUS is all the more interesting as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in July that with the United States focusing more on the Indo-Pacific, the UK might be more “helpful in other parts of the world.” The United States should thus signal what its expectations are of European partners, including the UK, in the Indo-Pacific region. France is the most involved of the EU member states in the Indo-Pacific, and the scant appreciation of its contribution is no motivation for any European to engage more.
Nonetheless, the US temptation to divide tasks (Europe addressing crises in its neighborhood and the United States in the Indo-Pacific) is not in the interest of Europe or the United States. One reason is that the Europeans have their own interests to defend in the region, and the stability of the Indo-Pacific is critical for the EU. The EU intends to increase its engagement through cooperation as stated in its just-released inaugural Indo-Pacific strategy. The Europeans are growing more aware of the challenges there, ranging from the effects of climate change and growing Chinese assertiveness to the weakening of democratic principles. Many of the EU interests in the region are overlapping with the United States, and there is room for cooperation, including on security.
AUKUS signaled to Europe that it is not perceived as a global player with whom the United States will gain to deepen its cooperation, at least in the Indo-Pacific. This decision, and the outcome of the ongoing diplomatic crisis over the transatlantic relationship, questions the European allies’ importance for the United States regarding competition with China and Russia. Europeans will also need to take this evolution into account.
It will thus be essential for the United States to concede that the Europeans have strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and to support their growing engagement.
—Marie Jourdain is a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former officer with the French Ministry of Defense.
To the US: Reinvest in the alliance with France
The United States and France need each other to ensure their respective security, prosperity, and values. Europe and the United States share the longest set of alliance relationships in the world. We are the closest in terms of shared values and how we organize our societies, our free-market economies, and our democratic polities. There are no allies with whom we Americans share more than those in Europe. Moreover, we are now in a new era in which the United States needs the closest cooperation and coordination with its European allies in order to deal with the many challenges being presented by China across the military, economic, technological, and trade domains, among others.
Without close cooperation between the United States and the European Union in particular, US strategy for managing China’s challenges will be rendered ineffective. Many astute observers of great-power competition note that this competition ultimately will be won not on a military battlefield, but in the realms of technology and the economy. The key goal: preventing Chinese Communist Party domination of the technologies and economies of the future. And in those domains, the EU has significant influence, due to its relative economic power and its ability to set policies across the European continent on those issues. As France is one of the two leading nations in Europe setting the EU’s strategic trajectory, the United States needs France—and vice versa—if they are to successfully deal with the manifold challenges presented by China’s continuing rise.
Thus, while it might be too late to include France in the original conception of the AUKUS alliance, it’s not too late to reinvest in the strategic US-France relationship. There are a wide range of areas in which a new, structured set of bilateral and multilateral arrangements with France could be fashioned that would play to French strengths (for example, in leading areas of defense-related technology) while advancing common interests. In the defense field alone, these could range from routine combined military operations and basing arrangements in the Indo-Pacific to joint defense capability groupings to new initiatives that help strengthen the US-French defense industrial relationship. Perhaps the United States and France could agree immediately to establish a bilateral working group to develop such ideas and to report back to both President Macron and President Biden by Veterans Day, November 11, 2021. After all, our military service members have served alongside each other in combat since the very founding of both of our republics. That would be a fitting capstone to a newly invigorated bilateral relationship that both nations will need badly to deal with the daunting challenges of our new era.
—Barry Pavel is senior vice president and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council.
To the US: Broaden AUKUS to include France, others
The Biden administration’s effort to shift America’s focus from costly, decades-long wars in the Middle East to defending international rule of law against major-power aggression makes strategic sense. But that shift has not been easy on our European allies. First came the flawed withdrawal from Afghanistan and claims of inadequate consultation. Today’s crisis results from France’s belief that it was betrayed by the United States, Great Britain, and Australia over a contract to purchase submarines.
