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, ”French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said during the brutal cancellation of the $ 66 billion agreement on submarines 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 on long transits from Australia to potential conflict zones in the region. Asians should spend time traveling on the surface (where they are most vulnerable) using diesel engines while they recharge their batteries. Some argue that cost explosions, schedule slippages and concerns over commitments to use local contractors led Australia’s Morrison government to ultimately 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 has presented Britain’s departure from the European Union as an opportunity for the country to strike more global strategic deals without restriction from 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 policy of rapprochement 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 has been 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, it was Malta that vetoed funding for Operation IRINI, the EU naval mission tasked with enforcing an arms embargo in Libya, especially arms Turkey had in its possession. intends to hand over to his proxy, the government of the National Accord (GNA), and the great rival of the Libyan warlord backed by France, 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. to Turkey because of Ankara’s policy on Cyprus and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, in an effort to counter Turkey’s growing influence in the region, France supported the Cypriot Greeks and, in August 2020, went so far as to send warships off the coast of Cyprus and to deploy Rafale fighter jets to the Greek island. from Crete. Still, Johnson called on Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and urged him to seek a more diplomatic solution, indirectly supporting Turkey’s “gunboat diplomacy”. As France views an ascending Turkey in Syria as a threat and condemned Turkey’s incursions into Syria, London has supported 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 said the YPG was part of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered as a terrorist organization by many NATO members.
Even though French interests were harmed in Libya, Syria and the South Caucasus, London continued to provide Turkish drones 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 send two Royal Navy patrol boats to protect Jersey (the largest Channel Island) from a dreaded blockade by French fishing vessels in an escalating dispute over the post-Brexit access to the waters around the Channel Islands. . France retaliated by 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, said that “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 his plummeting performance against his political rival, the populist Marine Le Pen, who has close ties to Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron could resort to drastic foreign policy measures.
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