MOSCOW, 21 Sep 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.
France is experiencing the consequences of the largest foreign policy defeat in a quarter of a century, and it could affect Macron’s electoral campaign. We are talking about Australia’s rejection of the largest contract with France (the “contract of the century”, as the French media called it) for the construction of 12 new Attack-class nuclear submarines. It was concluded after long and difficult negotiations, but terminated in 48 hours at the request of the United States and Great Britain. Australia abruptly changed its decision and preferred the United States to France.
Already in the process of negotiations, France, represented by the Naval Group, went to serious costs for the project, meeting the wishes of the Australians, but the American company Lockheed Martin, which eventually received the contract, did not receive any wishes from Australia. The contract lost by France was worth $90 billion, but the amount of the contract with Britain and (or) the United States is unknown. Apparently, it’s not about money, but about geopolitics.
Now the French comment on what happened in terms of “false friends”, “stab in the heart”, “Trafalgar shot”, referring to the Battle of Trafalgar lost by France with Great Britain in 1805. Macron even recalled the French ambassadors from Australia and the United States for consultations to show the extreme degree of resentment.
French President Macron received a slap in the face from the British-American alliance, the second in recent times, if we recall that during a meeting on the street, a young man suddenly hit Macron in the face. Back then the incident was hushed up, but now Macron is put in the most humiliating position. For the French political culture, taking into account its arrogance, this is extremely painful.
The fact is that Macron has invested a lot in these negotiations with Australia – money, time, emotions, energy. He took everything to his credit and expected to win the election triumphantly. Since 2019, the commune of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, where the naval base is located, has been the place of implementation of part of the project. A bilingual school has already been built there for the children of Australians who came to the base for training, two Australian artists were commissioned to paint the wall of the police station with the motifs of Australian aborigines.
Now not only have all these efforts have been in vain, but the residents of the commune are also deprived of the expected income. For them, this situation, according to the French media, is a socio-economic earthquake. Macron is exposed as a weak politician, unable to fulfil promises and protect his citizens and the national interests of France. He was humiliated in front of the whole world, and in a rather harsh form.
The US is confident that this will add arguments to Macron’s opponents and create problems for him, although it will not affect the outcome of the election. However, now the French will vote not for the triumphant, but for the defeatist. Now no one will remember that the deal with Australia itself was worked on by Macron’s predecessor Hollande.
There were difficulties with the contract, but Macron personally met with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison after the G7 summit in London, and after that the French media wrote that “the contract of the century has been saved”. Macron was supposed to get a triumph, but he will get a defeat.
We can say that France has received back the boomerang for the Mistral. Back then it was France that terminated the contract with Russia for the helicopter landing ships that had already been paid for and built. This was also done at the request of the United States, but it is unclear why history has not taught the French anything. What grounds did they have to believe that Britain would allow such actions of France in its patrimony? Especially considering that after Brexit, the already historically difficult relations between France and Britain have deteriorated?
It is especially offensive for Macron that he basically supported the United States against the Nord Stream 2 . This was done more gently, without Polish pressure, but diplomatically unambiguously. Macron supported the UK in the Skripal case, in the doping scandal, in the story of the poisoning of Navalny, on the problem of Ukraine. With regard to the most important policy issues for the United States in Eastern Europe, France was at the forefront of the allies.
For Macron, the double suffering is not only the refusal of Australia itself, but also the form in which it was done. In just two days, the long-term fruits of French efforts were abandoned there. At the same time, some Australian media and political parties speak badly about France.
France should have understood that it is not able to prevent and neutralise the political risks in this contract. It’s not about money, or rather, not only about it. We are talking about big geopolitics, more precisely, about the influence of France in the Indo-Pacific region, which is unacceptable for the United Kingdom and the United States.
The fact is that according to the French strategy in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, 93% of the exclusive economic zone of France is located here. 1.5 million French citizens live in this zone and 8,000 French soldiers are located there. France claims the status of not only a European, but also an African power. According to experts, individually, all the territories of the French presence in Africa do not have weight, but all together they do.
The problem is that Australia is involved in the US-British coalition against China and at the same time retains ties with France. The failure of the submarine deal will not affect these ties. Both countries are not interested in the deterioration of relations. But now the situation of France is becoming not isolated, as usual, but rather difficult.
France has always claimed an independent policy, even realising all its illusory nature, taking into account its inclusion in the sphere of influence of the United States. In Washington, they looked condescendingly at these French ambitions and even sometimes allowed them to be satisfied to some extent. But France has never allowed itself too much and clearly understood its place and role in the world. Now France finds itself not in isolation, but in solitude.
Its skepticism about Nord Stream 2 did not strengthen its position against Germany. With Russia, too, there is no freedom of manoeuvre that would be desirable for Paris – Moscow will not forget all the French blows in the back. China also takes into account the French desire to establish itself through participation in anti-Chinese alliances. Relations with Britain are complicated, and they are not regulated without the United States. Now the United States has shown disdain for France, not caring about “saving the face” of the French president.
In its ambitious projection, France suddenly found itself alone. At the same time, it has a conflict with Turkey, which it cannot resolve without the United States and Britain. What was the point of getting involved in a major deal of military and geopolitical significance in an area completely controlled by the Anglo-Saxons?
What were the hopes for success and passive surveillance of the United States and Great Britain based on? On the fact that in exchange for allied rhetoric against Russia and China, they will allow France to strengthen its naval budget and continue building up geopolitical power? France has always demonstrated the utmost rationality and pragmatism in negotiations. What happened to French diplomacy?
One way or another, France has suffered a crushing foreign policy defeat, and there is no country that will not take advantage of this in one form or another. This will be reflected in many small decisions and steps, but all of them will be very sensitive for France. In one place the interests of France will be ignored more openly than before, in another tougher conditions will be put forward.
France needs to get out of loneliness by taking decisive steps towards the opponents of the United States and Great Britain, but France is not subject to such actions. The US understands that Macron will blow up and calm down. France is too dependent on the United States to afford a minimal Fronde.
But in the EU, France will have to restore its reputation. Whether Germany will leave the necessary space for France after all that has happened is a question. In any case, relations between France and the United States are spoiled, and, knowing the French vindictiveness, there is no doubt that Macron will not forget and will not forgive this. He will not dare to take revenge on the United States, but with London, Paris will now be even cloudier.
Russia and China will be watching with interest how Macron will heal another injury, but he will still have the opportunity to recoup. France will be looking for a reason for revenge. London will have its Australian boomerangs back yet.