According to the South China Morning Post

The new Aukus security alliance formed by the United States, Britain and Australia has left France frustrated at being left out, prompting concerns over the impact on Washington’s commitment to form stronger ties with allies in confronting China.

France – which had its submarine deal with Australia halted as Canberra announced on Thursday it was joining Washington and London in the new alliance – described it as a regrettable move that would push Europe to be more autonomous in its strategic planning.

“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in a joint statement.

Why would the U.S. exclude Europe from the new Indo-Pacific security alliance? Is this because Europe is geographically far from the Indo-Pacific? I am wondering if it is really the case, because not too long ago, Britain sent an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea. Is there a reason for Biden not to include Europe in this new alliance?

According to the BBC:

China has warned the UK's Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth not to carry out any "improper acts" as it enters the contested South China Sea.


6 Answers 6


I think the question is based on a misconception. The first article is about a technology sharing alliance. The second article is about a mission to keep the South China Sea accessible as international waters.

The Aukus security alliance is primarily about technology sharing. For example, the BBC talks about Australia being able to get nuclear submarines and sharing technology on artificial intelligence:

It will let Australia build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, using technology provided by the US.

The Aukus pact, which will also cover AI and other technologies, is one of the countries' biggest defence partnerships in decades, analysts say.

The mission which the HMS Queen Elizabeth is on isn't exclusive to the US/UK/Australian alliance. For example, the Dutch Zr.Ms. Evertsen is tagging along with HMS Queen Elizabeth (source in Dutch). See also this article in the UK Defense Journal entitled Dutch frigate to join British Carrier Strike Group. It's about freedom of navigation, making sure everyone can pass through the area, for example when moving goods.

While it's not a NATO-wide thing, NATO acknowledges that it's something their members do. According to a keynote speech by NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg:

And that links to the question about the South China Sea and the East China Sea. NATO is not going to move into the South China Sea. Some NATO Allies, of course, sail there. It’s about freedom of navigation. But, NATO as an alliance is not going to move into the South China Sea.

In conclusion, I don't think it's fair to say that the EU has been excluded. They're just not part of this specific technology sharing alliance.

  • NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It has an immediate focus on the north atlantic area, and it is understood that members may have interests beyond that area, individually or as sub-groups. So there should be no general problem if NATO members cooperate with third countries beyond the treaty area.

  • It was understood that NATO is the most important military alliance for all partners, and that they would consult each other on significant changes in their overall military posture. Apparently some NATO members are not satisfied in this regard.

  • The French had a big defense deal with Australia. According to some news reports, they were even offering nuclear versions, but Australia was not sure if they wanted that and France was pressured by the US not to proliferate. Now the US as scuppered that deal by offering nuclear technology to Australia ...
    All navies in the world buy submarines in such small numbers that maintaining shipyards is a challenge. Foreign sales are a vital step towards economies of scale. (As Fizz pointed out in the comment, there would be offsetting involved.)

There is a belief in parts of Europe, certainly in France, that the US does not want independently capable partners. It wants allies who buy US weapons, thereby lowering their per-unit cost (and making the customers dependent on US maintenance support), and provide brigade combat teams and fighter squadrons to US-led operations. Yet the Europeans are individually toO small to provide independent capability.

There is a belief in parts of the US that Europe is talking a lot, providing little, and trying to take NATO assets away from the proven command structure into EU boondoggles.

  • The (12) French-tech subs were actually going to be built in Australia, although surely with many imported components. Frankly it's still unclear to me where the (eight) Aukus ones will be built. Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 10:37
  • It's also unclear who'd supply the HEU youtube.com/watch?v=H3n9FPMqLFY Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 10:43
  • @Fizz, there was even talk about imported French engineers ...
    – o.m.
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 10:52
  • The US is possibly moving away from HEU in their naval reactors, but that probably won't happen before the Aukus subs are supposed to become operational. An interesting tidbit there "UK reactors are based on US designs and fueled with US HEU", so I guess that answers some of that issue. OTOH "France and China already use LEU fuel in their submarines." Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 11:02
  • Mkay, it looks like Aukus subs will still be built in Australia: "Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday that the new subs would still be built in Adelaide, "in close cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States."" politico.eu/article/… Details will apparently be announced after an 18-month consultation... Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 11:14

Why would the U.S. exclude Europe from the new Indo-Pacific security alliance?

