The submarine dispute has created divisions among the core NATO countries. The case is seen as another consequence of the United States prioritizing China over Europe.
France’s withdrawal of its ambassadors to the United States and Australia attracted much attention Friday night. The reason was that Australia rejected a French submarine contract worth several hundred billion crowns and instead entered into a strategic partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom.
The goal is to curb a growing Chinese influence in the region, stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand.
The withdrawal of ambassadors is considered a strong diplomatic protest and is often used against rival or hostile states. Between two close allies, like the United States and France, it is extremely rare.
– Top of the iceberg
– This is much more than a diplomatic dispute, the removal of ambassadors is just the tip of the iceberg, says experienced British diplomat Peter Ricketts, former Secretary of State at the British Foreign Office and former ambassador to France to Times Radio.
He says the contract that was canceled was not just about an arms sale, but about a strategic partnership. Australia has negotiated behind France’s back with two of the country’s NATO allies, Britain and the United States, he notes.
New York Times writes that the United States and Australia did their best to ensure that French authorities were not informed of the partnership and defense cooperation before it was announced.
– For the French, this is a total breach of trust. This calls into question what NATO is for, says Ricketts, who claims the case could damage the alliance.
– You underestimated the reaction.
The former ambassador says he believes the reaction the case would have in France was underestimated. The contract for twelve conventional submarines with Australia was called the “contract of the century” in France. The shipwreck comes just before Emmanuel Macron begins the election campaign ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
The French ambassador to Australia boarded the plane home on Saturday. It was clear in his statements when he arrived at the Sydney airport with a bandage and a briefcase.
– It was a big mistake and a very, very mismanagement of the association, said Jean-Pierre Thebault.
He emphasizes that the sale of the submarine was part of a partnership with Australia that was meant to be based on “trust, common understanding and honesty.”
“I would have liked to have traveled in a time machine and been in a position where we didn’t end up in such an incredible, awkward, inappropriate and un-Australian situation,” Thebault said, before leaving the country.
It came less than a day after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced the withdrawal. Since then, there has been silence from Paris and President Macron has yet to comment publicly on the matter.
The United States and Australia, for their part, have apologized for what happened and emphasized that they are working to resolve the conflict.
Not big enough
An assessment that France was not a significant enough player in a strategic context is why the country was excluded from the partnership between the US, Australia and Britain, believes Swedish military strategy expert Stefan Ring. .
– The atmosphere between Australia and China is hateful. Australia is experiencing that China is advancing its positions in a way that threatens Australia’s security interests, it says.
In a situation where a self-confident China violates international law and promotes territorial claims, Australia must put its foot down, believes Ring.
– And then France is not the country you want to have in your hand. They don’t have the necessary muscles and they are not a great player in Asia. The United States, on the other hand, is showing growing interest in taking up the fight against China, he continues.
Ring believes Australia believes that the benefits of an alliance with the United States outweigh the disadvantages of a dispute with France. He does not believe that relations between the United States and France or France and Australia will be particularly affected in the long term.
In the NATO context, the case comes just after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Criticism of the US implementation and action has been strong in many of the member states, and the EU has once again dusted off old plans to create its own emergency army.
The concern that a greater US focus on China will lead to a degradation of Europe is also very common among many European NATO allies.
The New York Times writes on Saturday that Joe Biden’s decision to offer Australia technology to build its own nuclear submarines and to establish a partnership with the country is seen as a “brutal calculation that nations sometimes have to make, where an ally is consider more strategically. ” important than another ».
The director of the think tank Center for a New American Security, Richard Fontaine, emphasizes that a greater American focus on Asia will have to mean less investment in other continents.
– Military resources are limited. Doing more in one place means doing less in another, he says. the newspaper.