France, the United States’ oldest ally, has recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia in an unprecedented display of outrage over a submarine deal that will make Australia a nuclear power.
The US, Britain, and Australia on Wednesday established a security alliance – dubbed AUKUS – for the Indo-Pacific to protect what they called their shared interests and help Australia acquire American nuclear-powered submarines.
The new security pact effectively scuttled a previous $40 billion deal between France and Australia that was signed to supply French-designed conventional diesel-electric submarines to the Australians.
Under AUKUS, the three countries have agreed to enhance the development of joint capabilities and technology sharing and foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains.
Infuriated France announced late on Friday that it would recall its ambassadors to both the US and Australia, citing “unacceptable behavior” on the part of the allied nations.
“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15th September by Australia and the United States,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wrote in a statement, adding that the envoys were recalled at the request of President Emmanuel Macron, who has not yet commented on the issue.
Le Drian on Thursday had accused Australians of a “stab in the back.”
“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed. This is not done between allies,” he said at the time.
The deal “constitute[s] unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships, and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe,” he added in his Friday statement.
The French foreign minister made no mention of recalling the French ambassador to London, suggesting that Paris regard Washington as the prime mover in the security pact.
However, it is unlikely that Britain can escape the worsening diplomatic fallout completely.
It is quite unusual that a recall of ambassadors occurs between close allies, and it is believed to be the first time France has recalled envoys from the US and Australia.
The new trilateral security pact has been widely seen as an attempt to counter the so-called growing military assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing has been quick to condemn the initiative as “extremely irresponsible” and a threat to regional peace and stability.
The first of the nuclear-powered submarines is expected to enter service in 2036.
Many observers warned that the trilateral pact could lead to a situation very similar to the US-Russian arms race during the cold war.