AUKUS dispute opens the door for Russia
The AUKUS tripartite announcement regarding a new Indo-Pacific security structure also means a sharp shift in the maritime defense industry. In addition, Australia is to acquire at least eight highly advanced nuclear-powered submarines with support from the US and the UK. The AUKUS announcement threw France and the West into a crisis about strategic thinking at exactly the wrong time. It prompted Paris to recall its ambassador to the US for the first time.
What is occurring between France and Australia is very significant for the future of Western geostrategic thinking. Some officials have labeled the new AUKUS agreement as ANZUS 2.0, in reference to another layer of security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region. But this is not the case at the moment.
The AUKUS announcement highlights the shifting world order. This alliance is a game-changer that represents an entree to the crown jewels of military and intelligence capability.
The agreement is not just about China’s current and future strategies, even though AUKUS is focused on the Indo-Pacific, but is also about Russia, which has significantly increased its capability in recent years. AUKUS sits alongside the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, ensuring a layered approach and thrusting the technology requirement east. This announcement fits nicely with the conceptual aspects of the Quad.
France was mortified at the decision by its allies. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the recall of France’s ambassadors from Washington and Canberra “is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15 September by Australia and the United States.” French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly reserved particular disdain for the US, saying France is “clear-eyed as to how the United States treats its allies.” The AUKUS deal hit France’s Naval Group especially hard, as it had already signed contracts with the Australian government. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s treatment of France in this regard seriously damages the two countries’ alliance.
The AUKUS announcement and the split between the Western powers create a strategic opportunity for Moscow. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev noted that the Americans are trying to create local platforms, which are advantageous for them, within the EU as part of a new anti-Russian union and an effort to create a so-called buffer zone along Russia’s borders. Patrushev said that he expects Germany, France and Italy to break with this buffer policy, which is a strong indicator of exactly where Moscow can exploit the cleavages between European states.
Russia’s response to France’s predicament was to make fun of Paris. The Russian Embassy in South Africa tweeted a photo of a Mistral-class carrier with the caption: “What goes around comes around.” In 2014, Russia purchased French-made Mistral carriers, but they ended up in the Egyptian Navy after complaints from the West about Russia’s seizure of Crimea forced an end to the deal. With the AUKUS agreement, Russia feels as if France has got a taste of its own medicine.
The Western infighting shakes up the international arena and the role of France in contested spaces.
Dr. Theodore Karasik
France’s role in the Middle East region has certainly just taken a very interesting turn. It is interesting to note the assassination of Daesh-Greater Sahara chief Adnan Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi in Mali just as the shifting architecture gears toward the Indo-Pacific. This Western infighting shakes up the international arena and the role of Paris in contested spaces. This is a factor that might allow Russia to make a move that may fit into French plans. Moreover, Parly visited both Niger and Mali immediately after this break with the US and Australia in order to firm up Paris’ commitment to Sahel security. Moscow, meanwhile, is trying to send a contingent of Wagner Group forces to Mali, which France disagrees with.
France’s anger brings up the possibility that Paris may accommodate Moscow more in order to send sharp messages to the US, UK and Australia. While trying to stop Wagner’s deployment to Mali, there is little doubt of coordination between Moscow and Paris on counterterrorism issues. And there is an intersection of interests on issues in Africa and the Levant that Russia can now leverage with an angry Paris.
Overall, the AUKUS dispute between Paris and its Western allies opens the door for Moscow to use its influence to sway France into actions that may be upsetting to its allies. The upcoming election in Libya and the overall trajectory of the country becomes a principal point of impact in terms of possible collaboration because of the AUKUS announcement. Algeria’s ties with France also become very important because of the Algiers-Moscow relationship. The next few months may be dicey for the Western allies, with Moscow continuing to “win” in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @tkarasik