Connoisseurs of fine French pique enjoyed a rare feast last week as France reacted volcanically to its exclusion from the Aukus defense partnership and the cancellation of its $40 billion submarine pact with Australia by recalling two ambassadors. Usually Paris calls back only one when in this mood (see Turkey 2020 and Italy 2019). Better still, as a supreme expression of contempt and disdain, the French hit on the novel punishment of leaving its ambassador to the U.K. in place.
To be sure, the loss of contracts valued at more than $60 billion after cost overruns is a staggering blow to France, whose total defense budget was just above $50 billion in 2020. But its agreement with Australia meant much more than money, and Canberra’s decision to drop a long-term defense relationship with Paris to form the Aukus partnership with London and Washington cuts deep.
It is, to begin with, a massive public humiliation for Emmanuel Macron just as the next French electoral campaign begins to heat up. President Macron and his government were blindsided by a development of vital importance to French interests and international standing. The French Foreign Ministry has accused the Aukus powers of “backstabbing” and even treachery, but it’s the business of a country’s diplomatic, military and intelligence establishments to prevent such surprises. The French don’t elect their presidents to be hapless patsies hornswoggled by stupid Americans, provincial Australians and unspeakable Brits.
But this is bigger than Mr. Macron. The submarine contract was a centerpiece of Paris’s strategy for the 21st century. Building on its military strength, diplomatic acumen and technological sophistication to defeat Japan in the original competition for the Australian submarine contract, France felt it had established a position of lasting influence in the heart of the Indo-Pacific. Better still, it had outmaneuvered Britain and broken into the Anglophone world of the Five Eyes to become a privileged defense partner of Australia.
Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal