OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author’s opinion
French President Emmanuel Macron’s anger over Paris being cut out of a nuclear submarine construction arrangement with Australia is not likely to ebb anytime soon, according to reports, as the embattled leader seeks to settle on additional responses.
The French leader’s angst stems from a deal that appears to have been done behind Paris’ back involving the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia as part of a new defense pact aimed at corralling an expansive and increasingly capable and aggressive China.
Earlier, Paris and Canberra had worked out a deal for a dozen French-designed diesel submarines — Australia’s first — worth $66 billion. But the new tripartite agreement cuts France out of the equation entirely.
“After the deal was announced on Wednesday, the French president recalled ambassadors to Washington and Canberra and canceled events, a symbolic gesture rare among such close allies. French officials say Macron is looking for an adequate response, and they’ve been renewing his calls for Europe to boost its own defense capabilities,” Bloomberg News reported.
“Macron’s public reaction is partly directed at a domestic audience. Seven months before a presidential election, his main rival, the nationalist Marine Le Pen, is closing in according to some polls. He wants to show voters he’s tough. But allies are likely to soon call time on the outrage,” the outlet continued.
President Joe Biden has been in contact with Macron by phone, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed any concerns about relationships and said London and Paris remain on “rock-solid” ground. Further, Bloomberg said that Australian Prime Minister “Scott Morrison doesn’t seem in any mood to make amends.”
Over time, after initial anger and frustration settle, the French leader may look for some concessions like relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on travel to the United States or additional U.S. aid to France in support of its efforts in Africa’s Western Sahel region, where French troops are fighting against Islamic extremists.
“Now that the U.S. has gotten the message and has just made a first (small) gesture, we should defend our interests,” Paris-based researcher and Sciences Po teacher Antoine Bondaz noted on Twitter, going on to suggest that France may want to look for other ways to cooperate with allies in the region.
However, in the end, there may not be much that Macron can do other than fume; he does not have much backing from the rest of Europe for a stronger response.
“His ideas on reducing European reliance on U.S. and NATO aren’t new — he once called the alliance ‘brain dead’ — and may not get much traction,” Bloomberg noted. “Leaders in eastern Europe and the Baltics are skeptical of any move that would reduce the American presence in a region where they feel threatened by Russia. Germany is nearing an election and coalition talks that might go into next year.”
What has angered Macron and many within the French government the most, however, is the fact that the tripartite deal was made behind Paris’ knowledge.
“Before leaving Canberra, ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault said the Australian Defense Minister only contacted his French counterpart after the deal was reported by media outlets, adding there were ‘no warnings’ during the 18 months that the plan was being hammered out,” Bloomberg reported, adding that the ambassador remarked that his country had been “stabbed in the back.”
In addition, French government officials and Macron were miffed that their country was not asked to be a part of the coalition, given that Paris has substantial and varied interests in the Pacific region as well as thousands of troops spread out over several French-claimed islands including New Caledonia and Reunion.
And, Paris also is concerned about Chinese expansionism, Bloomberg noted.