A New West Bloc Story

Story of the new pact that has set the cat among the pigeons in the Western world.

It was the night of September 16, when the Western world was shaken by France’s decision to recall its ambassadors to the US and Australia. While Franco-American relations have  been fraught with tension, especially during the Iraq war of 2003 and after the United States’ withdrawal from the Climate Agreement in 2017, never before has the world witnessed France resort to such a drastic measure – one that puts the US in the same category as Turkey from France’s point of view.  While it was Erdogan’s insinuations about Macron’s mental state that precipitated the Turkish diplomatic crisis, the reasons underlying the present diplomatic crisis are subtler and far less glamorous. However, by no means are they trivial. In fact, one may even argue to the contrary.

At the heart of this crisis are submarines – 12 submarines to be precise. Australia, as part of a new alliance with the US and the UK, has announced a new deal for American nuclear submarines while reneging on a 2016 deal for 12 conventional submarines worth $40 billion with the French defence contractor Naval Group. At first glance, this may seem like an impetuous decision by Paris, even an overreaction by some accounts. However, this diplomatic crisis betrays France’s mounting insecurities as a new tripartite defence alliance emerges without its blessings.

France’s Indignation

From France’s perspective, this is an act of betrayal, not least because it directly scuppers its plans to increase the EU’s presence in the Asia-Pacific region. At this point, it is important to note that though our idea of France puts it far removed from the region in question, a string of Indo-Pacific islands, largely uninhabited, make it an important regional player as by virtue of being French Overseas  Territory, they form part of France’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Thus, France has economic interests to protect in this region. These claims however had to be bolstered by military presence and to this end, France had strategically planned multiple partnerships with some of the biggest regional powers: from Rafale with India to Barracuda with Australia. It is the latter that has been torpedoed by the AUKUS alliance – a trilateral security partnership that focuses its energies on the Indo-Pacific region and with it quite few feathers have been ruffled, not in France, but across Europe, if France has anything to do with it. 

China’s concern

The presence of US-built nuclear submarines in the Indo-Pacific region is a massive development from China’s perspective and not a welcome one as far as its expansionary tactics across South China Sea are concerned. These concerns are only validated by the technological capabilities of these submarines: nuclear propulsion – cutting edge technology for the next generation of submarines – ensures they can man the waters of South China Sea up to Taiwan. Moreover, the deal will also include sharing intelligence and cybertechnology. Thus, this new arrangement heralds the beginning of a new ‘Cold War’.  So much so that China has lashed out at Australia accusing it of starting a new ‘arms race’ . While Australia’s immaculate record discredits these allegations, one fears whether the likes of Iran and North Korea may not exploit this as a smokescreen for nuclear proliferation. If such a situation arises, China may choose to veto sanctions in the UNSC. This has all the makings of a new great game.

Experts consider the AUKUS a strategic manoeuvre spearheaded by the US to protect its bases in the region from the threat of unfettered Chinese aggression. A threat that has only grown with reports of improved military spending and thus warrants a double weave of security with the AUKUS being founded in addition to, and not in place of, the Quad alliance. The US has probably realised that it can no longer afford to live in denial over China’s growing clout on the international stage; the globalised world has transformed into a multipolar one with the United States, China and Europe consolidating newer geopolitical alliances.

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