Connoisseurs of “fine French pique” enjoyed a rare feast last week, says Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal. France reacted “volcanically” to its exclusion from the AUKUS defence partnership between the US, UK and Australia, and the cancellation of its submarine pact with Australia. It’s a “massive public humiliation” for Emmanuel Macron – the French don’t elect their presidents to be “hapless patsies hornswoggled by stupid Americans, provincial Australians and unspeakable Brits”. But while the US could have been more tactful, there are “few elegant ways to cancel a wedding”. Far more important is the message it sends: “high-maintenance” European allies are expendable, “America’s pivot to the Indo-Pacific is real”.
Xi Jinping’s sabre rattling in the South China Sea means the need to contain China has become “self-evident”, says Francis Pike in The Spectator. The problem for the West is deciding “whose task this is”. AUKUS adds to a “confusing smorgasbord of alliances” already competing to stand up to Xi. Why does Britain need a piece of the action? We have enemies closer to home. In terms of naval tonnage, Russia (927,000 tons) ranks only marginally behind China (973,000 tons). Would it not make sense for Europe to focus its naval defence on nearer waters? Indo-Pacific security should be left to the navies of the US, India and Japan. They have “the might and the motive” to keep the peace in the South China Sea. “Britain simply doesn’t.”
Remember, it was the arms race that crippled the Soviet Union, says Minxin Pei in Bloomberg. China might have plenty of cash, but it’s no match for the combined military spending power of the US and its allies. With this “dramatic strategic move”, the US is effectively challenging China to a new and “likely astronomically expensive” arms race. Any hope Beijing has of matching US spending is upended by the combined economic heft of the Quad Nations – the US, Japan, India and Australia. With a total GDP of $30tn, the Quad’s economic power is twice as large as China’s. Alliances like AUKUS are how America will win, and China will lose.
But AUKUS also creates serious risks, says James Forsyth in The Spectator. The submarines will take years to materialise, and the danger is that Beijing tries to get ahead in the meantime, perhaps tightening its grip around Taiwan. Like Wilhelmine Germany or Imperial Japan in the 1940s, China might conclude that if it doesn’t act now its moment will pass. This is what makes the next few years so dangerous, and important. The French want Europe to have “strategic autonomy”. Britain and Australia recognise that countering China requires American leadership, just as taking on the Soviet Union did. Support for the US and our other Pacific allies will now be a defining feature of British foreign policy. Britain’s alliances are being deepened by this new deal, giving this country a relevance in the Pacific that it has not had for decades.