This morning, I came across an old song that I first heard many years ago, Never say never, which is perfect for today’s geopolitics. This could occur in the case of the French-Australian agreement on diesel-electric submarines. Even though it seemed impossible just a few months ago. In the words of Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it’s because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
According to French media, Emmanuel Macron is pulling the strings, attempting to sell submarines to Australia once more. This comes as no surprise. French presidents act like sales representatives for the French arms industry.
I recall former President François Hollande signing the sale of Rafale fight jets to India at the Elysée Palace a few years ago. This could be explained by a long history of close ties between the French state and large private corporations.Given Emmanuel Macron’s previous professional experience as a private banker dealing with high-profile clients, this is not surprising.
Meanwhile, during the G20 summit in Bali, where he met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the French offer to Australia for submarines remains on the table. Defending France’s position on exporting conventional submarines much sooner than the nuclear submarines that Canberra will probably receive one day under the AUKUS agreement with London and Washington.
French submarines may be in Australia regardless of the AUKUS deal
Australia is facing an increasingly complicated geopolitical situation in the Indo Pacific. Consider North Korea’s November 18, 2022, launch of a ballistic missile that, according to Japan, could even reach the US mainland, despite the 6,442 miles (10,367 km) separating the two countries.
This is much greater than the 4,532-mile distance between North Korea and Australia (7,293 km). The delivery time of the submarines is therefore critical for Australia’s national security. Furthermore, another French argument in the same direction is that Canberra could maintain its liberty and sovereignty for a period until the arrival of the Anglo-American nuclear submarines. Demonstrating, without a doubt, that governing entails making difficult decisions when necessary.
Especially on November 22, 2022, nearly nine months after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ushering humanity into a new era in which large-scale military operations cannot be ruled out. Even though this was a taboo subject for decades, and the world power game was primarily based on diplomacy, public statements and public relations, psychology, soft power, military exercises, and tough negotiations in front and behind the curtain. As a result, preparing military forces for a full-scale war has become the new reality of the twenty-first century.
Another massive military operation may start sooner than we think
There is no geopolitical analyst in the world today, who can underestimate the possibility of another massive military operation starting at any time.
The international media is buzzing with talk about rising military budgets, hybrid threats, and the need for a fresh look at national defense issues, no matter the country. What a profound change after a long period of asymmetrical wars, mostly between nations and small groups trying not only to control territories in Africa and the Middle East, but also to spread their ideology and way of thinking abroad, undermining public authorities and value systems in the process. The current situation, however, appears to be heading back into the future. A 19th-century old-fashioned style conflict between a great power and a weaker neighbor based on historical style arguments and assumptions about lost territories, with the goal of redefining national identities. It probably shows that humanity hasn’t learned from the 75,000,000 deaths of WWII.
Last week people were holding their breath when a missile struck the village of Przewodow in Poland, close to the Ukrainian border killing two. I thought that, after all, WWIII wasn’t merely a fantasy scenario anymore, but something that was almost inevitable.
Consequently, I believe that this puts a lot of pressure on Australian decision-makers when it comes to deciding which submarines to prioritize. What if a major crisis in the Indo-Pacific begins while their country lacks modern, high-performance submarines?
Certainly politics is the art of compromise. Having said that, the dilemma between a short-term and a long-term strategy seems critical, with a sword of Damocles hanging over Canberra for the foreseeable future.
Dr George Tassiopoulos is a Greek French political scientist, with a doctorate in political science from the University of East Paris. He was born in Athens, and has lived in France for the past 20 years where he teaches geopolitics in a business school in Paris.