Australia says France has learned of “serious” fears of submarines
Canberra – France would have known that Australia had “deep and serious concerns” that the submarine fleet the French were building would not meet Australian needs, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday after the contract’s cancellation led to a diplomatic crisis.
France accused Australia of hiding its intentions to back out of a A$90 billion ($66 billion) contract for the majority French state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.
President Joe Biden last week unveiled a new coalition including Australia and Britain that would deliver an Australian fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.
Morrison blamed the shift on a deteriorating strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific. He did not specifically mention China’s massive military buildup, which has accelerated in recent years.
“The capability that the attack-class submarines would have provided was not what Australia needed to protect our sovereign interests,” Morrison said.
“They had every reason to know that we had deep and serious concerns that the capability provided by the attack class submarine would not meet our strategic interests and we made it very clear that we would make a decision based on a strategic national interest,” he said, referring to the French government.
France responded to the cancellation of the contract, which Morrison said would cost his government at least 2.4 billion Australian dollars ($1.7 billion), by recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the United States.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Saturday denounced what he called “duplicity, contempt and lies” surrounding the abrupt termination of the contract, and said France was now questioning the strength of the alliance.
China has denounced the participation of the United States and Britain in such nuclear technology as irresponsible.
France won the contract in 2016 over offers from Germany and Japan. The Shortfin Barracuda was to be a nuclear submarine design adapted to be powered by diesel on the surface and battery underwater.
Japan was particularly frustrated because then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott had promised a close defense ally a decade before his party ousted him in 2015.
The government spoke of media reports of skirmishes between the partners in the French submarine project and the delay of the original delivery date of 2027.
There were fears of a defensive capability gap that the Australian-made Collins-class conventional submarines were unable to fill.
Delivery of Australia’s first nuclear submarines is not expected until around 2040.
Defense Minister Peter Dutton said his government is ready to lease nuclear submarines from the United States while building the Australian fleet.
Dutton and Secretary of State Marise Payne are in the United States for annual meetings with their US counterparts and for the first time with the Biden administration.
Morrison travels to the United States on Monday to meet with Biden and the leaders of India and Japan who make up the Quadruple Security Forum.
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