On America’s side against China, at the center of an alliance of English-speaking countries and as a security player in Asia: The new military pact with Canberra and Washington shows how Great Britain intends to position itself on the world stage after Brexit.
The hasty American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan caught not only the NATO partners on the European mainland, but also Great Britain on the wrong foot in mid-August. High-ranking ministers, diplomats and members of the army made no secret of the fact that they disapproved of Washington’s actions and found the lack of consultation to be disrespectful. Conservative MPs covered Democrat Joe Biden with malicious criticism. Editorial writers spoke of a low point in the “special relationship” between Washington and London.
Balm for the British soul
But when Biden joined British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday evening received his first visit to the White House, the alarmist comments were almost forgotten again. Because a week ago Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA
launched a cooperation on future military technologies,
which Canberra is supposed to supply with American nuclear submarines and which worked like balm for the British soul.
The alliance with the acronym Aukus is a sign of deterrence against China. The British found themselves in their traditional role as close ally of Washington – and found themselves all the more pleased the more their arch-rivals in France were indignant about the loss of their own arms business with Australia and about Biden’s “betrayal”.
What role do the British play?
In 1958, Great Britain was the only country to date that the Americans had allowed the Americans to use their technology to build a nuclear submarine fleet. However, it is not entirely clear what specific role the UK will play in the new security pact. Johnson spoke of jobs for the production of submarines, but in France angry tongues described the British as “the fifth wheel on the wagon”. The fact that Paris withdrew its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra, but not from London, was intended to show that the British role was viewed as insignificant.
From a London perspective, however, the pact shows that the realignment of foreign policy after Brexit is taking shape. Under the catchphrase “Global Britain”, the government announced in the spring that after leaving the EU to increasingly turn to the Indo-Pacific region, to rely flexibly on new alliances and old alliances such as the Commonwealth and as an advocate of open societies and trade routes to oppose authoritarian governments.
The dispatch of the aircraft carrier HMS «Queen Elizabeth» in the Pacific Ocean, the reaction to the Chinese oppression of Hong Kong, which is closely coordinated with Australia and Canada, and efforts to incorporate the transpacific free trade agreement (CPTPP) have recently already been signs of this reorientation. While the EU is struggling to take a stance on China, London and Aukus are clearly on the American side, strengthening the cooperation between English-speaking countries as a link between Washington and Canberra and aligning themselves militarily more clearly than ever with Asia.
Hurry with a while with trade agreements
Aukus illustrates that, from the American point of view, Great Britain is a more reliable security partner than other European allies. The long-standing Five Eyes alliance for the exchange of intelligence information has always been limited to Anglo-Saxon countries. Admittedly, that does not mean that Biden fulfills all British wishes. The President made it clear to Johnson that Washington wants to prevent Brexit from endangering peace in Northern Ireland – with Biden of Irish descent openly sympathizing with Dublin’s position in the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
At the same time, Biden dampened hopes for a quick conclusion of a Free trade agreement with London. British diplomats now want to examine ways to join the trade agreement concluded in 2018 between the USA, Canada and Mexico. This cannot hide the fact that a trade agreement with London in Washington never enjoyed the priority that the Brexiteers had always spoken of in full-bodied terms, neither under Biden nor under his predecessor Donald Trump.
«Geography cannot be changed»
Greater than the disappointment over Biden’s rejections was in Great Britain but recently the glee about the malaise in France. Boris Johnson asked Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday to swallow his anger at Aukus, but France wants to mobilize the EU and is already threatening consequences in the Brexit pulling the rope around Northern Ireland.
Nine months after the final completion of Brexit, Johnson still has an electoral interest in Keeping the rivalry with the EU simmering – that’s one of the reasons why “Global Britain” is turning away from Europe. But level-headed voices like that of Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house, remind us of the importance of close security cooperation with France, also with a view to Russia and the Mediterranean region. «Europe remains important for us too», says Tugendhat, “because the geography cannot be changed.”
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