They did not. They included the UK.


I don't think you are reading this correctly. This seems largely a procurement dispute rather a question of alliance or alignment. If anything, the only real diplomatic difference seems to be that the US is willing to burn its bridges with China more than France (hence China's fury).

  • The US saw the opportunity to pick up a nice juicy defense contract. Those are extremely competitive.

  • France's program had ballooned in cost, like many of those programs do and slipped in schedule.

  • Australia, had, from the beginning on a build-local-as-much-as-possible model. Those often blow up in the face of all the participants, especially if the locals in question have limited experience. A past Australian defense minister is on the record stating he wouldn't trust a local Australian shipyard to build a canoe, prior to the French contract.

  • Last, but certainly not least, what's being delivered here is very different in nature. A conventional sub, like the French ones, has to surface - to snorkel depth - every so often to recharge its batteries and is limited in range, endurance and speed underwater. The acquisition of a nuclear attack sub (non-missile) gives a much more capable system, all other things being equal, because none of these limitations apply. Which is why China is angry. To do this, the US had to agree to supply/sell this extremely sensitive technology to Australia. On the other hand, Australia itself must be mighty worried about China to engage in this acquisition.

It's quite possible that a secondary motivation for the Australian PM is to "reboot" a failing construction project on their watch. By the time the US project gets seriously going, if the same implementation mistakes happen again on the Aussie side - which will probably happen - it will be somebody else's problem, but he'll have "acted decisively" on his watch. And brought home the bacon to his constituents.

It's not like US shipbuilders are ever known to engage in cost overruns, schedule slippages and straight-out technical screwups of their own. No sirree.

That all being said, Biden's lack of grace in springing this from the blue and not letting the French "spin" the press releases does not impress.

In terms of actual alliances, there is probably little direct impact on Western China-containing alignment (not the capability, that has increased with nuke subs). The other big signal is that Australia is willing to give Beijing the finger.

  • 1
    Re cost overruns etc., this has been one of the more head-scratching bits. There is no conceivable way Australia’s first SSNs won’t have cost and schedule overruns.
    – cpast
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 22:59

The TLDR answer is that the EU sees China as being an economic competitor rather than a military adversary.

If the EU were to join the US in partnership it want to be able to influence the groups strategic agenda in ways that Washington would disagree with.


At the end of the day it simply boils down to the fact that France will no longer be receiving the significant amount of money (billions of dollars) that they were expecting from the prior deal with Australia.

France has long been militarily self-sufficient, which is why it was the one selling submarines to Australia, but also means that the former has zero interest in joining an alliance to build nuclear-powered submarines. Australia, on the other hand, would far prefer this option over conventionally-powered subs because it is a greatly superior deterrent to Chinese aggression.

So ultimately there's no world in which Australia would not have ditched France for the Aukus deal, and similarly there's no world in which France would not be unhappy at being ditched. Regardless of whether you tell someone you're gonna punch them in the face beforehand or not, they're going to be upset after you throw the punch - and France's face just got really solidly punched.

  • 2
    (-1) What evidence do you have for all this? The press reported that (1) France was actually ready to offer nuclear submarines and (2) the US was probably not keen on sharing technology with France. All this suggests that France would actually have been happy to get any sort of consolation prize and the choice to keep it out was also (possibly mainly) made based on attitudes towards China rather than access to nuclear tech.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 15:15
  • 3
    Crucially, the question is not really about Australia but about the US. Why did it change its mind about sharing nuclear technology with another nation and why would it prefer that particular configuration for the new alliance? The French government isn't even complaining that much about the Australian government, their decision is not the most significant issue here.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 15:19

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