Australia’s decision to abrogate its 2016 contract with France makes sense for Canberra on three levels. First, nuclear-powered submarines are much better suited than diesel subs to meet China’s naval capability, which has grown significantly over the past five years. Second, massive failures on the part of the French builder Naval Group resulted in major cost overruns and delays. And third, by joining the new defense-cooperation arrangement, Australia will benefit from new technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
London gains by forming an even stronger post-Brexit defense bond with the United States and by exporting submarines to Australia. The United States gains by making clear to China that an international effort is underway to deter Beijing’s aggression in the region. And Asian democracies gain because Chinese naval prowess is being countered.
But France has some reason to feel betrayed. Not only do the French lose more than $60 billion in military sales, but they were not officially informed about AUKUS and the new submarine deal until just before it was officially announced. Australia, which was in charge of informing Paris, argues that Paris should’ve known this was coming. But Paris is not buying that explanation, and some fear President Emmanuel Macron may retaliate in ways that would undercut NATO.
Washington therefore needs to move quickly with a significant three-step mitigation package designed to assuage Paris. France is one of the few credible military powers in Europe, and it has legitimate strategic interests in Asia. It has not always been as tough on Beijing as Washington might like, but French strategic support in Asia will be critical to American efforts to deter Beijing.
First, AUKUS should not be an Anglo-only club. Its current mission appears to be defense-industrial cooperation, but it could expand to operations. A useful initial step would be to expand the club to include France, Japan, and perhaps India. Those nations have serious militaries and are tech leaders. Other NATO and Asian allies might also eventually join. Steps would need to be taken to safeguard certain technologies. But that should not preclude an expansion, which could become the basis for broad naval cooperation in Asia.
Second, the new nuclear-propelled submarine deal that is part of AUKUS might be revised to include some French technology. The United States and France have long cooperated on nuclear technology, and France produces nuclear-powered submarines. Such an effort might be disruptive to the current deal, but it could be worth the cost.
And third, the United States and France need to agree on what both sides mean by European strategic autonomy. As the United States focuses on what it considers to be its main geostrategic challenge—Chinese assertiveness—it must understand that a degree of European strategic autonomy may be necessary for both French and American interests. A Biden-Macron agreement on this issue, and the responsibilities that go with it, could create a new basis for bilateral understanding, as well as a new benchmark for NATO.
—Hans Binnendijk is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. He served on the National Security Council as senior director for defense policy and as director of the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.
To the US: Reflect on the nature of your alliances
It’s not about an arms deal. It’s about trust.
Repairing the US-French relationship starts by recognizing that the French reaction isn’t just a lament over losing an arms contract. It’s shock at learning that a key ally, while openly calling for a transatlantic revitalization, is willing to play a game of deception for months. This game dealt a severe blow to one of the pillars of France’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which would have secured European interests in the region (to the United States’ benefit).
Washington didn’t break just an armament contract; it broke French trust. Its behavior on a matter of strategic importance for France begs the question: Is Washington really willing to consult with allies and take their strategic priorities into account?
Therefore, Paris isn’t seeking a one-off compensation for a lost contract. The Biden administration would be wrong to assume that a few symbolic measures—such as lifting the travel ban for fully vaccinated travelers—would do the trick. Rebuilding trust will take a deep and lasting commitment to the relationship, as well as earnest reflection on the very nature of American alliances.
But there is a silver lining: The row over AUKUS could be turned into an opportunity to create a new partnership that furthers both US and French interests if both sides genuinely consider one another’s strategic priorities.
Reigniting that relationship should include:
- Allaying recurring French concerns about the continuation of US support for operations in the Sahel and the NATO mission in Iraq.
- Deepening the US-French partnership in the Indo-Pacific, which is home to 1.6 million French citizens. Through its independent voice and emphasis on values rather than strategic competition, France also offers a way for countries that may be reluctant to align with the United States to still join forces with the West. Paris and Washington had already been deepening their military cooperation in the region, as showcased by key military deployments in recent months.
- Speaking more forcefully about supporting European defense initiatives and recognizing the growing strategic role of the European Union in NATO’s next Strategic Concept. This might also entail thinking about the hurdles to transatlantic industrial cooperation, such as those related to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations regime.
- Deepening consultations over arms control and the most efficient political-military approach to facing the Russian challenge, as well as recognizing that French concerns about European strategic stability underpin French positions, notably within NATO.
