The formation of the Australia-UK-US Military Alliance (AUKUS) in the Pacific shows that whatever Trump can say, Biden can do. The problem is, Biden doesn’t do it very well.
Biden’s administration, like Trump’s, is committed to building its alliances in the Pacific while supporting NATO. Yet in Australia and Afghanistan, Team Biden is doing exactly what they accused Trump of talking about: undoing already frayed NATO ties, and without a clear idea of what could replace it.
It is the government’s job to keep American workers at work, to win contracts for American exports, and to protect America’s interests abroad. Two cheers for Biden, for getting the Trump memo on the first two points. But the AUKUS agreement is deaf at the third point. And that is likely to weaken America’s foreign interests.
Emmanuel Macron responded to Australia’s exchange of French-made diesel submarines for American-made nuclear submarines by treating the United States as an enemy. The French ambassador in Washington has been “withdrawn for consultations”. The French foreign minister accused the United States of “stabbing in the back”.
The French have a word for that: sting. Emanuel Macron is stung like hell. Fair enough: France and Australia reached a $ 90 billion deal in 2016. Again, Naval Group, the French signatory, was behind schedule and costs exceeded. Everything is fair in the business of war.
Macron’s reaction suggests the Australians were right to cancel their contract for the French submarines. Because it confirms that France is like France, which means that France is pushed to quarrel with the Anglo-Saxons sometimes. It is not just a question of spite or honor. It is history and geography, two subjects which are not fashionable in our digital world, but which remain at the heart of world affairs. It might even be in France’s interest to behave in this way.
The French have a distinct civilization, and one of its distinguishing features is that it is very different from English civilization – a difference so clear to the French that most French people will scoff at the very idea of ”civilization”. English ”, just as they could double up to the notion of“ German comedy ”or“ Italian accounting ”.
The French, however, do not laugh at the globalization of English civilization. The English have rampaged across the world in the Age of Empires, and the result is the sleeping giant we call the Anglosphere. English-speaking peoples share a common past, a common language and similar legal systems. They share family ties and some of them even share a common monarch.
Family ties matter a lot when forming defensive alliances. France has similar ties to what it calls the Francophonie, and some of them in the Pacific. When Tahiti traffic cops go nuclear, French companies can be expected to win the contracts. Meanwhile, as to the chagrin of France, Australia’s turn to its closest military allies, the United States and the United Kingdom, is history and geography that come to the fore.
The problem for France, and by extension NATO and the United States as well, is that history and geography are also manifested at the gates of France. Russia has not dominated Western Europe since the end of the Cold War. Germany, France’s partner in the EU, leans towards Russia. Britain is no longer anyone’s partner in Europe. NATO’s Atlantic flank and Western European foundations are weaker than they have ever been.
The contempt with which the Biden team treated its allies during the withdrawal from Afghanistan warned the Europeans that they were on their own. While Trump simply demanded that the Europeans support NATO by spending their promised share, Biden has shown that the United States does not care. The result is dissent and disorder among Europe’s largest NATO members – problems that the Biden administration has dramatically exacerbated, and Macron is now making even more dramatically worse.
The British like to say that they acquired an empire in “a fit of distraction”. No president is as distracted as Joe Biden. And this is how the United States, as it builds its alliances in the Pacific, loses NATO.