Australia has been a very close US ally – one could even say protectorate – since the beginning of World War II. A US Marine formation is based there. The US Navy makes routine port and maintenance calls in Australia, which lies right on the dividing line between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The Aussies now feel increasingly threatened by the rapid expansion of China’s naval and air power, so they have turned to the United States for more protection by just announcing the purchase of a fleet of nuclear-powered, but conventionally armed, attack submarines.
These new, high-tech subs are to be built in Australia to augment the nation’s small fleet of older, but still capable, submarines. Focusing on submarines makes good sense for Australia which is surrounded by two vast oceans and huge distances. Like the United States, its oceans provide ultimate protection from potential foreign invaders.
However, the deal with the US has abruptly torpedoed a $66 billion deal made by Australia to buy 12 French-made submarines, their biggest military program in memory. The French, never calm, are really in a fury. The sub deal is a ‘stab in the back ‘ fumed France’s irate foreign minister.
France makes quite good submarines and was counting on the Australian deal to help keep their naval industry alive. Worse, the British somehow sneaked into the sub deal with the US, abandoning any hopes of post-Brexit military cooperation with France, which is still supposed to be a close British ally in the NATO alliance.
‘Perfidious Albion,’ raged the French. The Brits, by contrast, were quietly amused by France’s distress. Britain’s always nasty media needled the French with usual references to the battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and, of course, Waterloo. Paris retorted by asserting, ‘nous sommes trahis!’ (we have been betrayed). Indeed, they were.
No mention of cancelling the $66 billion deal was made by the US or British before they abruptly barged into it. This was no way to run an alliance. France is America’s oldest ally. Without military help from France, the American revolution would have failed.
Washington’s behavior was crude and ham-handed. Its new secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, deserves brickbats for this embarrassing fiasco. President Joe Biden, who has so far been doing a pretty good job of managing the world, deserves an F- grade for this debacle. The highly experienced Biden should have known better.
Meanwhile the British Royal Navy is having serious trouble finding enough sailors to man it current subs and its shrinking number of surface warships. London has had to borrow US warplanes for its new, and only, aircraft carrier.
So, it’s up to Uncle Sam to keep patrolling the China seas. Australia won’t be able to deploy its new submarines for 6-8 years, maybe more. Warship construction has always had a painful, slow learning curve.
Too bad the Aussies did not allocate some of their submarine funds for building fire shelters for their endangered wild animals who have been burned alive by the millions by recent massive conflagrations.
China, as usual, will see a dark side to this business.
Conventional submarines are fine for defending territorial waters. But the seas around China are very far from Australia – near the operating range for conventional submarines. However, Canberra’s new US subs with nuclear propulsion will be able to stay on station for three or more months, posing a major threat to China’s all-important maritime commerce, its front-line warships and will, of course, bolster Taiwan’s maritime defenses which are today vulnerable to Chinese blockade.
I have a better way for China to extricate itself from this Pacific mess. Beijing, which is rolling in cash, should offer to buy all the French subs available. The French will be pleased and able to sell more Hermes handbags to Chinese tourists. China will have the latest French sub technology and quality rather than China’s not so great undersea craft. The Aussies will have their new US-engineered subs, and Britain will claim that its imperial sagacity enabled this happy solution.