Australia's Defence Minister Says Macron’s Anger Over AUKUS-Botched Sub Deal Due to Looming Election
French President Emmanuel Macron and Australia’s PM Scott Morrison spoke for the first time on 28 October, more than a month after a diplomatic row was triggered by Canberra’s decision to cancel the multi-billion diesel-electric submarine deal with Paris in the wake of AUKUS three-way alliance formation.
Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton has suggested that Paris’s lingering “frustration” over the scuppering of its multi-billion submarine deal
with Canberra can be explained by looming elections in France.
“…Don’t forget that France has got an election in April of next year… So politicians and elections always make for an interesting mix,” Dutton told Nine Network television Channel on Friday.
The minister was commenting on the tentative steps being taken by the sides to resolve the issue. On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had his first telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron since the termination of the 2015 diesel-electric submarine contract with Naval Group in the wake of the AUKUS announcement.
Under the new AUKUS alliance with the United Kingdom and United States, unveiled on 15 September, Canberra opted instead for nuclear-powered submarines to be built in Australian shipyards using US and UK reactor technology.
“So I think once we get through that next year, hopefully we can continue with steps to normalise the relationship, but that’s the situation at the moment,” said Dutton.
He emphasized that Australia “understood” France’s frustration.
“Obviously the French are upset, there is no question about that. So they have expressed that and we understand their frustration. But we made a decision that was in our national interest,” Dutton added.
He reiterated that the decision to opt for nuclear-powered submarines would give Australia “security and protection into the coming decades, and we don’t make any apology for that.”
Australia’s defence minister also echoed statements made by a spokesperson for Morrison, who described the exchange between Morrison and Macron as having been a “candid discussion”. Dutton referred to a read out of the conversation as saying it was a “productive phone call.” Morrison had been “keen for the phone call to happen,” Dutton added.
President Emmanuel Macron called Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday, ahead of a Group of 20 meeting in Rome this weekend and the subsequent UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 31- November 12. The presidential Elysee Palace had issued a statement
to say that in his phone conversation with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Canberra to propose some specific actions to reboot bilateral relations after the scrapping of the submarine contract “broke the relationship of trust”.
"The president of the republic recalled that Australia's unilateral decision to reduce the French-Australian strategic partnership by withdrawing from the submarine program in favour of another project, which is yet to be clarified, damaged the trust-based relations between our two countries ... Now the Australian government must propose some specific actions that would embody the will of the Australian authorities to review the basis of our bilateral relations and continue to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific region", read the Elysee Palace statement following the talks.
Australia’s decision to ditch the sub deal had triggered fury in France, which claimed it had been dealt a “stab in the back”. Paris had immediately pulled envoys from the US and Australia and scrapped a defence summit with Britain. The French ambassador
has since returned to Australia, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne revealing she would be meeting with Jean-Pierre Thebault in an attempt to patch up the diplomatic rift, adding she regrets “the deep disappointment that France feels”.
The AUKUS announcement made by Washington, Canberra and London on 15 September revealed that the three countries would be forming a new security alliance
that would encompass cooperation on AI, cyberwarfare and, possibly, envision stationing of more US troops and naval capabilities in Australia.
The pact will also enable Canberra to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in Australian shipyards using American and British reactor technology. France, deploring that it had been “blind-sided” by the agreement, which was not discussed
by the US, the UK and Australia with their other allies and partners beforehand, had slammed the three countries' behaviour as "unacceptable."
As fallout from AUKUS, France lost out on its own $65 billion agreement with Australia for the purchase of 12 French attack submarines.
Both the announcement of the alliance and the termination of the sub deal triggered outrage
among French society. Some high-profile opposition politicians went so far as to suggest Paris should consider withdrawing from NATO altogether over the perceived snub. Countries such as Russia, China and North Korea, perceived as Washington’s potential adversaries, denounced the creation of AUKUS as fraught with destabilizing
the Asia-Pacific region and triggering a new regional arms race.