The Submarine Row marks the dawn of Franco-British rivalry


“It’s a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed, ”said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. noted following the abrupt cancellation of the $ 66 billion submarine deal with Australia. Furious, Paris returned the favor by recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington …a first in the history of the long alliance between France and the United States, dating back to 1778.

Some Argue that the decision to favor US-made nuclear submarines was in part due to the perception that French-made diesel-powered submarines making long transits from Australia to potential conflict zones in the Asian region should spending time traveling on the surface (where they are most vulnerable) using diesel engines as they recharge their batteries. Some Claim cost explosions, schedule slippages and concerns about commitments to use local contractors led Australia’s government Morrison to finally end the French submarine deal. While these may be contributing factors to the ‘submarine saga’, one very important factor is overlooked: London’s aspiration, in the aftermath of Brexit, to rise in the rapidly reshaping great power competition. the global geopolitical order. After all, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promoted Britain’s departure from the European Union as an opportunity for the country to conclude more global strategic agreements unrestricted by the EU.

To this end, the UK is trying to achieve three goals: to prevent a European power from becoming a challenger to London, to prevent Russia from dominating the Eastern Mediterranean, and to prevent China from controlling vital Indo-Pacific trade routes. British economy. prosperity. Unsurprisingly, these three pillars are closely linked and involve London’s power struggle with Paris.

The Franco-British rivalry is most visible in the eastern Mediterranean. London has taken all possible steps to undermine Paris’ perceived national interest, particularly in Libya, thus weakening France’s prospects of becoming a dominant power in the European Union in the absence of the UK. In this regard, the British sided with Turkey, France’s great rival in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean. Subsequently, France did not hesitate to annoy the British by pursuing a reconciliation policy with the Russians in Libya.

London’s aid in the EU, after Brexit, is Malta. Malta, one of two members of the British Commonwealth and the European Union (the other being Cyprus), was an intercessor in the Brexit negotiations and was a port of call for Royal Navy patrols in transit to and from the Gulf, the Horn of Africa and the Indo-Pacific. In May 2020, Malta is the vetoed funding for Operation IRINI, the EU naval mission tasked with enforcing an arms embargo in Libya, in particular the weapons that Turkey intended to deliver to its proxy, the government of national accord (GNA), and the great rival of France-backed Libya warlord Khalifa Haftar.

Malta was also among five countries, the others being Germany, Spain, Italy and Hungary, which blocked an EU resolution sponsored by France and Greece that would have imposed an arms embargo on Turkey due to Ankara’s Cyprus policy and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. In addition, in order to counter the growing influence of Turkey in the region, France has stood by the Greek Cypriots, and in August 2020 went up to send warships off Cyprus as well as deploy Rafale fighter jets bound for the Greek island of Crete. Yet Johnson called Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and urged him to seek a more diplomatic solution, indirectly supporting the “gunboat diplomacy. “As France views an ascending Turkey in Syria as a threat and has condemned Turkey’s incursions into Syria, London threw his support for Ankara, citing Turkey’s right to self defense. While Macron welcomed representatives of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to the Elysee Palace, angering Turkey, London declared that the YPG was part of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by many NATO members.

Even though French interests were harmed in Libya, Syria and the South Caucasus, London continued to supply Turkish drones equipped with the technology needed at a time when US and Canadian companies imposed an arms embargo on Turkey. Most notably, in May 2020, Turkish drones and air defense systems assisted the Turkish-backed GNA government to recapture nearly all of western Libya from Haftar’s forces.

Franco-British rivalry also erupted in the Channel. In May 2021, Johnson did not hesitate to mail two Royal Navy patrol boats to protect Jersey (the largest Channel Island) from a dreaded blockade by French fishing vessels in an escalation of a dispute over post-Brexit access to waters around the Channel Islands Norman. France reprisals blocking a post-Brexit financial services deal between the EU and the UK until the Johnson government grants fishermen fair access to UK waters. French government spokesman Gabriel Attal did not deny that Paris was brandishing the deal for the financial sector as leverage in the fisheries dispute.

By leaving the European Union, London has broken the “restrictive yokes”, allowing its leap into the great energy competition which is intensifying rapidly. For the United Kingdom, this competition means containing the rise of any power in continental Europe, in particular France. It seems that London is sabotaging France’s movements wherever it can. The boom in Turkish-British relations, for example, not only facilitates London’s ability to project its power deep into the Caucasus and Central Asia, but also helps the British undermine perceived French interests that greatly contradict those of the Turks.

It is not surprising that Australia’s decision to abandon the submarine deal with France came hours after the declaration that the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have formed a security pact (AUKUS) to counter China in the Pacific. Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, noted, “the snub of the submarine is a symptom of a toxic turn that Franco-British relations have taken in recent years”. Increasingly powerless in the Eastern Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel, Paris is likely to take steps to restore its injured pride, with grave consequences. The French are already wondering about the purpose of being part of NATO, and the issue of submarines has given them a concrete reason to review France’s place in the transatlantic alliance, just as Paris has done. in 1966. Having already rubbed shoulders with Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean, we can expect Paris to strengthen its intimacy with Moscow, which is more than enough to damage the foundations of NATO, causing concern among Poland. , the Baltic States, Ukraine and Georgia. Given its sagging against her political rival, the populist Marine Le Pen, who close links with Vladimir Poutine, Emmanuel Macron could resort to drastic measures in foreign policy.

Europe is increasingly looking like it was before 1939. It remains to be seen whether AUKUS will spark a wider conflict in Eurasia.

Ali Demirdas, Ph.D. in political science at the University of South Carolina, Fulbright scholar, professor of international affairs at the College of Charleston (2011-2018). You can follow him on Twitter @DrDemirdasEn

Image: Reuters.

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