Atlantic Crisis: AUKUS 'Humiliates' France

Published September 22nd, 2021 - 12:51 GMT
Emmanuel Macron (Left) and Joe Biden
Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden walk together at the G7 summit in June 2021. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Despite his mild mannerisms and long smiles, American President Joe Biden shows he can be as hard as nails from the inside, ready to tread on many toes and as need be! This is exactly what happened when he signed the AUKUS deal in cooperation with London and Canberra to supply Australia with eight state-of-the-art nuclear submarines by 2030 and 2040 at a fraction of the price.

The American president knew exactly what he was doing when he rode roughshod over the massive $90 billion French-Australian deal signed in 2016 to equip Canberra with 12 brand new diesel-electric submarines in turn for a far cheaper deal that would be more powerful, more effective and ready for big security protection! The old adage “American is coming back” was certainly very true in this deal.

All eyes are of course on China and its emergence as great-power, even super-power status and willing to go the extra mile in the Pacific, to dominate and hegemonize! Top grade American subs made for Australia with American high grade technology would stand up to muscle-flexing China which western politicians regard as becoming too aggressive and willing to show itself as a country not to be messed with.

But France didn’t see it that way. It didn’t see the cherished goal is to contain the power of Beijing but interfere, meddle and tear up an old, important and hugely expensive deal it signed with Australia, another sovereign state in the new great power equation which apparently doesn’t mean much in Washington.

On the surface, it appeared France didn’t care much about the macro-politics but only saw the new AUKUS as humiliation, a dictate of either like it or lump it. The French government starting from Emmanuel Macron to Jean-Yves Le Drian lambasted the Australians, the Brits and wouldn’t talk to the Americans after they heard what had been done.

In the first instance, they withdrew their ambassadors from Washington and Canberra but not London for some strange and uncanny reasons.  Maybe leaving the door open perhaps! This move is no doubt unprecedented, it has never been done before, not by Paris to friendly and allied countries and shows the extent of anger by French politicians at what has been done to them.

Indeed, Le Drian described AUKUS as an American “betrayal” with “backstabbing” from Australia and just “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.” You don’t talk about partners this way do you? Will maybe you do in this day and age because America had effectively impinged itself on French sovereignty in messing with a deal that has already been signed. France still likes to think itself as a country with great-power status with territorial claims in the Pacific. This could be another reason why it is so upset in this sordid affair.

The UK and America tried to contain the situation quickly but the French held out and were initially in no mood to listen, feeling aggrieved that its national pride has been tempered with and trodden on. The Brits and no doubt the Americans trotted head-over-heals to bring France back on board as a crucial western and NATO allies and nobody in their right mind would think of hurting French pride. Alas, overtures of goodwill are now abound and plenty.

British Premier Boris Johnson tried to paper over this “mishap” by saying he is “very proud” of Britain’s relations with France and that the UK’s “love for France is ineradicable”. But such talk is not washing down well with Paris at the moment that is seeking to make as much political capital out of this as possible.

Biden and his associates in the White House have been trying to contact Macron on the phone to try and explain and calm down the Atlantic waters and stress the importance of US-French relations, but they were being put off till the last minute with Paris finally accepting the call.

France sees this “drudgery” episode as a crisis in western relations that should never happened. It comes at a time when Washington seeks to build confidence with its European allies following the debacles made by former-president Donald Trump who at best treated the leaders across the Atlantic with disdain. Trump might now be seen as an angel compared to this latest behavior.

Indeed it now might be back to square one for a number of reasons. Le Drian said what the trio did is inexcusable, stressing “there has been a lie, there has been duplicity, there has been a major breach of trust. So it’s not ok between us, it’s not ok at all,” speaking on French TV he said. His words are likely to be remembered for a long time by the British, the Americans and Australians.

Clearly also, Paris will now give Canberra the run of the mill in other ways. It has battery-charged the Europeans to take a further stance. The EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is saying France has been treated “unacceptably” by the US, Australia and the UK and is demanding an explanation as to what happened. But this is not the complete story. Many are fearing that Australia’s Free Trade Agreement with the EU and which has been in the pipeline for some years and under negotiations is now in jeopardy, although many are saying this won’t be affected.

But with things seething at the moment who knows what will happen. America under Biden is not cracked up to be what it is the Europeans now feel. The new more positive relations that has been expected may now be going down the drain with Biden seen as the wolf in a sheep’s clothing as witnessed in Afghanistan when he pulled the American troops out almost single handedly to the annoyance of many of his countrymen and quite a few in Europe.

They now fear the “double-dealing” made to France in the UKUS deal could now be done to anyone else with no compunction in the name of higher western security interests.  This story is like to unravel despite the fact that Macron and Biden have started talking again and Paris promised to send back its ambassador back to Washington as early as next week. 

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