In Depth

Aukus: the rift with France

French fury over the new submarine pact has been something to behold

French fury over the new Aukus submarine pact has been something to behold, said Kim Sengupta in The Independent. “There has been a lie,” raged the country’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian. “There has been duplicity, there has been a major breach of trust, there has been contempt, so things are not right between us.” The anger has been directed mainly at Washington and Canberra, the key players in the deal that scotched France’s submarine contract with Australia, but “perfidious Albion” has also come under withering fire. Paris withdrew its ambassadors to the US and Australia – but it kept its British ambassador in place, apparently to signal that the UK is too unimportant to merit retribution. As one French official icily put it: “You complain about the bad food in a restaurant to the manager and the chef, not the dishwasher.” 

“It’s hard to resist a degree of schadenfreude” about the “humiliation” of President Macron, said The Times. Given his antagonistic stance towards the UK during the Brexit negotiations, and his repeated attacks on Nato, an alliance he has claimed is “brain-dead”, some may feel he is in no position to complain about France being excluded from this latest defence pact. Even so, we must be careful not to let the rift worsen. “Britain and France are the two leading military powers in Europe, with common strategic interests in a neighbourhood in which the US has signalled it is clearly losing interest.” We have to work together. 

The political stakes are high for Macron, who faces re-election next year – but the anger in France is “legitimate”, said Antoine Bondaz on Politico. France, unlike other EU nations, is “not a spectator” in the Indo-Pacific region: it is “a resident power”. More than 1.6 million of its citizens, including 8,000 soldiers, live in its territories there. Its cancelled submarine deal was supposed to be the cornerstone of a new Indo-Pacific security partnership with Australia, said John Keiger in The Spectator. The Aukus pact has destroyed that vision and left France out in the cold, facing a potential “strategic demotion” as a global power – but raging about that reality will not help Paris. Macron must know that “turning to that old chestnut of calling for greater European defence integration” won’t achieve much in the near future. And it’s certainly not going to make much difference in the Indo-Pacific, “given that other EU states have no naval power to project”. No, if Macron wants France to have a defence and security role in this region, his only choice is to “swallow his pride” and try to work constructively with Aukus.

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