Every nation’s diplomacy is closely tied to its business interests. But for the French, as anyone who follows the Middle East knows, this approach is a fetish. If France’s claim to be the world’s foremost diplomats has any foundation, this is it.
Any nation would be upset that the U.S. swooped in to sell submarines to Australia, overriding a deal France had in the works for years with the Aussies. France, though, has gone so far as to recall its ambassadors to both offending countries. America’s relations with France seemingly have reached a new low.
It’s tempting for conservatives to remind the world of strident claims by Democrats, including Joe Biden, that Donald Trump grievously harmed the U.S. by alienating our European allies. The French were never as angry with Trump as they are with Biden.
The better take, however, is to credit the Biden administration for the deal with Australia. It’s easily the best thing Team Biden has done so far on any front, in my opinion.
The deal is designed to counter the Chinese threat. By all accounts I’ve seen, U.S. submarine technology is clearly superior to France’s. The urgency of countering China should override pleasing France. We’re not talking about wine sales here, we’re talking about global security.
The deal is part of a trilateral arrangement, with Great Britain the third party. Under this new partnership, Australia will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology. The scrapped deal with France was for a fleet of conventional submarines.
Perhaps the best evidence of the desirability of the new arrangement is that China hates it. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson complained that the trilateral arrangement “seriously undermined regional peace and stability, aggravated the arms race, and hurt international nonproliferation efforts.” That’s rich coming from China.
The spokesperson also urged the U.S. to “abandon [its] outdated Cold War mentality.” Let’s give Biden credit, then, for this particular cold war-style play.
The Australia-France deal has been in the works since 2016. However, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison ( “that fellow down under” to Biden) has stated:
We had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack-class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests and we had made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest.
How could it be otherwise?
France has complained that Australia, the U.S., and Great Britain worked out the deal behind France’s back. There may be something to this complaint, although Australia reportedly had been strongly signaling to the French its unhappiness with the original deal for some time.
But the underlying grievance is the economic impact of losing out on the deal. It was valued at $40 billion in 2016 and would have been worth considerably more today.
It will probably take a good while for France to get over this. It might even take a new U.S. president, though I doubt it.
In any case, the Biden administration has done the smart, strategic thing. Can we please have more of this?
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