As Jeff Lightfoot and I have pointed out, the US-French relationship is prone to political eruptions, even despite a deep and concrete partnership. This is partly a function of the way Washington manages its alliances; it has difficulties accommodating the strategic priorities of capable yet independent-minded partners.
That’s why the AUKUS spat should also serve as an impetus for a broader rethink of US alliance management, moving toward a model that creates space for partners that want to work alongside Washington rather than in tow.
—Olivier-Rémy Bel is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and serves as special advisor for the French presidency of the EU at the French Ministry for the Armed Forces.
To the US: Reconsider your post-war hegemony
The Biden administration’s refrain of “America is Back” increasingly rings hollow, especially in Europe. While its decision to enter into the AUKUS pact is logical, given its focus on China and the Asia-Pacific region, the way it was reached undermines the very order that the Biden team supposedly wants to uphold.
The so-called “liberal world order” (of which the United States is supposedly the guardian) rests upon American hegemony, which itself is premised on the consent of the governed. The foundations of the “liberal world order” are based on the American hegemony in Europe and Asia established after the end of World War II. Although Europe may increasingly seem less important to many officials in Washington, it remains a fundamental base of American legitimacy and power.
Yet during a time when Washington seeks to garner allied support to contain China, the Biden administration needs to remember the importance of linkages in foreign policy. France has always been one of the more obstreperous allies, and thus the coarse treatment of Paris with respect to AUKUS will set the stage for increasing discord.
AUKUS was a second strike that came on the heels of what Europeans consider to have been a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan—done more via declaration than consultation—which incentivized European allies to view themselves as increasingly distant from the United States. This could have the positive effect of more European capability development, but conversely, it may make European allies less willing to back the United States on other issues. It seems that the Biden administration considers itself the only game in town, and therefore it doesn’t need to worry about what allies think, since there’s no way the European Union could reconcile itself with a Chinese-led world order. This is a dangerous assumption.
The American argument is that China will upend the liberal world order. It is true that China does not place much stock in liberal values such as human rights; it is, after all, a market-oriented dictatorship. But this doesn’t mean that China is going to upend the entire international system. Instead, it may seek a global order that is more reminiscent of the past, in which sovereignty and free-market economics reign supreme. This might not be an ideal world from a US point of view—but it may not seem all that bad to the rest of the world.
Given European military weakness, as well as European trade with China, Europe may well seek accommodation, rather than conflict, with China. As such, Washington should strive to keep allies on its side rather than alienating them—especially ones that are among the most militarily powerful in the EU and the chief engines of European integration and capability development.
Many will hope (or expect) that AUKUS is a storm in a teacup. But for an administration seeking to assert US hegemony and create a consensus around China, the execution of the deal seems like yet another avoidable diplomatic faux pas that undermines the US national interest.
Going forward, the administration should give France time to cool down and accept that this will most likely become an election issue which Macron will exploit to his advantage—such is politics (politics the administration should have been aware of). In the meantime, the Senate should exercise its constitutional responsibility to review and confirm Biden’s excellent choices for top leadership roles on Europe policy at the departments of State and Defense. Once these people are in place, the White House should re-engage France on issues of mutual concern in the Sahel, as well as the Mediterranean. The latter should be of particular interest to the United States given the expanding presence of the Russian naval “facility” at Tartus in Syria.
—Michael John Williams is a nonresident senior fellow with the Scowcroft Center’s Transatlantic Security Initiative and associate professor of International Affairs and director of the International Relations Program at the Maxwell School for Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
To France: Move on
The anger and dismay that the AUKUS agreement has caused in France is understandable. The impact of the loss of this deal cannot be considered insignificant. Yet the AUKUS pact is also strategically crucial, since countering China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region has arguably never been more necessary.
No one will have been blind to the deterioration of Australia’s relationship with China in recent years. So the fact that three allies—which already have one of the world’s most significant intelligence-sharing agreements—have now agreed on a plan that will modernize and extend Australian military capabilities is both wise and appropriate. Many in Australia considered the design of the French-supplied vessels to have been outdated and obsolete. For its part, France was unwilling to share its nuclear propulsion technology.
