Ian Lloyd Neubauer is an Australian freelance journalist.
Treason. Duplicity. A blow to the back. A breach of trust.
These are just a few of the colorful ways that French officials have described Australia’s decision to cancel a 2016 deal to build 12 conventionally-powered submarines in favor of at least eight submarines at nuclear propulsion supplied by the United States and the United Kingdom.
At first glance, the French outrage – which saw President Emmanuel Macron recall his ambassadors from Australia and the United States – seems justified. After all, a deal is a deal.
But when you consider the issues that plagued the failed submarine project from the start – a $ 30 billion cost explosion, endless delays, questionable commitments to meet local content requirements – you could find that your sympathy for the French is starting to wane.
And when I think of all the Australians who died defending France in the two world wars of the last century, I start to feel more than a little annoyed by the arrogant ingratitude of a nation that has never lifted the little finger to help Australia in combat. Don’t get me started on the billions of dollars wrested from Australian farmers by European farm subsidies largely driven by France.
During World War I, a conflict that posed no immediate threat to the Antipodes, 295,000 Australians volunteered to fight on the Western Front. One in five has never returned home, including 53,000 who perished on French and Belgian soil. 152,171 other Australians have been injured, many more than once.
How did the French thank Australian war widows and Australian children who grew up fatherless after World War I? By instructing them to build monuments for their dead. Some even took advantage of bribes.
“In return for Australian financial aid, we are making this offer,” wrote the mayor of the French town of Steenwer to the governor general of Australia in 1920. “We will take care of the remains of your valiant soldiers and consider it an honor to maintain the graves and decorate them with flowers. “
Two years later, when an Australian Veterans Fund asked Villers-Bretonneux Mayor Dr Jules Vendeville how their savings could be used to commemorate the 2,473 Australian soldiers who died defending the French commune, Vendeville proposed the construction of a slaughterhouse.
To date, the French national history curriculum does not mention Australia’s involvement in France during World War I, according to Flinders University in Adelaide.
During World War II, another 40,500 Australians lost their lives defending France and other European allies against the Nazi war machine and the French renegades who formed the Vichy puppet government. But how many French soldiers died defending Australia? Not one.
Fast forward to 1973, when Australia and New Zealand, which lost 16,000 troops to France during World War I, were forced to initiate costly proceedings in the International Court of Justice to stop the trials French nuclear power plants in the South Pacific.
This did not prevent France from carrying out nuclear tests in the Pacific for another 22 long years, the final blow being Operation Satanic, the sinking of the Greenpeace flagship the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand by the service. of French foreign intelligence which resulted in the death of a photographer who slept on board the ship.
Also in 1973, the UK joined the European Common Market, depriving Australian farmers of their largest export market, as tariffs and quotas imposed on non-EU states saw butter, cheese and Australian beef disappear from the shelves of British supermarkets and be replaced mainly by French products.
“I have to tell you that this has been quite devastating for many farmers in Australia,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in June after Australia and the UK signed a free trade agreement to correct this historical wrong. “They committed suicide, some of them, in response to what happened to Australian agriculture in the 1970s.”
So why did Australia cancel the submarine contract with France? China’s fierce opposition to the enhanced trilateral security partnership called AUKUS says it all.
The truth is, Beijing doesn’t want Australia to get its hands on nuclear-powered submarines that can hide underwater almost indefinitely. Simply put, French submarines were no longer suited to defend Australia against China’s burgeoning military expansion in the Asia-Pacific.
There were other issues as well. French and Australian staff based in Adelaide where the submarines were to be designed and built did not get along, with Australians stunned to see the French take a month of paid leave in August to the start of the school year, the traditional French summer vacation period, while the French were also puzzled by the Australians’ insistence on being on time for meetings.
All of this added to constant delays. Last year, the French asked for a 15-month extension to deliver the design, leaving Australia with nothing to show after spending $ 400 million in taxpayer dollars. The percentage of Australian-made components on the submarines also had to be reduced to avoid even longer delays.
Citing these facts, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed claims that the French were shocked by the recent decision to scrap the 2016 deal. “I think they would have had every reason to know that we were deeply concerned that the capacity provided by the French submarines does not meet our strategic interests “, he declared.
The statements of astonishment of the French are so absurd that they are reminiscent of the famous line of Captain Louis Renault in the 1942 film Casablanca to be “shocked, shocked to find out that” there was gambling at Rick’s Cafe.
Like a petulant child, France is now on the path to revenge, mobilizing support from its neighbors to torpedo a planned free trade agreement between the EU and Australia, claiming that it cannot be trusted in Canberra. And the French will probably get what they want. I mean, with friends like these, who needs enemies?