It is human nature to prioritize and protect one’s self-interest. Nations and countries are made up of individuals, so their attitudes are shaped by human nature, and in the arena of world politics, each country cherishes its own interests and ensures its protection. A fresh example is a recent change in the nature of bilateral relations between France and the United States. The close ties between France and the United States are centuries old. The two countries were allies in World War I and World War II, and the post-World War II ideological conflict between Soviet communism and Western liberal democracy.
The United States and France have been strong and close allies, even as they have embraced the world. The two countries are also close allies under the umbrella of NATO, a military alliance formed in 1949 to defend any possible aggression by the Soviet communist bloc. To what extent could relations between the two countries deteriorate further, and what effect would the deterioration of relations between France and the United States have on the European Union?
How the bilateral relationship between France and the US has deteriorated?
The latest reason for the deterioration in relations between France and the United States is a defense agreement known as AUKUS between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States concluded last September. Under this agreement, Australia would be able to purchase nuclear submarines and cruise missiles from the United States.
Although the agreement would allow the three countries to further strengthen their defense capabilities, the immediate effect of the AUKUS agreement was that Australia scrapped a multi-billion-dollar deal in 2016 to buy conventional submarines from France. The submarine deal with France was worth about 50 billion Australian dollars (the US $ 36.5 billion) at the time of signing, compared to a recent estimate of 90 billion Australian dollars, taking into account currency fluctuations and cost overruns.
According to media reports, in addition to the submarine fleet, AUKUS will “combine allied forces with cyber, artificial intelligence (AI, especially applied artificial intelligence), quantum technologies, and some submarine capabilities”.
The AUKUS is aimed at curbing China’s growing power (although it has not been announced), while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a media statement on 16th September that the main purpose of the AUKUS was to establish and maintain security in the Indo-Pacific region and to strengthen defense cooperation to meet the challenges of the 21st century. China, on the other hand, has described the AUKUS as a threat to regional stability and irresponsible thinking with a Cold War mentality. A separate column will discuss the implications of the AUKUS for possibilities of a cold war between the United States and China.
The impact of the AUKUS alliance on US-France relations
As France is a key member of the European Union, the extent to which a rift in French-American relations can affect the US-EU relations is also an important aspect that needs to be examined.
France has expressed outrage over the AUKUS deal, with the French Foreign Minister calling it a “stab in the back” because of scrapping an agreement between France and Australia to sell French submarines to Australia. The deal, which involved the personal interest of French President Macron, has been canceled. When the agreement was reached in 2016, Paris called it an agreement of the century and an important milestone in France’s strategic relationship with Australia and the wider Indo-Pacific.
Now, after five years, the cancellation of the deal has impaired France’s prestige at the international level and spoiled its trade benefits. France’s political reputation has also been severely damaged. As an immediate reaction to AUKUS, France has recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the United States terming the US attitude as distrustful.
France has for the past few years advocated for an independent and sovereign EU security policy that minimizes reliance on the United States. Incumbent French President Macron is a strong proponent of this policy. The recent withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan also exposed the lack of a common and coordinated European security policy because European NATO allies relied on the United States for the safe withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan.
France’s way forward
To make an end to the reliance of the EU countries over the US, France now wants a common defense policy of the European Union along with Germany, which is Europe’s strongest economy.
The Strategic Defence Partnership Agreement between France and Greece concluded on 26th September, can be seen as a step towards this direction. Under this accord, Greece will buy six to eight warships from France. The Greek Prime Minister called the move “the first step towards European defence sovereignty” while standing with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, said that “We have an independent European response to the challenges. There is a shared vision of potential.”
These recent irritants in the France-US bilateral relationship and France’s aspirations for a common defense policy of the European Union forecast oscillation in the US-France bilateral relationship during the days to come especially France seems to be moving beyond the political orbit of the United States.
Dr. Mian Tahir Ashraf holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and currently teaches at the Department of International Relations, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, Pakistan and can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.