The French president Emmanuel Macron proposed to the Australian premier Anthony Albanese to build in France four submarines with conventional propulsion for the Royal Australian Navy to avoid the capacitive gap created by the agreement Aukuswhich involves the acquisition of nuclear-powered vessels from the United Kingdom or the United States.
Australian sources say Macron’s offer came on the occasion of Albanese’s trip to Paris last month: a crucial meeting that restored the bilateral ties between Australia and France that had been broken when Scott Morrison tore up the French value project. of 90 billion dollars for the construction of twelve type submarines Barracuda Shortfin diesel-electric propulsion of the hunter / killer (SSK) type, the conventional version of the equivalent nuclear-powered boats in service in the Marine Nationale.
The boats should have been provided by Naval Group, but the Australian government has preferred to rely on its historical geostrategic partners to replace its line of Collins-class submarines, which are rapidly becoming obsolete, with nuclear-powered ones (such as SSN, therefore from attack) which could be the US Virginia or the Smart Brits. We have already had the opportunity to tell how the Canberra decision was not really a “bolt from the blue”: the Barracuda Shortfin program was “born under a bad star” due to the continuous delays accumulated, also for issues related to intellectual property, and of the consequent increase in costs, but the decision of the Australian government was not liked by the Elysée, which triggered what was a real diplomatic rift that has been recomposed only in recent months.
In May, President Macron said he was willing to collaborate with the new Albanian prime minister to “rebuild” relations between France and Australia. In a telephone conversation, the two leaders agreed to “rebuild a bilateral relationship based on trust and respect” and that the two nations will work together on pressing global issues, including climate change and strategic challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. “A roadmap will be prepared to structure this new bilateral agenda … to strengthen our resilience and contribute to regional peace and security,” the Elysée statement read. The first result of this new viaticum was the agreement of compensation for the failed order, amounting to 835 million dollars but apparently Paris has returned to propose other submarines to Canberra in conjunction with the visit to Sidney of Rear Admiral Nicolas Vaujour, who met the Chief of Staff of the Australian Defense Angus Campbell and other military leaders. The French admiral appears to have said that the acquisition of nuclear submarines will be “much more difficult” than the now tattered plan of building a new fleet of conventionally propelled boats. The issues are multiple and linked both to the complexity of the technology, which requires differently trained crews, and to the necessary support installations necessary for the maintenance of the future nuclear-powered submarine fleet.
The admiral also reported that “there is a great advantage in[avere] a nuclear submarine: you can stay at sea for a long time, but it means you have to have a large industry, supply chains and so on within your country to be able to use it ”. The senior official, as a geopolitical note, also reiterated the strategic vision community of France and Australia, which have “the same opinion on the Indo-Pacific” because “we have a common destiny” linked to the challenges to the security and stability of the region posed by China. The Indo-Pacific, in fact, is a priority region for Paris due to its overseas possessions of New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
Right there challenge launched by China it was the engine that prompted Australia to sign the Aukus and to search for the SSNs, more performing for ocean patrols than the SSNs, but we still don’t know what nuclear submarines will be for the Royal Australian Navy and who will supply them. The decision by the United States (or United Kingdom) to sell NHS to a country that does not already have nuclear technology, could however open a Pandora’s box in the field of atomic proliferation.
At the first working meeting of the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) conference, Indonesia presented a document on “nuclear naval propulsion” as the issue deserves “serious attention”, because nuclear-powered submarines use enriched uranium beyond above civilian reactors, including those usable for weapons. Last week, Indonesian Ambassador Tri Tharyat, without mentioning Australia, said that sharing nuclear propulsion technology was a threat to the “integrity” and “credibility” of the NPT. Australia responded by saying that the partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom would “set the highest possible non-proliferation standards for naval nuclear propulsion.” The Chinese grievances in this regard, on the other hand, are somewhat out of place when we consider that Beijing is busily expanding its strategic nuclear arsenal, in violation of Article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty.
That said, the Aukus submarine agreement represents a previous one never seen before: no country without nuclear weapons has ever operated nuclear-powered submarines. The only time in history in which a similar event was emerging concerns Italy: we are talking about the program for the “Guglielmo Marconi” submarine, later blocked by the United States due to French pressure, and the use of ballistic missiles Polaris type on the cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi (4 vertical launch tubes had been installed on the unit and successfully tested with launch of inert simulacra of the carrier).
The sale of NHS to Australia could therefore blur the line between those who use nuclear weapons and those who don’t. Furthermore, no country with nuclear weapons has ever helped a non-nuclear state with this technology, so in the future there may be other similar cases in imitation, thus opening up unpredictable scenarios when it comes to China and Russia. Being Australia, we know that with the support of the United States and the United Kingdom, Canberra will negotiate an agreement with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to maintain compliance with the NPT, but it is not possible to guarantee the same goodwill for other third parties. .