France’s historic decision to recall its ambassadors to the United States and Australia is more than a diplomatic row, analysts have warned.
This move, in protest against Canberra’s surprise decision to cancel an order for French-built submarines and its security pact with Washington and London, will affect France and Europe’s role in NATO. and already strained relations with the UK.
French officials accused Australia, the US and the UK of behaving in devious and deceptive ways that betrayed and humiliated France.
“It’s more than just a diplomatic row, the withdrawal of ambassadors is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Peter Ricketts, former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office and former UK ambassador. Uni in France, on BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“There is a deep sense of betrayal in France because it was not just an arms contract, it was France that was establishing a strategic partnership with Australia and the Australians have now thrown that out and negotiated behind France with two NATO allies, the United States and the United Kingdom, to replace it with a completely different contract.
“For the French, this looks like a total failure of trust between allies and calls into question the raison d’être of NATO. It creates a big loophole in the middle of the NATO alliance … Britain needs a working NATO alliance.
Ricketts added: “I think people underestimated the impact it would have in France and how much of a humiliation and betrayal it would look like a year from President Macron running for office in a very race. tight with the far right. “
The historic order to recall the ambassadors of France came directly from Macron. A spokesperson for the Elysee Palace said the “gravity” of the situation required the president’s response. “Beyond the issue of breach of contract and its consequences, particularly in terms of jobs, there is what this decision says about the alliance strategy. [Such behaviour] is unacceptable between allies, ”declared the Elysee.
In an angry statement Friday evening, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States” .
The French are furious at Australia’s decision to cancel a 90 billion Australian dollars (48 billion pounds) contract it signed with the French company Naval Group in 2016 for a fleet of 12 submarines state-of-the-art attack class. This agreement got bogged down in cost overruns, delays and design changes. Naval Group said the new deal that will see Canberra acquire US and UK-built nuclear-powered submarines, instead of those from France, was a “big disappointment.”
Le Drian had previously called the Aukus trilateral security pact – including the agreement on submarines – a “stab in the back”.
“The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that has linked Australia and France since 2016, and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States to launch studies on possible future cooperation on sub -nuclear-powered navies constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, the consequences of which affect the very conception that we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific region for Europe ”, he added.
France is also furious at what it sees as the dishonesty of statements coming from Australia, of which Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Canberra wanted nuclear submarines “with more autonomy and more discreet than the conventional submarines that France was proposing ”.
France says it changed the design of its nuclear diesel submarines because that’s what Australia wanted and ordered.
As part of the Indo-Pacific partnership, France is a natural ally of Australia because it has overseas territories which are home to more than 1.6 million French people in the region. Paris also has a significant military presence there, with 8,000 soldiers and dozens of ships, including nuclear submarines, positioned in several bases.
Nathalie Goulet, a member of the opposition and vice-chair of the French Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces, said the situation was “very worrying”.
“Someone should have warned before this breach of contract … I do not understand that it could not have happened overnight,” she said.
“It’s a failure for industry, intelligence and communications and a public humiliation… and no one likes to be humiliated, even the French.
This is the first time that France has recalled an American ambassador; the two countries have been allies since the US War of Independence. France also canceled a gala scheduled to be held on Friday to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Chesapeake Bay, a decisive event of the war, which ended with the victory of the French fleet over the British on September 5. 1781.
A White House official told Reuters the United States regrets the French move and said Washington is in close contact with Paris. The official said the United States will commit to resolving disputes between the two countries in the coming days.
The UK has acted opportunistically, a French diplomatic source said on Friday.
“The UK has accompanied this operation opportunistically,” the source told Reuters. “We do not need to consult our ambassador in Paris to know what to think and what conclusions to draw from it. “
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Washington said she understood the “disappointment” in Paris and hoped to work with France to ensure she understands “the value we place on the bilateral relationship and the work we want to continue to do together ”.