Biden angers France, EU with new Australia, UK initiative

Washington, September 17 (BNA): President Joe Biden’s decision to form an Indo-Pacific strategic alliance with Australia and Britain to confront China has angered France and the European Union. They feel neglected and see it as a return to the Trump era.

The security initiative, revealed this week, appears to have ended Biden’s summer in love with Europe surprisingly. AUKUS, which notably excludes France and the European Union, is only the latest in a series of moves, from Afghanistan to East Asia, that have taken Europe by surprise.

Having promised European leaders that “America will come back” and that multilateral diplomacy will guide US foreign policy, Biden has alienated many allies with a stand-alone approach to major issues. The French foreign minister expressed his “complete lack of understanding” of the latest move, which he called a “stab in the back”, and the EU foreign policy chief complained about not consulting Europe.

France will lose out on a nearly $100 billion deal to build diesel-powered submarines for Australia under the terms of the initiative, which would see the US and Britain help Canberra build nuclear-powered submarines, according to the Associated Press.

As such, French outrage on a purely commercial level would be understandable, particularly because France, since Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, is the only European country with significant territorial holdings or a permanent military presence in the Pacific.

But French and European officials have gone further, saying the agreement raises questions about the entire cooperative effort to curb China’s growing influence and underscores the importance of weakening plans to bolster Europe’s defense and security capabilities.

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Some have compared Biden’s recent actions to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under the Trump “America First” doctrine. That is surprising for a president mired in international affairs who ran for the White House vowing to mend shaky relations with allies and restore US credibility on the world stage.

Although it is impossible to predict whether any damage will be permanent, the short-term impact appears to have revived European skepticism about American intentions — with potential implications for Biden’s broader goal of uniting democracies against authoritarianism, focused primarily on China and Russia.

Just three months ago, on his first visit to the continent as president, Biden was hailed as a hero by his European counterparts eager to move past the transatlantic tensions of the Trump years. But that palpable sense of relief has now faded for many, and the only clear winner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is on her way out.

Since June, Biden has enraged America’s biggest ally, France, leaving Poland and Ukraine questioning the United States’ commitment to their security and upsetting the European Union more broadly with unilateral decisions ranging from Afghanistan to East Asia. And while Europe rejoiced when Biden pledged to return to nuclear negotiations with Iran and revive peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, both aides are still faltering nine months into his administration.

The seeds of discontent may have been sown in the spring but began to blossom in July over Biden’s approval of a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that would bypass Poland and Ukraine, and a month later in August with the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan. This made Europe scramble to keep pace after it had expressed reservations about withdrawing.

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Then just this week, Biden drew the ire of France and the European Union by announcing that the United States would join Britain and Australia after Brexit in a new Indo-Pacific security initiative aimed at countering China’s growing aggressiveness in the region.

Unsurprisingly, China reacted angrily, accusing the United States and its English-speaking partners of embarking on a project that would destabilize the Pacific Ocean at the expense of global security. But the reactions from Paris and Brussels were just as intense. Both complained that they were not only left out of the deal, but not consulted about it.

The White House and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said France had been informed of the decision before it was announced on Wednesday, although it was not clear when exactly. Blinken said Thursday that there had been talks with the French about this in the past 24 to 48 hours, indicating a lack of in-depth consultations.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in June hailed the “excellent news for all of us that America is back,” expressed a “total lack of understanding” when announcing the initiative. “It was really a stab in the back,” he said. “It looks very much like what Trump did.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the comparison. “I would say the president doesn’t think about it much,” she told reporters. “The president’s focus is on maintaining and continuing our close relationships with leaders in France, the United Kingdom and Australia and achieving our global goals, which include security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

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In Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy coordinator, Josep Borrell, reiterated the French minister’s complaints. “I suppose an agreement of this kind was not cooked the day before yesterday. It takes a certain amount of time, and though, no, we were not consulted.” “This obliges us, once again… to reflect on the need to put European strategic autonomy at the top of the agenda.”

Indeed, the 27-nation European Union on Thursday unveiled a new strategy to boost economic, political and defense ties in the Indo-Pacific region, just hours after the United States, Britain and Australia announced. The EU said the aim is to strengthen and expand economic relations while enhancing respect for international trade rules and improving maritime security. She said she hoped the strategy would result in more European naval deployments in the region.

US officials ignored French and European Union complaints on Thursday.

“There are a bunch of partnerships that include the French and some that don’t, and they have partnerships with other countries that don’t include us,” Psaki said. “This is part of how global diplomacy works.”

Speaking alongside Defense Minister Lloyd Austin and the Australian defense and foreign ministers, Blinken said there was “no regional divide” with Europe over the Indo-Pacific strategy. “We welcome the European countries that play an important role in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said, describing France as a “vital partner.”

But it remains to be seen how closely they work together.

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