AUKUS: ‘A Stab In The Back Of Global Diplomacy’

On the 15th of September 2021, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the rupture of a £48 billion nuclear submarine pact with France in favour of forming a trilateral Anglophone alliance with the United Kingdom and the United States. Endowed with the rather cacophonous acronym ‘AUKUS’, the deal will allow Australia to build their nuclear-powered submarines using U.S. and U.K. developed technology, as well as entail further collaboration on matters of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

The agreement sent diplomatic reverberations across the world. The French government was furious, having lost out on what had been labelled by political commentators as “the deal of the century” (Le Figaro, 5th October 2021). Worse still, the French were not aware that they had been sidelined until the new deal was announced in a joint statement issued by Scott Morrison, Joe Biden, and Boris Johnson, which left the French European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian licking his wounds and lamenting “un coup de poignard dans le dos” — ‘a stab in the back’. In an interview with franceinfo (16th September 2021), he stated: “I am furious. This is simply not done between allies… the unilateral, brutal, and unforeseeable nature of the decision very much resembles those of Mr. Trump.” As such, hopes of a speedy rapprochement between Europe and Washington in the wake of Trump’s departure from office and the U.K.’s from the EU seem to have been dashed.

However, the French were far from being the only offended party. The deal was designed with the strategic purpose of limiting China’s influence in the South China sea and fettering their advances in the Indo-Pacific region. Naturally, Beijing did not react well to the news. The pact was lambasted by Chinese representatives the world over. The Chinese government deemed the move “extremely irresponsible,” the spokesman for the Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian declared that it “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race,” and China’s embassy in Washington accused the alliance of “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice” (BBC News, 16th September 2021).

Japan, conversely, in need of support managing China’s power in the region, breathed a sigh of relief when the pact was announced, as stated by Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Toshimitsu Motegi: “Japan welcomes the deal launch of AUKUS in the sense of strengthening engagement in the Indo-Pacific region” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 21st September 2021).

With opinions divided amongst experts, as well as vaunters and gripers both East and West, it seems that the greatest victim of this deal is global diplomacy. Fractures are emerging on what was once solid ground between Paris and Washington and tensions are flaring with an increasingly volatile Beijing. This extensive production of nuclear-powered weapons is a zero-sum game and could infringe upon a non-proliferation policy. As such, a pact that sought to stabilize the Indo-Pacific region may instead jeopardize world peace efforts.