French people

French fury against the US-Australian sub-agreement

TIT IS NOW that Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, qualified on September 16 the agreement of “stab in the back”, the anger in Paris was obvious. The next day, the French recalled their ambassador to Washington, DC (and that to Australia), for the first time since the 1790s. The announcement by America, Australia and Great Britain of a new pact of security (AUKUS), which torpedoed Australia’s € 90 billion ($ 105 billion) submarine contract with France in favor of a pledge to buy US nuclear-powered submarines instead, left the stunned, humiliated and angry French people.

The reaction in France is only part of the breaking of a big defense contract, even if such decisions are always difficult to accept. France has a sufficiently large defense industry to be able to absorb the loss; compensation for breach of contract will be requested. What enraged the French is rather what one source calls “the extreme duplicity and betrayal of good faith” on the part of countries he considers close allies.

The contract for French submarines was signed in 2016, under the previous socialist presidency of François Hollande, as part of a strategic partnership agreement with Australia. This was part of French efforts to build a geopolitical presence in the Indo-Pacific and act as a global player in the region in the face of an assertive China. He guards more than 7,000 troops there and regularly patrols the South China Sea. Nearly 2 million French people live in the Indo-Pacific, including in French territories such as French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

On numerous occasions recently, in meetings with Australian and US government officials, the French have been led to believe that this partnership – and the submarine agreement – is intact. As late as August 30, at a joint meeting of French and Australian foreign and defense ministers, the two countries explicitly referred to “the importance of the future submarine program” and “s’ is committed to deepening cooperation in the defense industry “. Yet two weeks later the Australians tore up the case. President Emmanuel Macron was kept in the dark until the very last moment. AUKUS aims to strengthen Australia’s naval capability, especially in the South China Sea, and enable America and its allies to better respond to China’s growing military might in the region. “The allies don’t do this to each other,” Le Drian said curtly. “The Americans completely ignored the fact that this was not just a commercial contract,” explains Benjamin Haddad, at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC: “It was the foundation of the Indo-Pacific strategy. from France.

French anger is directed primarily against Australia and America, rather than against Britain. Hence the recall of the only two ambassadors and not of the third. But the decision to repatriate the emissaries, which Mr. Le Drian took at Mr. Macron’s personal request, was not taken lightly and aims to show how seriously France takes this breach of trust. Very unusual, however, this is not the first time in recent years that France has recalled its ambassador to a friendly country. In 2019, Mr. Macron brought his representative back to Italy after what he deemed interference in French domestic policy during the yellow vests (yellow vests) crisis.

It’s hard to overstate the current feeling of bitterness and grievance in Paris. In the short term, this should not directly affect, for example, operational military cooperation between France and America in the Sahel. France maintains more than 5,000 troops in this region of northwest Africa as part of a counterterrorism operation, for which America is providing essential intelligence and logistics support.

But the breach of trust with America and Australia in particular will take time to be overcome. This can only make France a wary player on other matters and make it less susceptible to compromise when it comes, for example, to upholding the UK’s Brexit divorce agreement with the UK. ‘European Union. This will also force the French, if not to rethink their ability to pursue their own Indo-Pacific strategy, at least to face its limits in relation to an Anglophone alliance.

The most likely geopolitical conclusion France will draw from all of this is that she was right to view America as an unreliable ally, and to seek greater autonomy instead. In Paris, Joe Biden’s preference for dealing with English-speaking allies makes the pursuit of what the French call “European sovereignty” even more urgent than ever. “America’s behavior has been disagreeable, but it reinforces an analysis we have already done,” says an official French source, “which is that for America the allies matter little. We must therefore be able to act on our own.

It is, however, less obvious that Mr. Macron is able to bring his fellow Europeans with him on this issue. As it stands, Europeans do not agree among themselves on what they really mean when they talk about ‘strategic autonomy’, and tend to be much better at writing documents on issues. such concepts only to build the real capacity necessary for their operation. As if to take stock, AUKUS was announced the same day the European Commission presented its own Indo-Pacific strategy.

Some in Europe also suspect that, despite Mr Macron’s claims to the contrary, his real intention has always been to undermine NATO. Others may fear annoying America by publicizing any sympathy they might have with France’s position. The agreement on submarines may have only concerned France, not the EU; but the lack of expressions of solidarity from European friends was striking. Whatever the challenges of building greater European autonomy, however, after the events of this week, an injured Mr Macron will no doubt conclude that France and Europe have no choice but to ‘to try. Others, however, may be slow to follow it substantially.