Thu, 30 Mar 2023

A deal to send ammunition to Ukraine announced by France and Australia appears to have set in motion a new era of defence cooperation that aims to finally mend the relations between the two Indo-Pacific neighbours that were badly fractured by a row over submarines.

Laying to rest past grievances, the foreign and defence ministers of both countries spoke of the mutual respect, shared values and long history that underpinned the friendship - making it possible to turn the page on tensions provoked by Australia's 2021 reversal a major submarine deal.

During high-level ministerial talks at the French Foreign Ministry on Monday - the first since their diplomatic fallout - Paris and Canberra agreed to share the bill in the manufacture and supply of 155-millimetre artillery shells to Kyiv.

While precise details were kept vague, French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu said the delivery of several thousand shells would begin within the coming months, with Australia supplying the powder and France making the ammunition.

"We still have to wait to know quite how it's going to work in practice. They're keeping some of the operational elements of it private for now," said defence expert Alex Bristow of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a thintank in Canberra.

"I think this announcement signals that a new leaf has been turned over and that actually defence industry cooperation is crucial ... Even if it's not going to be in submarines, it's going to be taking place across a whole range of other areas."

Show of unity

Australian Defence Minister, Richard Marles, said the deal had been made possible thanks to the complementarities between the two countries' defence industrial bases.

He added it should be seen as a statement of how importantly Australia and France wanted to act together in their support for Ukraine.

The wider picture, however, is one of desired civic and military collaboration in the Indo-Pacific. France has overseas territories in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, where some 7,000 troops are stationed and it has made building geopolitical partnerships a priority.

Countering China

Its ambitions were dealt a significant blow when Australia struck the Aukus security pact with the United States and Britain to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.

The trilateral deal will see Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines and involves the sharing of sensitive defence technology.

Despite seeming detrimental for Franco-Australian cooperation in the region 18 months ago, Lecornu was adamant that Aukus would not block the capacity for future military cooperation.

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In fact, Australia and France have even agreed greater access to their respective Indo-Pacific defence facilities.

While it was unlikely that France would "tag on to Aukus", Bristow said Australia could potentially work with France on the same range of technology included in the deal such as artificial intelligence and hypersonic missiles.

"I think we do need a framework where the Japanese, the South Koreans, a whole range of Europeans could be all working together with the US, Australia and Britain on some of these technologies.

"So I'm actually quite hopeful that we're in a slightly new era."

Originally published on RFI

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