French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called it “a real stab in the back” of Australia. He also shot US President Joe Biden, saying the sudden announcement of the deal without consulting other allies was a “brutal, one-sided move” that “closely resembles what Mr. Trump was doing.”
Leaving aside the wounded pride of France, the new geopolitical pact between the English-speaking maritime powers (called AUKUS and pronounced “aw-kiss”) presents a strategic puzzle for the EU.
Officials in Brussels told CNN the timing of the AKUS announcement was frowned upon as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs was due to present his own strategy for the Indo-Pacific on Thursday afternoon.
At best, it was considered a bit rude; at worst, she confirmed that, despite Brussels’ global ambitions, she is not taken seriously as a geopolitical actor.
Anyway, Brussels feels marked. A senior EU official told CNN that these were “English speaking countries” which are “very belligerent” forming an alliance “against China”. The official noted that these are the same nations that took the lead in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. “And we all know the results,” they added.
The EU’s strategy for managing China differs from that of the US in one major respect: the EU actively seeks to cooperate with China and sees it as an economic and strategic partner.
Brussels officials believe that by trading and working with China, not only can they rely on Beijing to reform their human rights and energy policies, but also use good relations with China to act as a buffer between Beijing and Washington, thus giving the EU a clear and important geopolitical role.
The AUKUS deal has, in the eyes of some, undermined any real claim that Brussels has an influential presence on the world stage.
“The fact that the US is prepared to spend more political capital and invest in security and defense ties with the UK and Australia before reaching out to EU powers is quite telling. “said Velina Tchakarova, director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy. .
She added that despite many positive developments in understanding the importance of this region, “it is evident that the EU must first become a security actor in the Indo-Pacific in order to be taken seriously by the Anglosphere partners “.
So how can the EU do this?
This is the million dollar question and the source of much disagreement among member states. There is no consensus on what European defense means or should look like. France, the bloc’s only major military power, lobbied for a coordinated defense policy that would endow the bloc with real capabilities.
An EU official familiar with the matter told CNN that recent developments in Afghanistan and the announcement of AUKUS have only reinforced France’s view that the EU needs the ability to defend its interests and strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
However, France is really an outlier on this issue.
“When I see [French President Emmanuel] Macron and his team are talking about standing troops, I just don’t see that happening, âan EU diplomat said. âNational leaders must send troops into combat. It won’t be the EU blamed when people come back in body bags. “
Other diplomats and officials see the potential for member states to work together on more efficient procurement, meaning each country buys specific things that play with its military forces. However, they still draw the line to the idea of ââdeploying troops.
“Neutral countries like Austria, Ireland, Finland and Sweden will never be comfortable with deploying troops in conflict zones,” a diplomat said. “What we could work on with EU partners, however, are things like training troops in third countries and maintaining peace at the borders.”
As beneficial as this is for Europe, it is far from asserting any serious military weight in a world where it seems to have enormous importance.
Steven Blockmans, research director at the Center for European Policy Studies, explained that as Europe’s defense strategy develops, it will likely lean more towards these smaller acts of cooperation than the French ideal. .
“The other large Member State, Germany, has always been very clear that such an integration policy, especially in the area of ââdefense and security, must be as inclusive as possible and involve as many of the 27 member states with it, “says Blockman.
“The announcement of AUKUS therefore obliges France to rethink its defense relationship with the Anglosphere and to work harder with the other Member States to raise the level of ambition of European defense cooperation,” he said. -he adds.
This overhaul could be instructive for those wondering where Europe’s foreign policy is heading.
Tchakarova said tough decisions will have to be made by the major European powers on their willingness to isolate themselves from “their most important transatlantic partner in their approach to the region and China in particular”.
She added that as the US-China battle for soft power intensifies, Brussels’ plan to “swing between Washington and Beijing will not work for the EU in the long run,” if countries like the France and Germany decide they want a closer relationship with their Anglosphere allies.
The EU has spent years devising a complicated plan to sit somewhere between the United States and China and, in so doing, hold huge amounts of soft power. Instead, the AUKUS plan, which relies on traditional hard power, was agreed with Brussels left in the dark and France dragged into the air.
No matter how much EU officials try to pass this one way or another of his lofty ambitions for the next few years, Biden’s decision to work with his traditional allies using traditional hard power. on the biggest problem facing the democratic world makes it clear where serious geopolitical power will lie in the next few years.
While the EU wields enormous economic power, the events of the past 24 hours have served as a reminder that in some areas Brussels still has a long way to go if it wants to sit between China and the US without being to crush.