French Fume at U.S. for Cutting Them Out of Submarine Deal
(Bloomberg) -- France’s top diplomat unleashed a stream of invective against President Joe Biden after the U.S. and the U.K. announced a new security alliance for the Pacific region that will cost the French defense industry some A$90 billion ($65.7 billion).
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info Thursday that he felt “stabbed in the back” over the “unacceptable” deal that will hurt French business and shuts the French military out of a key initiative in Western efforts to build a bulwark against China.
“This unilateral, brutal, unforeseeable decision really looks like what Mr. Trump was doing,” Le Drian said. “This move is unacceptable between allies who want to develop a structured Indo-Pacific partnership.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said he would discuss the situation in the Indo-Pacific with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a dinner Thursday in Paris.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the U.S. cooperates with France and shares a range of priorities in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We value our relationship and our partnership with France on a variety of issues facing the global community, whether it’s economic growth, or whether it’s the fight against COVID, or addressing security throughout the world,” Psaki said.
It’s up to Australia to describe “why they pursued this technology from the United States,” she said.
French officials were blindsided on Wednesday night when the U.S. and the U.K. announced a new security partnership to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, beefing up their ability to deploy in China’s backyard. That agreement scuppered a 2016 deal that Australia sealed with France to acquire 12 diesel-powered subs from shipbuilder Naval Group.
The snub is a personal blow for Macron, who hosted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Elysee palace in June and vaunted their friendship at the Group of Seven meeting in the U.K. the same month. Le Drian had described the French-Australian submarine contract as the deal of the century.
Le Drian said he’ll be seeking explanations from the Australians over how they plan to exit their contractual obligations to Naval Group, though he didn’t explicitly call for financial compensation.
It also exposes the gulf between Paris and Washington since Biden took office. Macron has criticized the manner of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and questioned the efficiency of Biden’s suggestion of a patent waiver for Covid vaccines.
Le Drian said on Wednesday night that the submarine alliance highlights the need for the European Union to pursue its own “strategic autonomy,” meaning a capability to act independently of the U.S.
Macron, speaking to reporters alongside Merkel, said they’d discuss areas “that call for European coherence, our working together and the defense of true European autonomy,” including in the Indo-Pacific region.
The snub for France coincides with a European effort to cast the EU and Indo-Pacific countries as “natural partners,” according to a European Commission strategy paper adopted Thursday. Among the goals is completing trade talks with Australia.
France is the only European nation with a significant military presence in the region and it also has an overseas territory, New Caledonia, east of Australia.
Le Drian said that Naval Group, which is mostly state-owned, had met its commitments under the Australian contract. Thales SA, another state-owned company which has a stake in Naval Group and was due to supply defense systems for the submarines, said its financial forecasts wouldn’t be impacted by the breakup. A person familiar with the matter said no job cuts are expected for Naval Group as a result of the decision.
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