The Biden administration announced a deal to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines in an attempt to “reinforce alliances” and send a message to China. France on Thursday reacted with outrage to the announcements that the United States and Britain would help Australia develop submarines, and that Australia was withdrawing from a $66 billion deal to buy French-built submarines.
Charles Tiefer, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, is an expert on government contracting and the Arms Export Control Act. Tiefer says:
France suffered a crippling blow. Its sophisticated defense industry cannot survive with domestic sales alone. In 2015-2019, France made a whopping 72% gain in arms sales, fueled in part by submarine sales to India and Brazil, similar to what it just lost to Australia. But France’s arms sales abroad fell in 2020, much as the result of the global health crisis.
France has a vital role in world policing, particularly in the former French Northwest Africa, which the United States largely leaves to France’s forces. Without arms sales, the French military-industrial partnership has less power to do such policing.
The United States, Britain and Australia announced a security partnership for Australia to buy American nuclear-powered submarines and scrap the previous $40 billion French-designed submarine deal.
The United States regularly demonstrates the importance of arms sales abroad, including naval sales. In February 2020, President Trump demonstrated this by a trip to India to announce a sale of $3.5 billion, mainly in naval Seahawk helicopters.
American arms makers tout sales abroad, both for their own corporate bottom line and for American foreign influence, especially in an era when funding nation-building is somewhere between controversial and impossible.