When Antony Blinken visited Paris on June 25, French leaders told the US Secretary of State that France attached “the greatest importance” to its strategic submarine deal with Australia – an agreement now. sunk by the new Aukus pact, according to senior French officials.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, also stressed that he considered the agreement with Australia as a “Franco-American partnership“Because of the important role played by the American defense company Lockheed Martin in the French contract,” said a French diplomat. President Emmanuel Macron repeated the messages, according to the French side.
It was just one of many overtures made by the French to American and Australian officials in the months leading up to the secret finalization of the Aukus agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, and the AU $ 50 billion submarine contract between France and Australia was canceled.
Macron was so insulted that he was excluded from the Indo-Pacific pact of Aukus, designed to cope with growth chinese power in the region, and by the lack of warning from his allies, that he recalled his ambassadors from Washington and Canberra Friday night.
“Why is France so upset? wrote Benjamin Haddad, Senior Director for Europe at the Atlantic Council. “Those who point to the trade deal miss the point. The point of view in Paris is that the United States has formed an alliance in secret with two partners, undermining France’s entire Indo-Pacific strategy over the past year. decade Why France was not brought in is inexplicable.
Peter Ricketts, former UK Ambassador to France, noted the French felt “not only anger, but a real sense of betrayal that the United Kingdom as well as the United States and Australia[tralia] negotiated behind their backs for six months ”.
He said he had experienced the Franco-American split over Iraq in 2003, when Jacques Chirac’s France opposed George W Bush’s invasion, and “it looks as bad or worse.”
As French rage has erupted in recent days, senior US officials have tried to limit the damage to their relations with Paris.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States hopes to hold high-level talks with France at United Nations General Assembly meetings next week, “in accordance with our bilateral partnership close and our commitment to cooperate on a range of issues, including the Indo-Pacific ”.
But the wounds are so deep that they may not heal quickly, and the French frustration at being stranded remains. “We never heard of what was going on. . . These discussions have apparently been going on for months, ”said a French official.
As early as June, French officials also repeatedly asked their Australian counterparts if they wanted to change the contract from conventional submarines to nuclear-powered submarines, which France also manufactures, as they suspected Canberra of reconsidering its decision. . These questions were greeted in silence, according to French officials.
One official dismissed any notion that France had failed to properly implement the submarine deal with Australia as “bad, wrong, wrong” – saying it was a bad excuse.
“There is a French proverb that goes: ‘If you want to kill your dog, you say he has rabies’,” they said.
Franco-American relations are now at their lowest since Barack Obama did an about-face on the strikes planned against the Syrian regime in 2013, abandoning the French forces who were preparing to launch the operation.
Macron has spent years trying to promote France, joined by its EU partners, as an Indo-Pacific power. The flagship of these efforts was the contract with French arms suppliers negotiated within the framework of a Franco-Australian strategic partnership.
The contract, finally signed in 2019 and described at the time as a “50-year marriage” between the two nations, is already underway, with French engineers seconded to Australia to do much of the work locally.
“We have moved many Europeans on the Indo-Pacific route,” said the French diplomat, highlighting the bloc’s historic strategy proposal for the region, released on Thursday.
“Three years ago, it was absolutely impossible to get 27 agreements containing the words ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’ because of the anti-China.”
A person in France familiar with the deal said it was normal for the United States, like other great powers, to use its strategic power – and the promise of wartime support – to wrest contracts for arming to rivals like France while they were being negotiated.
“It’s a rule of the game. No one is shocked by this,” the person said. But forcing the cancellation of an already implemented contract to win business was another matter. “It’s not common.”
The French were particularly angry because Biden had spent eight months talking about the importance of solidifying alliances with Europe to counter China and repair the damage caused by Donald Trump.
But some US officials say it was Canberra’s responsibility to inform the French of any changes to their contract.
The State Department account of Macron’s June meeting with Blinken makes no mention of any discussion of the Indo-Pacific alliance. At a joint press conference that day, Le Drian called for “being stronger” in the Indo-Pacific, but Blinken did not raise the issue. The main subjects of Blinken’s visit were Russia, China, the Sahel and Lebanon.
“The security initiative [Ausuk] is a big step forward for Biden’s Asian policy, but it also reinforces the narrative in the EU that they are taken for granted, ”said Thomas Wright, foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution.
“Statements of support for the alliance will no longer suffice. The United States and Europe need to be more strategically outspoken with each other about aligning and diverging interests, however awkward it is. “
Nicholas Dungan, senior researcher at the Atlantic Council and CEO of CogitoPraxis, a leadership consultancy, called the case a “tragedy of mistakes” on all sides.
“The French had many signals that the Australians were unhappy. The Australians blinded the French rather than equalizing them. Americans have fallen prey to their obsession with China and have absolutely failed to think in global terms, ”he said.
Paris, however, has been relatively isolated in its outrage at Aukus, with the rest of the EU’s response being fairly low-key, which will limit the pressure on Washington and Canberra.
Haddad said the split would still have long-term consequences for France’s relations with NATO and its allies, and for arms purchases, while other analysts have warned France may respond in ways excessive in a way that would be detrimental to its own interests.
“France has global influence but it cannot project global power,” Dungan said. “France does not need to attack the United States, because it thinks Britain does, but it should create a conviction in Washington that France is bringing much-needed and irreplaceable tangible benefits to the United States, the Indo-Pacific, and the relationship as a whole. France’s largely symbolic gestures of indignation fail to do so, in my opinion.
At the very least, Aukus’ shock will reinforce the argument made by Macron since his election in 2017 that Europe must do more for its own security. As Le Drian and Florence Parly, the French Minister of Defense, have said, the new pact “only” reinforces the need to raise loud and clear the question of European strategic autonomy “.
Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington