Tensions are high following Australia’s divisive decision to back out of a $90 billion submarine contract with France last month. On 15 September Australia announced the nation had withdrawn from a contract with Naval Group for the purchase of diesel-powered submarines. Relations between the two nations have since soured, with France referring to the move as a “stab in the back.”
Paris and Canberra signed their “contract of the century” in 2016, with France agreeing to provide Australia with diesel-powered submarines over a 25-year period. France has been outspoken in advocating for a strong Indo-Pacific strategy and the submarine deal would strengthen strategic ties between France and the South Pacific.
The contract was scrapped last month in favour of a new pact with the United States and the United Kingdom for nuclear-powered submarines. The new deal was sealed following the announcement of ‘Aukus’, a strategic defence partnership made between Australia, the US, and the UK.
France has been vocal in criticising Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s management of the deal. According to France’s defence ministry, Australian officials claimed they were “satisfied” with the deal via written correspondence only hours prior to cancelling it.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says officials were shocked to hear the announcement.
“[The announcement] was not at all in line with the official letter we had received.
“We do consider there was duplicity. We do consider we have been deceived,” said Mr Le Drian.
However, the Prime Minister has defended his decision and says he made himself “very clear.”
“We had a lengthy dinner there in Paris, about our very significant concerns about the capabilities of conventional submarines to deal with the new strategic environment we’re faced with,” Mr Morrison said.
While the Prime Minister believes the decision was made in the national interest, French officials and representatives disagree. Herve Grandjean, a spokesman for France’s defence ministry, claims the change in plans will delay Australia’s progress.
“The submarine we were offering was supposed to be operational around 2030-2034,” said Mr Grandjean.
“With this brutal shift, the Australian navy is very unlikely to get new submarines before 2040.”
Following Australia’s decision to scrap the deal, France withdrew ambassadors from both Australia and the US. Retaliation is not unexpected, with the European nation making it clear they believe the changes were a “betrayal.”
It will be a challenge for Australia to recover from what was ultimately perceived by France as a major breach of their strategic relationship. In the years to come, Australia may need to work hard to re-establish the close bond the two nations had developed.