6th Jun 2023


AUKUS ruckus may blow over but transatlantic scars run deep

Listen to article

On the off-chance you are bored with the humanitarian crisis, chaos and uncertainty in Afghanistan, here's something to take your mind of life's grim stuff: AUKUS.

The headline-grabbing trilateral security alliance which brings together America's Joe Biden, Britain's Boris Johnson and Australia's Scott Morrisson - also known as the "fella Down Under" - AUKUS is now set to occupy our mindspace for… the next ten minutes.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • More than the 2008 financial crisis, the war in Syria, the mess in Libya or the cringe-inducing Trump years, the Afghan debacle has put an end to any magical belief in the West being able to provide benign global leadership

Yes, America is back.

But whatever Biden may have said at the UN General Assembly last week, diplomacy certainly isn't. Neither is trust.

There seems to have been a sort of half-hearted reconciliation between Biden and France's president Emmanuel Macron over the secretive US-Australia nuclear submarine deal, which scuppered Melbourne's earlier promise to buy French submarines.

But the scars run deep.

Fellow democracies – aka 'like-minded' nations - stabbing each other in the back is certainly not a good signal to send to a closely watching world.

For all the drama, the scenario was written in the stars.

Biden's moves to get back in the driver's seat as top global honcho was always going to rock an already-shaky transatlantic alliance.

Washington's globe-trotting emissaries may not have noticed but times have changed. And it's not just about the enhanced chirpiness of China and Russia and Turkey and Iran and Venezuela.

Even much-disdained Europe has not stood still after Biden's predecessor took a sledgehammer to EU-US ties.

More than the 2008 financial crisis, the war in Syria, the mess in Libya or the cringe-inducing Trump years, the Afghan debacle has put an end to any magical belief in the West being able to provide benign global leadership.

US/UK/Australia 'bromance'

Countries can see through the double standards. And they are especially irked when treated like clueless children in need of neo-colonial scoldings.

As Beijing is finding out, states don't like being subservient to an increasingly assertive China either.

Preoccupied with their glittering three-way bromance, 'Anglosphere' chiefs in Washington, London and Melbourne aren't having any of this anti-imperial 'wokeness'. Time, for them, has stood still.

Additionally, the AUKUS story – with the added lustre provided by Japan and India eagerly joining the anti-China "Quad" - is a godsend to those exhausted by all the depressing Afghan stuff.

Others are relieved. Reporting on geopolitical grandstanding is less harrowing than covering the tragic spectacle of desperate people jumping off planes or reflecting on the grim future facing hapless Afghan refugees as they seek out new homes.

AUKUS offers an old-fashioned rose-tinted picture of good guys ganging up against a nasty foreign enemy, democrats against autocrats, secretive arms deals and nuclear submarines.

Boys will be boys.

Thanks to the French, we have now also witnessed a masterclass in the art of the Great Geopolitical Sulk. So, please, what's there not to love?

Luckily, despite initial anger and passion some of the nastier EU reflexes, including postponing a much-touted meeting of the first Transatlantic Trade and Tech Council, have been shelved.

Not clear yet is whether France will succeed in putting off EU plans for a trade deal with Australia.

Europeans' indignation and sense of injury are understandably heightened by the tongue lashing they received from 'Anglosphere' officials, think-tankers and journalists over last year's EU investment deal inked with China.

And how frustrating also that the story of AUKUS was revealed just as the EU, after months of hard work, was finally ready to go public with its much-anticipated new Indo-Pacific strategy.

But despite the hand-wringing and the angst, EU policymakers would be well-advised not to be put off by curmudgeonly nay-sayers.

The public unveiling of bloc's much-touted Indo-Pacific outreach may have been over-shadowed by excitement over AUKUS but that's par for the course.

What matters is that Indo-Pacific countries, which are just as wary as the EU is about being squeezed between the US and China, want to trade with Europe, host European investors and yes, even talk to the EU about things like piracy, illegal fishing and maritime awareness.

Despite all that talk of submarines, frigates, warships and preparations for war – cold or hot - the real story of the Indo-Pacific is about peaceful economic integration.

Significantly, China and Taiwan have applied to join the 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) that the US walked away from under Trump. Countries across the region (minus India) are also members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The Indo-Pacific's connectivity agenda may be dominated by China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) but Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are also busy building transport networks in the region while the EU's "Global Gateway" initiative is attracting attention.

Still, the EU would be wise not to become too complacent about its Indo-Pacific future. The emphasis on ASEAN is important but excluding central and south Asia from the strategy is clumsy and self-defeating.

As US-China rivalries heat up, Europeans will be asked to join all kinds of new and exciting macho military alliances to show the world just who is boss.

The temptation to join the bandwagon should be resisted.

As Afghanistan has just sadly illustrated, there are times when military power is of limited use. And that's a message for Beijing and Washington and its Anglosphere allies.

Author bio

Shada Islam is an independent EU analyst and commentator who runs her own strategy and advisory company New Horizons Project.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Afghan withdrawal may spark ex-forces terrorism in Europe

Right-wing extremist narratives thrive on the US's swift withdrawal from Afghanistan. They may gain traction particularly among soldiers and veterans of Western armed forces, some of which have in the past been confronted with right-wing radicalisation among their troops.

EU pitches infrastructure investment plan to rival China

Ursula von der Leyen launched a global investment operation directed at infrastructure and transport. Its aim is to compete with the China's Belt and Road. "We want to create links and not dependencies," she said.

Australian PM wants EU-style bloc for Asia-Pacific

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has suggested that Asia and Pacific countries, including the region's heavyweights such as China, India and Japan, form a regional bloc similar to the European Union.

US will not delay Kabul pull-out, Biden tells Western allies

Western allies hope that the leverage of not recognising the Taliban, which would mean withholding funds, would be enough to tame the extremist group that took over Afghanistan after 20 years of Nato and US involvement.


'Brussels So White' needs action, not magical thinking

A commitment to fighting racism cannot go hand in hand with 'Fortress Europe' policies which demonise black, brown and Muslim refugees and migrants or with rights violations linked to Frontex pushbacks.


Biden's 'democracy summit' is a risky venture

"America is back" may have soothed souls in the past but today's world is a 'mix and match' one where nations don't want a binary choice between aligning with the US, or becoming part of Beijing's orbit.

The EU needs to foster tech — not just regulate it

The EU's ambition to be a digital superpower stands in stark contrast to the US — but the bigger problem is that it remains far better at regulation than innovation, despite decades of hand-wringing over Europe's technology gap.

Latest News

  1. Final steps for EU's due diligence on supply chains law
  2. Top EU court rules Poland's court reforms 'infringe law'
  3. Sweden's far-right is most anti-Green Deal party in EU
  4. Strengthening recovery, resilience and democracy in regions, cities and villages
  5. Why Hungary cannot be permitted to hold EU presidency
  6. Subcontracting rules allow firms to bypass EU labour rights
  7. Asylum and SLAPP positions in focus This WEEK
  8. Spanish PM to delay EU presidency speech due to snap election

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us