A defence deal among Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom that seeks to check China in the Pacific has enraged France, which has lost a lucrative submarine contract with Australia. Why are democratic allies with the same overall objectives undercutting each other?
What prompted the signing of the trilateral defence agreement among the US, UK, and Australia?
The nub of the problem is this: Australia had initially wanted conventionally powered submarines, and they signed a contract with France in 2016. But the security situation in the region has since deteriorated significantly in terms of the threat from China. There has been a rethink in Canberra along the lines of, “Look, to be able to deal effectively with the expansion of Chinese naval power and China’s bullying of Australia, we will need more powerful submarines.”
Nuclear-powered submarines are far more powerful than conventionally powered ones, they are more stealthy, they have a far longer range, and they can operate for longer periods under water. And to take on the challenge from the Chinese, who are building submarines and ships in such large numbers, there is no option but to invest in better technology.
The negotiations on the new AUKUS deal seem to have been ongoing for the last six months — recent reports suggest that the Australians were talking to the British, the British went to the Americans, and then the three countries decided that they would take a fresh look at the issues at hand.
Subsequently, Australia cancelled its French contract and announced that it will start work on the new deal with the US.