Australia pulled out from a defense contract with France because it had “deep and grave” concerns about the capability of the French-designed Attack-class submarine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday.
On Wednesday, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia announced a new security partnership, AUKUS. As part of a new pact, the US and the UK will help Australia develop its own nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which effectively ends Canberra’s $66 billion deal with France on 12 submarines.
Paris has slammed the turnaround on the contract, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian describing Australia’s withdrawing from the contract as a “stab in the back.”
“They would have had every reason to know that we have deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack-class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interest and we had made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest,” Morrison told a press briefing, as aired by the 9News broadcaster.
Australia had been making its concerns clear for some time, Morrison said.
“This was an issue that had been raised by me directly some months ago and we continued to talk those issues through, including by defense ministers and others. There had been a range of issues earlier in the contract and throughout the contract that we … discussed on numerous occasions,” the prime minister said.
The “strategic judgment based on the best possible of intelligence and defense advice” was that French-designed submarines would not be the best choice, Morrison said.
“And so, therefore, going forward, when we’re able to secure a supreme submarine capability to support our defense operations, it would have been negligent for us not to,” the prime minister said.
Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment, but stressed that the decision was about protecting Australia’s interests. “I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. I never will,” Morrison said.
The French foreign minister said Paris wanted to hear clarifications from Australia and the US. On Friday, Le Drian announced that Paris was recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the US for consultations.
Earlier, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Saturday she spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the new Australian-UK-US defense and security partnership (AUKUS) and Afghanistan, among other topics.
“[The United Kingdom and the United States] are close friends and allies. Great speaking to [Blinken] on issues including welcoming our new AUKUS partnership, continuing to work together on Afghanistan, working to deepen trade and security partnerships with our allies,” Truss said on Twitter.