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The new Indo-Pacific security pact between the US, UK and Australia is an “insult to a Nato partner” and US president Joe Biden is treating allies in the same way his predecessor Donald Trump did, according to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s longtime foreign policy adviser.
Christoph Heusgen told the Financial Times that the new security alliance, dubbed Aukus, had led to a “big loss of trust” in the Biden administration. “And I don’t know whether that loss has been sufficiently outweighed by the supposed increase in regional security,” he added.
Heusgen’s comments mark Germany’s political establishment’s most stinging public rebuke of the US over the Aukus affair. Publicly Merkel’s government has been restrained in its criticism of Washington, although in private, officials have expressed solidarity with Paris.
Designed to confront growing Chinese power in the Indo-Pacific region, Aukus plunged relations between the US and France into crisis, with Paris recalling its ambassadors to the US, UN and Australia in protest. France, which considers itself an Indo-Pacific power, was furious it had not been informed about — and had been excluded from — the security pact.
Paris was also angry that as part of the agreement, Australia said it was cancelling a A$50bn Franco-Australian contract for 12 diesel submarines that had been five years in the making, and would instead develop at least eight nuclear-powered subs with the US and UK.
Biden later offered an olive branch to Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, as the two countries scrambled to soothe the tensions that had erupted over Aukus.
In a joint statement issued after a call between the two leaders on Wednesday, they said they had agreed to work on creating “conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives”. The two presidents also said they would meet in Europe at the end of October.
Heusgen said the Aukus announcement “was all the more irritating because one had expected from Biden, based on his public statements, that he would adopt a different style to Trump, in terms of co-operation with his partners”.
One of Germany’s best-known and most experienced diplomats, Heusgen played a critical role in the Minsk peace process which initiated a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine in 2014. He switched from the chancellery to become Germany’s ambassador to the UN in 2017 and served in the post for four years.
Heusgen returned to Berlin in June this year and is director of the board of the trustees of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), an annual gathering of world leaders, military chiefs, diplomats and spies that is known as the Davos of the world’s security and foreign policy elite. German media have reported that he is in the running to become the MSC’s next chair. He declined to comment on the reports.
Speaking to the FT and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Heusgen drew parallels between the Aukus deal and the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. In both cases, he said, “the US’s behaviour did not meet the expectations one had of the US government, which came into office with a promise to co-ordinate closely with allies”.
The former diplomat said it was “understandable” that Biden had wanted to “cut the high costs associated with the Afghanistan deployment, considering the many challenges he faces at home”. But “that didn’t justify executing the withdrawal just as his predecessor Trump [had planned], without co-ordinating with his allies”, he added.
Heusgen also said Germany should consider pulling the plug on its military mission to Mali, where it has about 1,000 troops participating in UN peacekeeping and EU training efforts, if governance in the north-west African country did not improve. He said Berlin needed to learn the lessons of its 20-year deployment in Afghanistan.
“We must put more pressure [on the authorities in Mali] to improve governance and fulfil their international obligations,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, then we have to get out.”
He said Mali’s government was “doing nothing to implement the peace agreement with the north”, and there was “one military putsch after another in Bamako”, the capital. “We are far away from good governance,” he said. “And if that’s the case then we will have no success with our military commitment.”