Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France

Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France
© Getty

It's Thursday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

French officials are furious over the Biden administration’s decision to scrap a $40 billion nuclear submarine deal that the European nation had signed with Australia, lashing out at President BidenJoe BidenGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Sanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE over a perceived hidden deal that sidelined Paris. 

We’ll break down what caused the rift, how the French have reacted and the U.S. government’s response.

For The Hill, we’re Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel. Write to us with tips: emitchell@thehill.com and rkheel@thehill.com

Let’s get to it.

France cancels DC gala over sub snub 

French officials on Thursday canceled a gala at the country’s Washington, D.C., embassy over the Biden administration’s decision to scrap a $40 billion nuclear submarine deal that the European nation had signed with Australia, The New York Times reported.

The U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom on Wednesday announced a new trilateral security partnership in the Indo-Pacific, with the three planning to launch an 18-month review exploring how Australia could best acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

But France — which had worked on the submarines since 2016 in a $40 billion deal to replace aging Australian subs — was left behind in the deal.

The reaction: Now, Paris has angrily scrapped the “240th Anniversary of the Battle of the Capes” event meant to take place Friday evening at the French Embassy and aboard a French frigate in Baltimore, a French official told the Times. The event was meant to celebrate the French navy's aid to America's fight for independence in 1781.

Following the perceived snub, France’s top naval officer, who had traveled to Washington for the gala, will return to Paris early.

The White House’s response: Asked about France’s displeasure later on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden remarks on Taiwan leave administration scrambling Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight MORE said that the United States values its relationship and partnership with France “on a variety of issues facing the global community.”

She cited cooperation on economic and security issues and the coronavirus pandemic, and maintained that the Biden administration was engaged with French officials “in advance of the announcement.”

Psaki also indicated that President Biden would speak with French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronBiden speaks with Macron, Harris to meet with French president in Paris French ambassador to Australia blasts sub deal with US: 'Way you treat your allies does resonate' America's subplot and Europe caught in the undertow MORE “soon” but said she had no calls with French officials to preview. 

Concerns brushed aside: Asked later what Biden thinks about the French foreign minister comparing him to former President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE and the French cancelling the gala, Psaki answered that Biden “doesn’t think about it much” and that he is focused on maintaining the U.S. relationship with France, the U.K. and Australia.

She also said a handful of times that it was Australia's decision to seek nuclear-powered submarine technology.

Other assurances: Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Nearly 200 Americans want to leave Afghanistan, State Department tells Congress Syria's challenge to Tony Blinken's conscience MORE also on Thursday sought to assure France, saying it was a vital partner, according to remarks made after he spoke with Australian foreign and defense ministers in Washington, Reuters reported.

No hiding it: France has made no secret of its displeasure over being left out of the triad.

Earlier on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the decision was “a stab in the back.”

“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do," Le Drian told franceinfo radio, according to Reuters. “I am angry and bitter. This isn't done between allies.”

The problem: At issue is whether the U.S. government sought to hide its submarine deal from the French, who had their own now-scrapped multibillion-dollar deal with Australia, meant to be stretched out over 50 years.

French officials are accusing the Biden administration or shrouding information about its deal with the United Kingdom and Australia despite French diplomats' repeated attempts to find out more about any such plans.  

A French official told the Times that Paris sought to speak with Blinken and national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanSullivan raised normalizing relations with Israel during meeting with Saudi crown prince: report Biden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — World leaders call for enhanced cooperation to fight wave of ransomware attacks MORE but were unable to. 

Read the full story here.


Former French Ambassador Gérard Araud took a swipe at Blinken Thursday after he said France was still a "vital partner" amid the fallout from a new western security alliance.  

Blinken's comment was an attempt to ease France's anger after the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom established a security partnership that excluded France, and scrapped a $40 billion deal for Australia to purchase French submarines. 

"We are deeply moved..." the former ambassador sarcastically wrote on Twitter after the Agence France-Presse, a French news agency, tweeted Blinken's statement.


