It will be the Biden-Macron meeting at the end of October to formally end the small diplomatic dispute between France and the United States that exploded last week due to the setback suffered by Paris on Australian submarines.
Meanwhile Washington, London and Canberra announced the AUKUS security pact, aimed at containing the Chinese rise on the naval level and which downsizes the French ambition to play a leading role in the Indo-Pacific, perhaps by standing up a third pole next to the China-US rivalry.
The choice of the Australian government to purchase nuclear-powered submarines from the Anglo-Saxons powers, cancelling the previous agreement signed with the French (which provided for the construction of conventional ships with diesel-electric engines), meets three orders of considerations.
Firstly, of operational nature. Nuclear submarines can remain on mission much longer than conventional submarines: it is estimated that a diesel-electric boat that sailed from the Australian naval base in Perth can remain in the South China Sea for just 11 days, compared to over 70 for a nuclear submarine.
Secondly, because of the industrial difficulties in the pact with France, since the Australian will to build everything in their own yards had to confront with the absence of a manufacturing fabric up to the standards and the lack of know-how and technical skills on the part of local workers. What made the picture worse was the suspicious prudence of the French builder Naval Group and the misunderstandings between partners due to cultural differences.
Finally, there are the strategic reasons, clearly the most important ones. The nature of the threat has changed radically in the Indo-Pacific: the current China is no longer that of five years ago, when the pact was firstly sealed. For this reason the United States took the field, putting pressure on Canberra to oust the French from the deal and drawing the Australians in their Anglo-Saxon security pact with the British.
AUKUS is effectively shaping the birth of a new military alliance aimed at contain Beijing on the maritime front and, at the same time, sends a very strong message to Europeans: the US welcomes the presence of the allies in the Indo-Pacific, but from now on they will have to act according to American rules.
Angered by the coup d’état and the end of the lucrative contract, the French government ran to cover by dusting off old categories of its anti-Americanism, ordering the withdrawal of ambassadors and even evoking the impossible achievement of strategic autonomy from the United States and the birth of a real European army (which means French).
Then Paris worked to achieve a theatrical opening to India, which was useful in convincing herself and her allies to remain a powerful force in the Indo-Pacific balance despite the Australian humiliation. For Paris, in fact, Delhi is one of the two essential actors to count east of Suez (the other was just Canberra) and this explains the partnerships in the military, industrial and security signed over the years by the two countries.
Finally came the clarifying phone call between the presidents of the United States and France, with which the Americans confirmed to be ready to compensate their important ally for the loss of the contract.
For example, Washington has committed itself to giving more support to Paris and other European partners (including Italians) in the ongoing military campaign in the Sahel – what the French needed most since in Western and Saharan Africa it has to confront local jihadists and, most recently, Turkish and Russian presence.
Another form of compensation to France could be the obtaining of a conspicuous military deal with India – which is hungry for Western technology especially now that it has to rearm to face China on the Himalayas and in the Indian Ocean.
Biden has even supported the French project to create a European Defence system, as long as it is complementary to NATO and is prepared to guarantee the interests of the superpower between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, while the latter is committed to containing China.
In this sense it is to be believed that Paris will use the EU’s military programs not to create the army that no one wants, but to assume some form of greater military responsibility from Europe to North Africa. This could be an opportunity also for Italy, provided that Rome is willing to seize it.