| 28 February 2024, Wednesday |

Australia defends its handling of French submarine deal

As a new pact between the United States and Britain continued to create a worldwide diplomatic crisis, Australia defended its decision to cancel a deal for French submarines on Sunday, claiming the government had expressed concerns with Paris for months.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated, “I don’t regret the choice to put Australia’s national interest first.”

In a trilateral security collaboration, Australia scrapped a 2016 contract with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines, instead unveiling on Thursday a proposal to build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology.

France, a NATO partner of the US and the UK, was outraged by the action, recalling its diplomats from Washington and Canberra. It also enraged China, the region’s most powerful emerging state.

Morrison said he understands France’s unhappiness at the cancellation of the order, which was worth $40 billion in 2016 but is now estimated to be worth considerably more, but that Australia must always make decisions in its best interests.

“This is an issue that I addressed explicitly a few months ago, and we’ve continued to talk about it, including with military ministers and others,” Morrison said during a press conference.

The new trilateral agreement has thrown Washington into an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with France, which analysts believe could have long-term consequences for US-French and European alliances, as well as casting doubt on the united front that US President Joe Biden has been attempting to forge against China’s growing power.

The cancellation has been branded a stab in the back by Paris, with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claiming that ties with the US and Australia are in “crisis.”

Morrison said he had notified France of the revised arrangement around 08:30 p.m. on Wednesday. At 7 a.m. Canberra time on Thursday, he, Biden, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced it (2100 GMT on Wednesday).

Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Australia was “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns.

“Suggestions that the concerns hadn’t been flagged by the Australian government, just defy, frankly, what’s on the public record and certainly what they’ve said publicly over a long period of time,” Dutton told Sky News.

He declined to reveal costs of the new pact, saying only that “it’s not going to be a cheap project”.

  • Reuters