Biden's love affair with Europe seems to have ended abruptly with the unveiling of this week. AUKUS is a notable exception to France and the European Union. It's just one of a number of steps that have shocked Europe, going back as far as Afghanistan.
Biden, who promised European leaders that America would "be back" and that multilateral diplomacy will guide U.S. foreign policies, has now alienated many allies by his unilateral approach to key issues. France's foreign minister was shocked by the move and called it a "stab in his back". The EU's chief of foreign policy complained that Europe hadn't been consulted.
Under the terms of the initiative, France will lose nearly $100 billion to build diesel submarines in Australia. Britain and France help Canberra build nuclear-powered submarines.
French anger at China on a commercial basis would be understandable. France is the only European country to have significant territorial possessions in the Pacific since the handover of Hong Kong by Britain to China 1997.
Officials from France and the European Union went even further and said that the agreement reaffirms the need for continued cooperation to counter China's increasing influence.
Many have compared Biden’s recent actions with those of Donald Trump's predecessor under Trump's "America First” doctrine. This is surprising considering that Biden, a man who has a deep understanding of international affairs, ran for the White House promising to repair strained ties with his allies and restore U.S. credibility at the global stage.
It's difficult to predict the extent of damage, but it seems that this short-term effect has rekindled European suspicions about American intentions. This could have implications for Biden’s larger goal to unify democracies against authoritarianism. The focus was primarily on China, and Russia.
Three months ago, Biden, his first trip to Europe as president, was heralded as a hero by European counterparts looking to overcome the trans-Atlantic tensions that characterized the Trump years. However, many have lost that sense of relief and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now on her way out.
Biden, America's oldest ally, has upset France by leaving Poland and Ukraine to question the U.S. security commitment. He also upset the European Union with unilateral decisions that range from Afghanistan to East Asia. While Europe was cheering when Biden promised to resume nuclear negotiations with Iran, and to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks, these efforts have remained stalled nine months later.
Although the seeds of discontent were planted in spring, they bloomed in July after Biden agreed to a Russia to-Germany gas pipeline that will bypass Poland and Ukraine. Then in August, with the chaotic U.S. withdrawal form Afghanistan which left Europe scrambling for a way to continue its work after it expressed reservations about the pullout.
Biden angered France and the European Union by announcing that the U.S. would be joining Australia and Britain post-Brexit in an Indo-Pacific security initiative to counter China's growing aggression in the region.
China's furious reaction was not surprising. It accused the U.S. of starting a project that would destabilize the Pacific and threaten global security. However, Brussels and Paris had equally harsh reactions. Both sides complained that they were not only exempted from the agreement, but also not consulted about it.
White House and Secretary-of-State Antony Blinken claim that France was informed of the decision prior to Wednesday's announcement. However, it wasn't clear exactly when. Blinken stated Thursday that conversations had taken place with France within the last 24 to 48 hours about the decision, which suggests there was not an in-depth consultation.
Jean-Yves Le Drian was the French Foreign Minister. He extolled America's "excellent news for us all" and expressed "total incomprehension at the announcement of this initiative." He said, "It was really an inflection in the back." It looks very much like Trump's.
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, dismissed the comparison. She said that the president does not think about it as much. The president is focused on maintaining and enhancing our relationships with leaders in France, Australia, and the United Kingdom and achieving our global goals, including security in the Indo-Pacific.
Josep Borrell, EU chief of foreign policy, echoed the complaints of the French minister in Brussels. "I assume that an agreement of such nature wasn't made the day before yesterday." He said that it takes some time and, despite that, we were not consulted." "This forces us to reflect once more on the importance of putting European strategic autonomy high up on the agenda."
The 27-member European Union released a new strategy for boosting economic, military, and political ties in the Indo-Pacific on Thursday, hours after Australia, Britain, and the U.S. announced it. The EU stated that the goal is to improve maritime security and strengthen economic relations. The EU stated that it hopes the strategy will lead to more European naval deployments in the region.
On Thursday, U.S. officials ignored complaints from France and the EU.
Psaki stated that there are many partnerships that include France and others that don’t. They also have partnerships with countries that don’t include us. This is how global diplomacy works.
Blinken, speaking alongside Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary and Australian foreign ministers said that there is no "regional divide" between Europe and Asia over Indo-Pacific strategy. He said that European countries play an important role in Indo-Pacific, and called France a "vital partnership".
It remains to be seen how close they will cooperate.