Snookered by Anglo-Saxons

The Europeans have misread Biden and misjudged Johnson. A bad combination

The withdrawal of an ambassador is the attempt to react to a 21st century strategic shift with 19th century diplomacy. Huffing and puffing achieves nothing. But France is right in one specific respect. The Aukus nuclear submarine alliance between the US, Australia and the UK will have lasting implications for Nato. Nato won’t be disbanded, but it will play a more peripheral role in the future. From the second world war until the last decade US foreign and security policy was focused on Europe and the Middle East. Under presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden it shifted to the Indo Pacific.

This begs the question: why is the UK part of this shift, and not France? The US considers France and the EU unreliable with respect to China because of their special relationships. Germany and France have pushed the EU-China comprehensive agreement on investment just before Biden’s inauguration. Germany runs massive export surpluses with China that it wants to protect. Armin Laschet and Olaf Scholz are both in favour of extending the bilateral relationship. Europe has also left a door open to Huawei for its 5G networks. It was only the UK that really cut the links. The Chinese ambassador in the UK reacted with unbridled fury. His colleagues in Paris and Berlin, by contrast, stayed quiet. I assume that they have received reassurances through back-channels.

The UK is clearly the junior partner in Aukus. But it is the only European country the US can trust in the pursuit of its strategic interests in the Indo Pacific. For the French, the UK is not the central issue here, but its participation constitutes the added insult to the injury. They have been, as they say in England, snookered.

If the UK had still been a member of the EU, this could still have happened theoretically, but not practically. From the UK’s perspective, Brexit allows strategic options that had hitherto been unthinkable. The UK is also part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group that comprises them, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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