Sunday, May 19, 2024
HomeGeopolitical CompassEurope, Russia, Oceania‘BrOthers in Arms’: France, the Anglosphere, and AUKUS

‘BrOthers in Arms’: France, the Anglosphere, and AUKUS

Authors: Jack Holland, Eglantine Stanton

Affiliation: University of Leeds

Organization/Publisher: International Affairs

Date/Place: February 5, 2024/UK

Word Count: 10004


Keywords: France, China, US, UK, Australia, Indo-Pacific, AUKUS, Ontological Security, Exceptionalism


This article focuses on French-Anglosphere relations by examining AUKUS (AUstralia-UK-US), a tripartite alliance between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia to counterbalance China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific region in 2021. To that end, Holland and Stanton conceptualize what they call ‘BrOthers in Arms’ encapsulating the nature of the relationship between France and the Old Anglosphere (UK, US, and Australia).

Drawing upon an analysis of 540 political and media texts and 37 semi-interviews, the article tries to tackle the question of why AUKUS, an alliance established for the purpose of defending the liberal order, would sideline France, a reliable ally with mutual aims, in a manner that risks future cooperation? The question is even more puzzling when taking into consideration the fact that France has been promoting itself as a key player/middle power in the Indo-Pacific region, and has even led the intervention charge in countries such as Libya, Syria, and Mali. 

First, the article breaks down the brOther-in-arms-style relationship, secondly, it expands on the exceptionalism of each of the four countries, explaining how those exceptionalisms led to France being sidelined, and finally looks at AUKUS as a case study.

The idea of brotherhood has been used both on the national level to invoke a sense of co-nationalism, and on the international level to promote solidarity in a civilizational context. The Anglosphere has been a good example of “a brotherhood of body and mind.” However, this does not apply to France-Anglosphere relations. That is, France and the Anglosphere countries have always been allies united by mutual interests, hence the term brOthers in arms. Therefore, the term implies two things: mutual interests with an implicit recognition of otherness. In short, a brOther in arms is neither a brother nor an other.

In this context, the article bases its argument on the idea of ontological security, namely the need for a consistent, familiar and sustainable story of the self, which can be further affirmed by a sense of the Other. This act of “storying” is effective and habitual, and collectively structures world politics. However, there is no such thing as complete ontological security, as nations are in constant need to seek ontological security. 

France-Anglosphere relations are shaped, the article argues, by the exceptionalism of each of the four nations of France, the US, the UK, and Australia. As the article puts it, the relationship is unique, complementary, competitive, and co-constitutive: They “fight together readily and frequently in pursuit of mutual goals due to the complementarity of their exceptionalist (universalist) objectives, yet they compete with each other for influence and ascendancy due to precisely these similar aims and understandings. They are also co-constitutive, relying on each other to narrate and construct a sense of Self in pursuit of ontological security. France and the Anglosphere are ‘brOthers in arms’, defined in mutual contradistinction to their allies.”

Then, the article tries to highlight the exceptionalism of each of the four countries. First, Australia defines its exceptionalism on three main themes: its “mate-ship” to the Anglosphere, the torn relationship between its history and geography, and its involvement in the allies’ key military campaigns of Gallipoli in 1915-16 and Kokoda in 1942. Meanwhile, the UK is currently going through a crescendo in its sense of exceptionalism as it turns from the EU to the Anglosphere, which the article sees as ontological security-seeking behavior. The US is what the article calls a “par excellence exceptional state”. That is, the US has shaped its historical narrative on the idea of it being an exceptional state, which includes a number of aspects, but most notably geography and ideology. This sense of exceptionalism has made the US view itself as the leader of the free world, trying to shape it in its image. Similarly, France’s sense of exceptionalism is complex and multifaceted. That is to say, France has promoted the narrative that it is more than a middle power, as grounded in a number of facts, such as being the homeland of human rights, having a permanent seat on the Security Council, being a nuclear power, as well as its economic status, cultural influence, global territory, and military interventions. Particularly, France has long tried to demonstrate influence in the Indo-Pacific region, where it has over two million French citizens and 7,000 troops. This means that the US and France’s exceptionalism is both complimentary but competitive, with both perceiving oneself as the guardian of the international order. As the authors put it, “The US and France clash so often not because of their difference but because of their exceptionalist similarities.”

In that context, France has maintained a rhetoric of dismissiveness towards the US, describing their relationship as “friends, allies, but not aligned”. For instance, Macron said in a 2020 interview: “France and the EU are ‘not the United States of America. They are our historical allies … but … our values are not quite the same. We have an attachment to social democracy, to more equality … culture is more important [for us].” Moreover, France has proposed an alternative third way in the Indo-Pacific that does not completely align with either the US or China.

AUKUS, which the article describes as an “urgent and contemporary case study for France-Anglosphere relations,” is a security partnership focused on military technology. It was founded for two primary reasons: to counteract China, and to protect the liberal order. Expectedly, France has expressed anger, betrayal, and surprise, especially given that France and Australia had been engaged in security talks. Ultimately, AUKUS cost France “the contract of the century”, a $90 billion contract for 12 attack submarines, and comprised French interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

AUKUS was the outcome of both external threats and internal cultural intimacy between the Old-Anglosphere countries. This manifests itself in a number of facets, including shared history of allying together in conflicts, shared values, common language, and deep institutional links. For one, these three countries share the highest levels of intelligence and information, including the Five Eyes agreement. Furthermore, there are more links between the three navies of these countries than with any other navy. As the article puts it, “While AUKUS is new, the foundation upon which it was built are deep and enduring, to the exclusion of others even close allies such as France.” As the brOther in arms concept demonstrates, by acknowledging Anglo-sphere symmetry, you necessarily acknowledge asymmetry with France. 

The article argues that France was left out of AUKUS for three main reasons. The first is what Washington sees as its unique, and sometime confusing approach to China. Secondly, France failed to convince the AUKUS countries that it is a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, as one Australian defense academic puts it: “I don’t think that the Americans see a need to consult the French on Indo- Pacific issues.” Third, there is a perception is that France is a self-interested and fickle player.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that France feels more betrayed and frustrated out of feeling sidelined and because of Australia’s clumsy handling of the situation, as it changed its position “in a very dramatic way”, more than any genuine desire to be part of AUKUS. This is because joining AUKUS would have undermined France’s ontological security and its ambitions to be a key player in the Indo-Pacific region. In a geopolitical sense as well, France lost the contract of the century and jeopardized its Indo-Pacific strategy as mentioned earlier. In its statement on AUKUS, France expressed its intentions to focus more on its European sovereignty project. 

The article concludes that nonetheless “France and the old Anglosphere coalition need each other—both in co-constitutive discursive relationality and to cooperatively tackle some of the twenty-first century’s most significant global challenges. Tensions will continue to intermittently bubble over, not least when French aspirations to global significance are threatened, but France and the Anglosphere remain ‘doomed to cooperate’.”

By: Hamza Ghadban, CIGA Research Intern



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -
Google search engine

Most Popular