PARIS-France reacted angrily on Thursday to President Biden’s announcement of an agreement to help Australia implement nuclear-powered submarines, calling it a “unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision” resembling rashes and sudden political shifts common under Trump. administration.
The angry words of Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign minister, in an interview with Franceinfo radio, followed an official statement from him and Florence Parly, the minister of the armed forces, who called “the US choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France “a” regrettable decision “that” shows a lack of coherence. “
The degree of French anger was reminiscent of the violent feud in 2003 between Paris and Washington over the Iraq war and involving languages not seen since then. “This is not done between allies,” Mr. Le Drian. His specific comparison of President Biden with his predecessor certainly seemed to make the American president furious.
His resentment reflected the fact that France had its own agreement with Australia, reached in 2016, to provide the conventional, less technologically sophisticated submarines. This $ 66 billion deal has now collapsed, but a fierce legal battle over the contract seems inevitable.
“A knife in the back,” Le Drian said of the Australian decision, noting that Australia rejected an agreement on a strategic partnership involving “a lot of technological transfers and a 50-year contract.”
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not even mention France in the video conference with Mr Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, where the deal was announced on Wednesday. France was also not consulted about the Australian face and the new deal. “We heard about it yesterday,” Parly told RFI radio.
“It looks like a new geopolitical order without binding alliances,” said Nicole Bacharan, an expert on French-American relations. “To confront China, it seems that the United States has chosen another alliance in which the Anglo – Saxon world is confronting France.” She predicted a “very tough” period in the old friendship between Paris and Washington.
Biden said the deal “was about investing in our source of strength, our alliances and updating them.” At least with regard to France, one of America’s oldest allies, this claim seemed to have backfired.
Britain is the US partner in trade, another annoyance to France following the British exit from the EU and Mr Johnson’s embrace of a “Global Britain” strategy, largely aimed at the Indo-Pacific region. French suspicion of an English-language solitaire pursuing its own strategic interests to the exclusion of France is never far below the surface.
On a deeper level, the agreement challenged Emmanuel Macron, the French president, in some of his key strategic choices. He is determined that France should not be sucked into the increasingly fierce confrontation between China and the United States.
Rather, Macron wants France to lead the EU towards a middle ground between the two great powers and demonstrate the “European strategic autonomy” that is at the heart of his vision. He has spoken of an autonomous Europe operating “alongside America and China.”
Such comments have been annoying – if not more so than that, given how far Europe militarily stands from such autonomy – to the Biden administration. President Biden is particularly sensitive to the issue of 20th-century American victims of France in two world wars and French sting of its independence within the alliance. Mr. Macron has not visited the White House since Biden took office, nor is there any sign that he will soon.
The European Union on Thursday released a lengthy declaration entitled “EU Strategy for Indo-Pacific Cooperation”, committing European nations to deeper engagement at all levels in the region. It said the bloc would pursue “multifaceted engagement with China”, cooperation “on issues of common interest”, while “pushing back where there is fundamental disagreement with China, such as on human rights.”
The wording largely reflected Mr Macron’s search for a policy that does not risk collapsing with China, but does not bow to Beijing either. France said the strategy reaffirmed “its desire for very ambitious action in this region with the aim of preserving ‘sovereignty’ for all.”
The document does not mention the US and British agreement with Australia, which will allow Australian submarines, potentially armed with cruise missiles, to become a potent player in the Pacific in a way that could change the navy’s balance of power in an area where China has been expanding its influence.
Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU’s foreign policy chief, presented Europe’s strategy and said in Brussels that the submarine agreement reinforced the bloc’s need for more strategic autonomy.
“I suppose such an agreement was not prepared the day before yesterday,” Mr Borrell said. “Despite that, we were not informed.”
The US-British-Australian agreement, he argued, was further proof that the EU must “exist for ourselves, as the others exist for themselves.”