France economy

UKUS Policy – Journal


The American administration’s decision to get Australia to cancel its contract with France for the supply of conventional submarines and, instead, to procure nuclear-powered submarines of the type used by the Americans or the British came as a brutal shock to the French who were made aware of the decision just hours before it was made public.

The first expressions of deep indignation from the French foreign minister, the recall of the French ambassadors in Washington and Canberra and reports that the largely state-owned company that made the original deal with the Australians was also capable to deliver nuclear powered submarines contributed to what was called treason. The split between France – supported at least to some extent by Germany – and English speakers (US, UK, New Zealand and Australia) seemed irreparable.

Yet within days a Biden-Macron conversation resulted in the return of French ambassadors to Washington and Canberra. The White House said that “President Emmanuel Macron… and President Joe Biden… spoke on September 22, at the latter’s request, to discuss the implications of the September 15 announcement. The two leaders agreed that the situation would have been beneficial. open consultations between allies on subjects of strategic interest to France and our European partners. President Biden has expressed his continued commitment in this regard ”. It was as many excuses as the French could get and the French president decided to eagerly accept them.

Why has President Macron, normally committed to defending French “honor”, ​​retreated so quickly? The answer, I believe, does not lie in the fact that after the Biden-Macron conversation, “Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Le Drian spoke of plans for in-depth bilateral consultations on issues of strategic importance” and “The need for close cooperation with France. … in the [Indo-Pacific] region ”, but in the lesson France learned in 2003 when it chose to play a leading role in opposing the US invasion of Iraq.

Why did Macron, normally attached to the defense of French “honor”, ​​retreated so quickly?

According to reports at the time, a movement was launched in Congress to punish the French for their recklessness in defying the United States. On March 11, 2003, Republican U.S. Representatives Bob Ney and Walter B. Jones ordered the House’s three cafeterias to change all references to French fries and French toast on menus, and replace them with French fries and toast. Freedom. This was followed by numerous complaints from importers of French products that the political disagreement between the two governments was leading to a boycott by American consumers of French products.

While I have not been able to track the exact drop in French exports to the United States, which typically amounted to $ 28.9 billion per year, French wine retailers have reported that these were boycotted and that Spanish, Italian and Australian wines were purchased instead. The damage caused to the French economy is considerable and all the more visible since Germany, also opposed to the Iraqi invasion, has not suffered such a boycott. The French must have realized that while they were proud of the role they played in the American War of Independence, they were not well regarded by Americans. Perhaps the Americans preferred to believe that French support at the time was motivated by French opposition to the British rather than genuine support for the American attempt at independence.

In March 2003, the French Embassy wondered if the Freedom fries file even deserved a response when it was occupied with more serious concerns. But once the boycott started to affect French exports to its most important market outside Europe, the attitude changed. President Jacques Chirac had a “professional” conversation with President Bush, but as far as we can tell, this had little impact on the boycott.

With this memory of the economy, the French have now clearly decided that stealth was the best part of bravery and accepted the sort of apologies Biden offered according to the White House reading of the Biden-Macron conversation. First, this says that the call was made by President Biden, then conceded, as previously mentioned, that “The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of interest. strategic for France and our Europe. the partners. “The French accepted it eagerly while making a concession for transatlantic unity. It must have been annoyed when it was only France that had been injured. It was pragmatism to his best.

Did AUKUS represent a violation of the non-proliferation regime that the United States had long championed? Kevin Rudd, former Australian Prime Minister and current President of the Asia Society, is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable “China Watchers” of the English-speaking world. He also studied nuclear proliferation issues. If I understood the opinions he expressed in his articles and interviews to Der Spiegel correctly, then the lifespan of a nuclear or conventional submarine is 30 years, as is the lifespan of the nuclear reactor. of a submarine. Therefore, Australia will not need to develop independent nuclear power generation. The Australians will therefore have 10 or 12 submarines. But beyond training on how to maintain these submarines, there will be no transfer of technology, and the Australians will not have the independence to operate these submarines as they see fit. In other words, Australian submarines will only be auxiliaries to the United States Navy, not an independent military force that they could use as a bargaining chip when negotiating with their main trading partner, China.

The Chinese reaction has been to view this as another, perhaps more worrying, US step towards a military confrontation in the South China Sea. If this view is correct and seems to have a lot of merit, perhaps global fears that it will lead to nuclear proliferation could prove to be unfounded. It nevertheless calls into question the American commitment to the non-proliferation regime and marks a new stage in the worsening of the differences between the two largest economies in the world. In addition to the Covid pandemic, this will be another burden the developing world will have to bear.

The writer is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Posted in Dawn, October 1, 2021