What is AUKUS? Why has the deal been struck? And why is France so angry?

16 September 2021, 13:48 | Updated: 17 September 2021, 17:55

Aukus will provide Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, but the French aren't too happy about it
Aukus will provide Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, but the French aren't too happy about it. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Scott Morrison have struck a deal to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

Britain and the US have come together to provide Canberra with technology to improve the defence partnership between the three countries.

The three leaders held a joint press conference on Wednesday evening outlining the details of the deal, which will see Australia become the seventh nation to operate nuclear-powered subs, after the US, UK, France, China, India and Russia.

However, the deal has caused diplomatic divisions both close to home and far afield.

So what is Aukus? Why has the nuclear-powered submarine deal been struck? And why is France so angry about it?

Read more: UK joins new alliance with US and Australia to take on China

Read more: French fury and China warns of arms race over nuclear pact

What is the Aukus deal?

Canberra, Washington and Westminster have agreed to join forces in building a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, using technology provided by the US.

The new Indo-Pacific Aukus pact will see the three nations "defend our shared interests" in the region and "bring us closer than ever" in terms of security, technologies and advances being made in defence-related science.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the defence partnership would also drive jobs and prosperity for all those involved, including back in the UK.

Aukus will cover artificial intelligence and other technologies and will focus on military capability, rather than intelligence, which is covered by the Five Eyes alliance, that also includes Canada and New Zealand.

Why has the Aukus deal been struck?

Many see the pact as an effort to combat an increasingly powerful China and send a message to President Xi Jinping, who has become more assertive in the region.

Mr Johnson said the partnership will help defend British interests in the eastern hemisphere and protect "our people back at home", as well as providing jobs.

Likewise, a joint statement by the three leaders said the pact will "sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region".

Aukus will also provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines that will give its navy the ability to operate undetected for longer periods underwater.

And with Beijing expanding its military, surface fleet and aircraft - plus becoming ever-more protective of the South China Sea - the move will help keep the Far East nation in check.

Why is France upset at the Aukus deal?

France has accused Australia of a "stab in the back" after they scrapped plans to buy £43 billion (€50bn) worth of conventional French diesel-electric submarines.

In a joint statement, foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and armed forces minister Florence Parly accused the US, in facilitating a defence pact with Canberra, of excluding a European ally in the effort to bring stability to the region.

"It's a stab in the back. We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed," Mr Le Drian said in an interview on Thursday.

"This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do," he continued.

"It's a break in trust and I am extremely angry."

What has China said about Aukus?

Beijing has displayed its indignation at the move by accusing the three western allies of being stuck in "their cold war mentality and ideological prejudice".

The Chinese embassy in Washington DC warned against them building "exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties".

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it "seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race", while also branding Aukus "extremely irresponsible".