After the Australian submarine crisis, France seeks its place in the Indo-Pacific

Ships from the US Navy, Chilean, Peruvian, French and Canadian navies during an exercise in the Pacific Ocean in 2018.

What can remain of the Indo-Pacific strategy of Paris after the loss of the “contract of the century”? After the surprise announcement, on September 15, of a new alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, dubbed “Aukus”, and the breaking of the order of twelve submarines that Canberra had placed with France, a shock took place for French interests in the Indo-Pacific zone. A movement of strategic plates is to be expected, but its concrete effects will take time to be truly palpable.

At a time when Beijing is asserting itself in the waters of the region, has militarized reclaimed islets in the South China Sea and is bringing out batches of new military buildings from its shipyards, France is resolutely claiming to be “the power of the Pacific”. Until then, it relied mainly on its cooperation with Australia and India, and participated in military exercises with Japan, simulating the response to the invasion of an island in the archipelago by an enemy country.

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By announcing the Aukus alliance and inflicting a snub to France on the submarines, the United States and Australia mean that Paris is not in their eyes a major security player in the region. France had made its sales of military equipment a pillar of its strategy in Asia-Pacific. They enabled it to achieve two objectives simultaneously: one, obvious, of industrial outlets, the other of contribution to the response to the Chinese challenge, without entering into a formal defense alliance, which would have placed France more on the radar. of a China distrusting the constitution of an “anti-Chinese NATO”.

An uncertain situation

“It is difficult to distinguish the issue of the contract broken by the Australians with Naval Group from the stakes of the French position in the Indo-Pacific”, recognizes Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) and specialist in arms exports, particularly to Asia. “For ten years, one of the major arguments of French military diplomacy was precisely to say that France was not content to develop arms sales for export, but that these were based on strategic partnerships. Hence the fact that it is very difficult to disentangle them today ”, she adds.

Aukus’ announcement for France “Is a diplomatic and political coup before being an industrial and technological coup, and this will eventually be translated in a concrete way only over the long term”, abounds Hugo Decis, researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in London, and specialist in naval issues. “We cannot predict the consequences on the Australian side either”, he specifies, recalling that the new Anglo-American-Australian alliance consists for the moment only in the opening of discussions to be concluded within eighteen months, that is not before 2023.

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