China on Thursday condemned the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia’s move to join a security partnership, saying it is “severely damaging regional peace.”

The partnership is "severely damaging regional peace and stability, intensifying an arms race, and damaging international nuclear nonproliferation efforts,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday, according to Reuters

"China will closely watch the situation's development,” he added.

No partnerships, please: Zhao says countries shouldn’t be forming partnerships that directly target another nation, although all three countries did not mention China in the announcement of the move.

Jan. 6 panel says it’s reviewing Milley’s actions

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General <span class=Mark MilleyMark MilleyPoll: New Hampshire Senate race tight Republicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' We've left Afghanistan — but its consequences are just starting to arrive MORE leaves a closed-door briefing with members of the House regarding the situation in Afghanistan and the evacuation effort on Tuesday, August 24, 2021." width="645" height="363" data-delta="32" /> 

The House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol confirmed Thursday that it was reviewing the actions of Joint Chief of Staff Mark Milley and other Pentagon officials following reporting examining his maneuvering during former President Donald Trump’s final days in office.

What sparked it: A forthcoming book details how Milley twice called his Chinese counterpart following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to assure him Trump did not have plans to attack Beijing as part of a ploy to remain in power — sparking new calls for the general to resign.

The book “Peril,” by veteran journalist Bob Woodward and The Washington Post's Robert Costa also claims that Milley moved to limit Trump’s ability to call for a military strike or launch nuclear weapons after the riot.

The reasoning: “The facts surrounding steps taken at the Pentagon to protect our security both before and after January 6th are a crucial area of focus for the Select Committee. Indeed, the Select Committee has sought records specifically related to these matters and we expect the Department of Defense to cooperate fully with our probe,” Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonSunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Manchin heatedly dismisses rumors of leaving Democratic Party Bannon eyed as key link between White House, Jan. 6 riot MORE (D-Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn Cheney'You're a joke': Greene clashes with Cheney, Raskin on House floor The 9 Republicans who voted to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress Cheney reveals GOP's Banks claimed he was Jan. 6 panel's ranking member MORE (R-Wyo.) said in a statement.

The committee pointed to an Aug. 24 request to the Department of Defense asking for a number of documents.

That includes asking for “all documents and communications from November 3, 2020, through January 20, 2021, relating to defying orders from the president” as well as any potential use of military power to impede or ensure the peaceful transfer of power before the Inauguration.

Read the full story here.

GOP wants testimony from Afghanistan watchdog

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are demanding a hearing to evaluate the chaotic exit from Afghanistan after securing a commitment to hear testimony from the inspector general tasked with reviewing U.S. military efforts in the country.

According to a letter obtained by The Hill, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko and all three inspectors general from the departments of Defense and State as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development have all agreed to appear before the committee.

Context: The request to schedule a hearing comes after Republicans asked Sopko to declassify the annexes of the watchdog's most recent quarterly reports on the Afghanistan reconstruction.

“​​These reports—particularly their classified annexes—present new information and valuable context regarding the security situation in Afghanistan,” Rep. James ComerJames (Jamie) R. ComerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Dip in COVID-19 cases offer possible sign of hope 'I was one of the lucky ones': Three Democrats recount their abortion stories to panel Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — Senators gear up for Facebook hearing MORE (R-Ky.), ranking member of the committee, wrote to Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyHouse passes bill to expand workplace protections for nursing mothers House Oversight Democrats ask NFL for information from investigation into Washington Football Team New York City helicopter complaints skyrocket MORE (D-N.Y.).

Earlier: The Oversight Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal, but on Sept. 10 it sent a letter to Sopko requesting he “conduct a review to examine the underlying causes that may have contributed to the rapid collapse last month of the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), any potential loss or compromise of U.S. reconstruction assistance resulting from the Taliban’s return to power, and the ramifications of the U.S. military and diplomatic withdrawal.”

Read the rest here.



That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. We’ll see you Friday.