The new military alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia is aimed at China, and raises the threat of war.
By providing Australia with nuclear powered submarines, highly enriched uranium to power them and top-secret nuclear technology to operate them, President Joe Biden has intensified former president Donald Trump’s policy of confrontation with China.
Australia will be only the second country to receive this technology from the US, after Britain in 1958.
Compared with conventional submarines, nuclear-powered subs can travel farther and much longer without returning to base. They could easily reach China from Australia.
The New York Times reported the day after the surprise announcement: “With its move to acquire heavy weaponry and top-secret technology, Australia has thrown its lot in with the United States for generations to come — a ‘forever partnership’, in [prime minister Scott] Morrison’s words.
“The agreement will open the way to deeper military ties and higher expectations that Australia would join any military conflict with Beijing.”
According to the NYT, Australia would likely use the nuclear-powered submarines to patrol the South China Sea. They could also be armed with missiles aimed at China.
The subs will augment the US’s powerful deployment of warships and submarines in the Pacific, including nuclear weapons, and will be under US control.
China reacted immediately and sharply to the agreement. Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the submarine agreement would “seriously damage regional peace and stability, exacerbate an arms race and harm international nuclear nonproliferation efforts”.
The latter charge is given credence by the fact that the nuclear technology and highly enriched uranium provided by the US can be the basis for Australia acquiring nuclear weapons, if Washington so wishes at any time.
Trump was known for his disdain for “allies” in Western Europe and for his unilateralism. But Biden’s military alliance with Australia and Britain, and the supply of nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, has enraged France.
The announcement of the new alliance came as a surprise to the rest of the world. It has now been affirmed that Biden secretly began work on the new agreement early in his presidency. The agreement was accompanied by Australia’s announcement that it was withdrawing from a US$66 billion deal with France for the supply of conventional submarines.
This was a “unilateral, brutal and unpredictable decision”, said an enraged Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister. He compared it to the rash and sudden policy shifts Trump was known for.
“The very conception we have of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific” would be affected, said Le Drian.
One aspect of this shift was to deprive France’s military industry of revenue, while allowing the US military industry to reap big gains. The main reason, however, was to raise the threat against China.
French President Emanuel Macron retaliated by recalling France’s ambassadors from Washington and Canberra for “consultations”. Reflecting his view that Britain is a secondary player, he didn’t recall the ambassador from London.
French daily Le Monde, broadening the charge against the US, said: “For any who still doubted it, the Biden administration is no different from the Trump administration on this point: The United States comes first, whether it’s in the strategic, economic financial or health fields. ‘America First’ is the guiding line of the foreign policy of the White House.”
Subsequently, Le Drian, when asked if Biden’s behaviour is like Trump's, responded: “Without the Tweets.”
The NYT noted that since US company Lockheed Martin was a partner in the French submarine deal reached in 2016, “the contract was viewed in Paris as an example of how France and the United States could work together in Asia.
“That belief has been shredded, replaced by bitterness, suspicion and a measure of incredulity that the Biden administration would treat France this way.”
The article concluded: “The French president is certain to turn to his European partners, and particularly Germany, as he reassesses the western alliance and Asian policy.
“As Le Monde put it, ‘Beyond French sensibilities, it is the place of Europe and its role in the world that have been thrust into question. Where does Europe want to stand in the global realignment happening in the shadow of the American-China confrontation?'.”
For decades after World War II, the US was able to dictate foreign policy to its subordinate imperialist powers in Western Europe. But as these powers have grown economically in recent decades — especially Germany and a bit less so France — tensions have grown with the US.
When France resisted the US invasion of Iraq, US Congress (crudely) renamed “french fries” as “freedom fries” and “french toast” as “freedom toast”.
More recently, Germany and France have resisted Washington’s lead over how to confront Russia and China.
Early in the Biden administration, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confronted Germany over its agreement with Russia to build a new gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, and demanded the deal be stopped. Germany refused and the US backed down.
Russia’s major exports are oil and gas, and these are the areas it mainly competes with the US on, economically. However, the US is much more concerned with competition with China, for technology and trade.
The US has now zeroed in on its “New Cold War” with China as its major concern. The new military pact with Australia and Britain is an escalation.
Germany and France want to balance relations between Beijing and Washington, and do not want to be drawn into a bloc against China. They have resisted US pressure against trade deals with China, which are important to both. France’s trade with China now eclipses that of the US.
Fareed Zakaria, commentator on foreign policy for CNN, wrote in the Washington Post: “After almost eight months of watching policies, rhetoric and crises, many foreign observers have been surprised — even shocked — to discover that, in area after area, Biden’s foreign policy is a faithful continuation of Donald Trump’s and a repudiation of Barack Obama’s.
“Some of this dismay is a consequence of the abrupt and unilateral manner in which Biden withdrew from Afghanistan. A German diplomat told me that, in his view, Berlin was consulted more by the Trump administration than this one. Some are specific actions, such as the submarine deal, which has enraged France.
“But the growing concerns go well beyond any one episode. A senior European diplomat noted that, in dealings with Washington on everything from [COVID-19] vaccines to travel restrictions, the Biden policies were ‘America First’ in logic whatever the rhetoric.
“A Canadian politician said that, if followed, Biden’s ‘Buy American’ plans are actually more protectionist than Trump’s.
“Despite having criticized Trump’s tariffs repeatedly, Biden has kept nearly all of them. (In fact, many have been expanded since most exemptions to them have been allowed to expire.) Key Asian allies keep pressing Biden to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership — much praised by him when the Obama administration negotiated it. Instead, it has been shelved.”
Zakaria also took Biden to task over his failure to rejoin the Iran deal, despite having criticized Trump for withdrawing from it. “Having long argued against trying to renegotiate the deal, Biden officials now want to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ it”, he wrote.
On Cuba, Zakaria criticised Biden for further tightening sanctions, not because he supports the Cuban Revolution, but because he sees sanctions and the US policy of isolating Cuba as having “strengthened the communist regime”.
Zakaria is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a US ruling-class think tank, and is a firm supporter of US imperialism. His article indicates that there is resistance to Biden’s continuation of Trump’s foreign policy among ruling-class thinkers in the US.
Biden also continues Trump’s (and previous administrations’) racist policies towards Latin American migrants, most recently asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Biden continues Trump’s policy of keeping thousands of asylum seekers in Mexico so they cannot cross the border. He has also begun to deport more people who make it into the US than Trump did.
Biden is now deporting thousands of refugees from Haiti, who crossed the border fleeing that country’s disintegration and the impacts of the recent earthquake. There have been shocking scenes of brutal attacks by border patrol agents on horseback chasing down and whipping Black Haitians.
The conditions asylum seekers from Central America and now Haiti are fleeing are the results of more than a century of US imperialist exploitation in the region, including wars and military occupations, imposition of corrupt dictatorial regimes, and more.
Those who hoped Biden would at least reverse some of Trump’s foreign policies are getting a rude awakening.