Aukus defence pact has led to a ‘loss of trust’ in the US, says key adviser to Merkel

Agreement to build nuclear submarines was an ‘insult to a Nato partner’, the diplomat said

Holly Bancroft
Friday 24 September 2021 11:45 BST
German Chancellor Angela Merkel chats with Christoph Heusgen at a Nato summit
German Chancellor Angela Merkel chats with Christoph Heusgen at a Nato summit (AFP via Getty Images)

The Aukus defence pact has led to a “big loss of trust” in President Biden’s administration, a key adviser to German chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

Christoph Heusgen, who served as German ambassador to the United States until June of this year, said that President Biden was treating allies in the same way as his predecessor Donald Trump did.

He told The Financial Times that the agreement, which will allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines using British and American technology, was an “insult to a Nato partner”, adding: “I don’t know whether that loss has been sufficiently outweighed by the supposed increase in regional security.”

His comments are the strongest rebuke so far from the German political establishment over the deal.

One of German’s best known diplomats, Mr Heusgen has served as the country’s ambassador to the UN, as well as working in the German chancellery under Merkel for 12 years.

The agreement was agreed to curb China’s growing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region and was quickly condemned by Beijing as a “geopolitical gaming tool”.

Reacting to the announcement, Chinese embassy spokesperson, Liu Pengyu, told Reuters that countries “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties. In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice.”

The deal resulted in Australia cancelling a $66bn contract with France to purchase 12 diesel-powered submarines, a move that sparked an intense diplomatic row with the Élysée.

French president Emmanuel Macron recalled France’s ambassador from Washington for the first time since the establishment of Franco-American relations in 1786.

However on Wednesday, President Biden offered an olive branch to Emmanuel Macron in an attempt to soothe tensions.

In a joint statement issued after a call between the two leaders, President Biden seemed to concede that Paris had been left out of the Aukus discussions.

Boris Johnson, however, decided to tell President Macron to “donnez moi un break” and “prenez un grip” over the fallout from the deal.

German official Mr Heusgen said that the Aukus pact “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.”

He compared the decisions made over the Aukus deal with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying in both cases “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”.

He added that he understood why President Biden wanted to cut the costs of keeping troops in Afghanistan, but said “that didn’t justify executing the withdrawal just as his predecessor Trump [had planned], without co-ordinating with his allies.”

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