WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's decision to form a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and Britain to counter China is angering France and the European Union. They're feeling left out and seeing it as a return to the Trump era.
The security initiative, unveiled this week, appears to have brought Biden's summer of love with Europe to an abrupt end. AUKUS, which notably excludes France and the European Union, is just the latest in a series of steps, from Afghanistan to east Asia, that have taken Europe aback.
After promising European leaders that “America is back” and that multilateral diplomacy would guide U.S. foreign policy, Biden has alienated numerous allies with a go-it-alone approach on key issues.
France will lose a nearly $100 billion deal to build diesel submarines for Australia under the terms of the initiative, which will see the U.S. and Britain help Canberra construct nuclear-powered ones.
French anger on a purely commercial level would be understandable, particularly because France, since Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, is the only European nation to have significant territorial possessions or a permanent military presence in the Pacific.
But French and European Union officials said the deal calls into question the entire cooperative effort to blunt China's growing influence and underscores the importance of languishing plans to boost Europe's own defense and security capabilities.
Just three months ago, on his first visit to the continent as president, Biden was hailed as a hero by European counterparts eager to move beyond the trans-Atlantic tensions of the Trump years. But that palpable sense of relief has now faded for many, and its one clear winner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is on her way out.
Since June, Biden has infuriated America's oldest ally, France, left Poland and Ukraine questioning the U.S. commitment to their security, and upset the European Union more broadly with unilateral decisions ranging from Afghanistan to east Asia. And, while Europe cheered when Biden pledged to return to nuclear negotiations with Iran and revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, both efforts remain stalled nine months into his administration.
The seeds of discontent began to bloom in July over Biden's acquiescence to a Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline that will bypass Poland and Ukraine, and a month later in August with the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that left Europe scrambling to keep up after it had expressed reservations about the pullout.
Then just this week, Biden enraged France and the European Union with his announcement that the U.S. would join post-Brexit Britain and Australia in a new Indo-Pacific security initiative aimed at countering China's increasing aggressiveness in the region.
Unsurprisingly, China reacted angrily, accusing the U.S. and its English-speaking partners of embarking on a project that will destabilize the Pacific to the detriment of global security. But, the reactions from Paris and Brussels were equally severe. Both complained they were not only excluded from the deal but not consulted on it.
The White House and Secretary of State Antony Blinken say France had been informed of the decision before it was announced Wednesday, although it was not exactly clear when.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in June extolled the “excellent news for all of us that America is back,” expressed “total incomprehension” at the announcement of the initiative. “It was really a stab in the back,” he said.
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell echoed the complaints.
“ An agreement of this nature was not cooked up the day before yesterday. ... We were not consulted,” he said. “That obliges us, once again, ... to reflect on the need to put European strategic autonomy high on the agenda.”
Indeed, the 27-member European Union on Thursday unveiled a new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the Indo-Pacific, just hours after the announcement by the U.S., Britain and Australia.