The AUKUS deal has the potential to help make the world a safer place for us all. France must, I am afraid, now lick its wounds and move on. The value of long-term relationships and alliances is far too important to be overthrown by a single protocol that hasn’t gone the way that one nation would have wished.
—Sir Christopher Harper is a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. As a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot, he was involved in active operations over Iraq and in the Balkans and has commanded at all levels of the RAF.
To the EU: Don’t follow France down a path of escalation
Given the technological and military benefits of nuclear-powered US submarines over the diesel-powered French ones, Australia’s choice was a no-brainer—and even more so considering the long operational distances in the Indo-Pacific, where the submarines are meant to operate. The way Australia conducted itself vis-à-vis France may be questionable, although the Australians claim to have warned the French, who would have missed the writing on the wall since last June. That’s the Australian-French side of the dispute.
On the US-French side, however, the Biden administration seems to be tone-deaf to European sensitivities, especially in the wake of the Afghanistan withdrawal. Yes, European allies are being kept informed—at the last minute. This might become a wrench thrown into the reset of transatlantic relations that the Biden administration is pursuing. The Europeans are taking notice: The reset is still on, but the honeymoon is over.
That said, the submarine dispute is a US-French bilateral issue—not a transatlantic controversy. Consider, for instance, Germany’s and Italy’s silence on the matter. The French will try to “Europeanize” it, but they are not likely to succeed. Paris may try to leverage its upcoming EU rotating presidency; it’s already threatening to block negotiations over the EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The European Union should not follow Paris on this sliding path.
The big deal is AUKUS itself: It is clearly part of a US medium- to long-term strategy of containing China. Together with the Quad, Washington is enlisting the United Kingdom and Australia in active military deterrence toward Beijing. European allies have partly signed on to a common transatlantic policy toward China over trade, investment, technology, and political consultations—but they have stopped short of agreeing to military containment (for the time being, at least).
In this respect, AUKUS would not do for the EU. For the United States, AUKUS clarifies which allies do what with regard to China in the present circumstances. The EU maintains some leeway in dealing with Beijing. That might be useful in dealing with issues where cooperation with China is a must, like it or not, such as climate change.
Finally, Australia will be the first non-nuclear power with nuclear-powered submarines. Assuming that proliferation fallout is negligible, will there be other maritime powers wanting the same? Will the United States consider making such submarines available to other allies? Meanwhile, Canberra shows courage and stamina, since China will make sure the Australians pay an economic price. But there might be a silver lining: If Australia exports less coal (and if Chinese consumption decreases), the rest of the planet isn’t going to complain.
—Ambassador Stefano Stefanini is a nonresident senior fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and served as Italy’s ambassador to NATO from 2007 to 2010.
To everyone: Understand your allies better
At the heart of the diplomatic fallout are four misunderstandings.
1. What the United States misunderstood about France. Atlanticists in the French foreign-policy system wanted to use the Indo-Pacific, Australia, and the Naval Group deal to build up and renew Paris’s alliance with the United States for the twenty-first century against China. They’ve now been decisively weakened.
2. What France misunderstood about Australia. Malcolm Turnbull, the Republican, Francophile, Anglo-skeptic who was behind the initial deal with Naval Group, was an exception, not the new normal in its ruling Liberal Party. The Anglo-sphere currents run much deeper in Australia’s conservative politics, strengthened by Paris’s eruption and threats to scuttle an EU-Australia trade deal.
3. What France misunderstood about Great Britain. Paris mistook the temporary absence of the United Kingdom on the world stage from 2016-2020, when it muscled in on the Naval Group deal with Australia, as a new normal. However the absence of Britain from serious foreign policy was only the temporary effect of the logjam in British politics due to Brexit under then Prime Minister Thresa May. And that “perfidious Albion” was alway going to find a way to thank Paris for its tough Brexit line, which came at real costs for the UK.
4. What the Australians misunderstood about France. Canberra politics can be brutal. Australian politicians were mistaken to think that the typical subterfuge and mix of cowardliness and audacious back-stabbing, which is how one regularly gets rid of a prime minister in Canberra, would not be seen as a huge insult in France.
—Ben Judah is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center.