Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak and Anthony Albanese will meet in San Diego, where one of the largest naval bases in the United States is located, for this tripartite summit of their so-called “AUKUS” security alliance.
After 18 months of deliberations, Australia is set to unveil its plan to acquire eight nuclear-powered submarines there, in what Australia’s prime minister called the ” biggest leap forward” in history. of the country in terms of defence .
For a year and a half, extensive discussions have been taking place behind the scenes between Washington, Canberra and London about Australia obtaining sensitive nuclear propulsion technologies.
Australia, however, has ruled out acquiring nuclear weapons.
The submarine contract is worth tens of billions of dollars, but experts say its importance goes beyond the jobs created and the investments promised.
Nuclear-powered submarines are difficult to detect, can travel great distances for long periods of time, and can carry sophisticated cruise missiles.
Beijing has expressed its deep opposition to this project, which it considers “dangerous” and intended to corner China.
A tripartite military alliance
AUKUS is a tri-party military alliance formed by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States which aims to share military technologies and other advances.
But, notes Charles Edel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, “while each country has a slightly different reasoning about AUKUS, it basically boils down to China” in view of “the exponential growth of its military power and its more aggressive stances over the past decade”.
The alliance thus aims to reaffirm the presence of the three countries in the strategic Asia-Pacific region, a vast area stretching from the East African coast to the West American coast through which passes a crucial part of world trade and where China is increasing his influence.
Beijing, which does not rule out the use of force to achieve its reunification with Taiwan, has just approved a 7.2% increase in its defense budget for 2023, the largest increase since 2019.
According to the British newspaper The Times , Australia should get submarines built in the UK rather than the US.
The conclusion of the AUKUS alliance, with the corollary of the cancellation by Canberra of the contract for the acquisition of 12 French submarines, had given rise to a diplomatic crisis with France, which had cried “treason”.
The affair has since settled down, not without intense diplomatic sequences between Paris, Washington, London and Canberra, including a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the United States in early December.
“It’s no longer our business. It’s over ,” commented a French source, according to whom the three allied countries kept Paris “informed” of the decisions in progress and which will be taken at the summit.
In addition to the loss of an important arms contract worth tens of billions of euros, France had been furious to be presented with a fait accompli by its close allies.
If Paris has now turned the page, France continues to think that it was “a mistake” and it will be “attentive” to nuclear non-proliferation issues, according to the French source who spoke under cover of anonymity.
Contacts between Paris and Washington have in any case been numerous since President Biden spoke with Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and Secretary of State Antony Blinken did the same on Thursday with his counterpart Catherine Colonna.
At the end of January, the French and Australian Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs met in Paris.
For his part, before going to the United States, the British Prime Minister visited France on Friday for a summit which sealed ” a new beginning” and “a new ambition” in Franco-British relations, including in the Asia-Pacific region.
The region “is home to half of the world’s population, 40% of the world’s GDP and it will still grow significantly ,” Sunak told reporters.
“It is understandable that both the French and ourselves want to be more active players in the region” , he added, speaking of military cooperation between the French and British navies in the ‘Asia Pacific.