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There is a fine line between a cold war and open warfare

Australian and American flags sit on the table during a meeting between Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on September 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia [Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
Australian and American flags sit on the table during a meeting between Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on September 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia [Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

When Australia cancelled its French submarine deal and replaced it with a US nuclear submarine deal, Switzerland followed a similar path, deciding to buy the F-35 aircraft from America instead of France's Dassault Rafale combat aircraft. Less than 24 hours later, Romania announced that it no longer wanted to sign a contract with France valued at $1.4 billion to build four Gowind navy corvettes. This coincided with the EU's announcement of a new strategy related to the Indo-Pacific region, in the framework of cooperation with its member states.

The new military alliance formed by the US, Britain and Australia — AUKUS — to confront China is within the framework of a specific American strategy. According to this, America's main military centre of gravity abroad will be Asia instead of the Middle East, which is full of problems, corruption and tribal conflicts, none of which concerns the US any longer. Hence, the US is no longer concerned with protecting its agents in the region. This is why it withdrew the Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia and cancelled an arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The only thing that matters to the US in the Middle East is the protection of Israel, which was created to protect its interests in the region, but the new alliance will serve this purpose, as it will lead to the expansion of its strategic regional role. Furthermore, the Abraham Accords and the "normalisation" of some Arab states with Israel has a part to play.

It is important to note that the announcement of the AUKUS alliance coincided with the Shanghai Cooperation Summit, and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation summit bringing together Russia and the Central Asian countries. This was an explicit declaration that a cold war exists between America and China, the signs of which were backed by whispers during the Trump presidency. Trump announced explicitly in the 2017 National Security Strategy that China is the main enemy of the US. Moreover, his administration sought to establish a four-way military alliance against China with Australia, Japan and India, the "QUAD" group, but after initial consultations, both Japan and Korea had reservations, as they feared retaliation from Beijing in the event that the US uses their land, air and sea space to launch attacks on the Chinese.

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This American strategy was developed during the Obama presidency, which stipulated the withdrawal of the US from Europe and the Middle East in order to focus on the power struggle with China, and for the focus of international conflict to be in the Far East. We can say that the AUKUS alliance is the first practical step to implement this new-old strategy. With Australia joining the alliance, there are seven countries that surround China — Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines — where there are nearly two hundred US military bases.

The AUKUS alliance angered the EU, not just France, which viewed it as a stab in the back because it is the first time that the US has established a military alliance that ignores NATO. The President of the European Commission said that neither NATO, the UN, nor proper crisis management is being seen at the appropriate time. The Europeans felt that the US had abandoned its commitments to defend the continent, or "old Europe" as former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld called it when it opposed the invasion of Iraq. Now, this old continent is crying and wailing from America's continued backstabbing, as the orphans of America are doing in the Arab region.

But why are they screaming and feeling betrayed by the US when they are the ones who started stabbing the US in the back? Didn't Germany buy oil and gas from Russia through the Northern Gas Stream project? Didn't France sign agreements to import Russian gas through Eastern Europe, preferring that over American gas? And didn't they sign trade deals with China at the same time that Trump launched a trade and technology war against China?

It is the scream of allies when interests and strategies collide. Germany and France tried to play away from America in the international arena, and they scored some goals, but the stadium owner has delivered a knockout blow.

Perhaps US unilateralism such as the speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan and an agreement with the Taliban without consulting its allies, and the establishment of this alliance, see America returning to an old idea proposed by the late French President Charles de Gaulle, of Europe being strategically independent of the US, with a European army able to defend itself against Russia. The EU tried to revive this concept with a unified European army apart from NATO, but it failed, probably due to the close links that member states have with Washington. Moreover, Britain — a key player — is no longer part of the EU.

The US is now working according to a British strategy which has its eye on the Indo-Pacific region, where some of its old colonies and the "good old days" of empire lie. This is what Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been working on since Britain left the EU. Henceforth, the UK will remain America's strategic European partner outside the EU and will be preferred over France and Germany in all vital and sensitive areas of security and military technology.

Under the AUKUS deal, nuclear technology will be transferred for the first time by America and Britain. Relations between these two and Australia will be strengthened in an area important to Europe and France in particular. The competition between AUKUS and NATO is thus now obvious, especially with France.

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China has threatened a nuclear strike in the event of a war in the region and declared that the deal threatens regional stability and encourages an arms race, and this is the point. In its cold war with China, the US is resorting to the ways of the 1950s and 1960s when the enemy was the Soviet Union. It is trying to exhaust China through an arms race which meets the interests of US arms manufacturers and their powerful lobby. Having pulled out of Afghanistan and winding down across the Middle East — wars which were costing tens of billions of dollars every year — Washington has freed resources to spend on new arms and keep the lobby happy.

The US is trying to cut off a unified China and isolate it internationally and is carrying out provocative military manoeuvres in the South China Sea. All of this falls within the framework of a new cold war. However, there is a fine line between a cold war and open warfare, and this may be crossed for relatively simple reasons, as happened with the First World War. This cold war could turn into a nuclear confrontation that neither could win, dragging the rest of the world down with them. And it could happen sooner than we think.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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