Blinken, in Paris, tries to restore confidence after submarine snob
PARIS – Step by step, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Tuesday sought to restore confidence between the United States and France following a secret submarine deal that exposed determination of the Biden administration to counter China – even at the cost of eliminating one of America’s oldest allies.
For over an hour, Mr Blinken walked the ornate corridors of the Quai d’Orsay in Paris and sat with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in a private airing session on Australia’s decision to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States, abandoning an earlier $ 66 billion contract for diesel engines from France.
The meeting between the two counterparts and longtime friends underscored the importance of bringing a personal touch to sensitive diplomacy issues. It was reminiscent – if not equally important – of Ronald Reagan’s walk in the woods with Mikhail Gorbachev to reframe US-Russian relations in 1985, or the deliberative morning walks of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. , with foreign leaders. during the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978.
But in the end, Mr. Le Drian literally brushed aside questions about what it would take to convince France that the United States was a reliable partner, indicating anger still latent even as both sides agreed to move on. the front. Mr Blinken said “it’s a pleasure to be here” but otherwise declined to comment.
The snub is just one facet of greater tension between France and the United States over its own strategy in the Indo-Pacific region and, more broadly, Europe’s long-term military objectives.
At least 1.5 million French citizens live in the Indo-Pacific countries and some 8,000 soldiers are based in the region, according to the French government. France also has a large exclusive economic zone there.
French President Emmanuel Macron has sought to overcome the tense rift between China and the United States, which is shifting its focus to counter Beijing. President Biden, echoing policies begun under the Obama and Trump administrations, has adopted a more vehement tone than Europe against China and its human rights violations, its military encroachments in international waters, its implicit threats against Taiwan and its trade disputes with the United States.
In turn, this has made the transatlantic relationship more contingent than it once was – much to the dismay of much of Europe.
The agreement on the submarines caused “simultaneous shocks” for France and the vision of Mr. Macron of an autonomous Europe working alongside the two world powers, said Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Foundation for the strategic research, which studies international security.
Mr Tertrais said the breach of Australia’s contract for the submarines, and the role that the United States and Britain played in brokering, had led to a “disruption of our strategy in l ‘Indo-Pacific, and the end of any hope that France has to be part of the English-speaking club of the “five eyes”.
The Five Eyes Alliance – Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – is an elite intelligence-sharing consortium.
What also shocked him, Tertrais said, was “the way our American friends just don’t get it.” Despite the United States’ obsession with China, he said, “I am surprised our American friends want to resume the conversation as if nothing important has happened.
In recent days, French officials have coldly suggested that the submarine deal has given China an opening to divide its allies.
They also pointed to the deal’s awkward diplomacy as the latest example of the United States putting its own interests first. The fact that it was announced just weeks after the Biden administration withdrew US troops from Afghanistan, even amid the chaos and humanitarian catastrophe unfolding there, only underscored their point of view.
However, in an article for the Institut Montaigne, Mr. Tertrais and Michel Duclos, former ambassador of France, advised the French government to “moderate its rhetoric on the actions of its partners” and not “to rely entirely on the European Union ”, given that France is a nuclear state, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a major maritime presence in Asia.
Instead, they concluded, France should step up diplomacy with others in the region, such as India and Japan, while also coordinating with Washington and its other allies on regional strategy.
“The big question remains to know how France will position itself in what some call the ‘new cold war’ which is beginning between China and the West,” wrote MM. Tertrais and Duclos.
French officials also seized on the submarine deal to revive a European military approach that is more independent of the United States.
“We have to survive on our own, as others do,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said last month, presenting a new EU strategy for the region. Indo-Pacific which pursues “a multifaceted engagement with China” and avoids direct confrontation.
But support for a more Eurocentric defense pact has flourished and withered over the years. Many European countries, including Germany, are skeptical of any military alliances that could dilute the authority of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the overwhelming support it receives from the United States in the form of funding, troops and equipment.
French officials dealing with Brussels are realistic about Europe’s slow progress towards military competence, and they have played down expectations for the French presidency of the European Union which begins on January 1.
Convincing the French government to come out of the diplomatic conflict, in which Paris recalled its ambassador to Washington, is a deeply personal mission for Mr. Blinken. He regards Mr. Le Drian as a friend and was saddened by the accusation that the United States had betrayed France for failing to warn Paris that it was about to be excluded from the deal. submarines.
No one has forgotten that Mr Blinken made Paris his first overseas destination in the aftermath, meaning he will have to cross the United States later this week for meetings in Mexico.
Mr Blinken also spoke with Mr Macron in an unscheduled meeting on Tuesday morning. A senior State Department official, who briefed reporters traveling with Blinken on condition of anonymity, then called interactions with French leaders cordial and intended to identify “concrete actions” to address them. fill the gap. Those efforts will be discussed more broadly later this month, at an expected meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Macron at gatherings of world leaders in Europe.
Senior European officials who spoke at a meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development appeared to have moved on. The drama of the submarine deal was not mentioned during the forum’s public comments, a few kilometers from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of the group of 38 nations.
Instead, officials focused on the economic crisis created by the coronavirus and climate change – and how both have exacerbated financial inequalities around the world. In a speech to the forum, Blinken did not mention China by name, but cited the “challenge of shaping the rules of new and emerging technologies” to ensure that they are not used for oppress or target minority communities, as Beijing accuses it of doing.
“The principles at the heart of this organization and our democracies are challenged by authoritarian governments who claim that their model better meets the basic needs of the people,” Blinken said. “Some of these same governments have actively sought to undermine the rules-based order that has been fundamental to the security and prosperity of our countries for generations.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” he said.
Mr Blinken based his State Department leadership on re-establishing international alliances after the turmoil of the Trump administration. During a brief meeting with reporters, it was noted that the forum is being held at an interesting time in Europe to discuss US cooperation.
“This is our reason for being,” replied Blinken.