Confidence crisis between Paris and Washington after the breach of the “contract of the century”

“Blow in the back”, “brutal” and “unbearable” decision, à la “Trump”: the relationship between France and the United States turned into an open crisis Thursday after the breach of the “contract of the century” of supply from French submarines to Australia.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday evening announced a strategic partnership with the UK and Australia, including the supply of US nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, which effectively got the French out of the game. made not between allies ”, hammered the head of the French diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian, who had negotiated the“ contract of the century ”when he was Minister of Defense in 2016, deploring an American fait accompli – and by extension Australian – without any prior consultation.

“This unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision is very similar to what Mr. [Donald] Trump ”, the much-maligned predecessor (2017-2021) of Joe Biden, was indignant at the French official, not hiding his“ anger ”and his“ bitterness ”.

This gigantic contract of 90 billion Australian dollars (56 billion euros) provided for the supply of 12 French submarines with conventional propulsion to Australia.

Beyond the Franco-Australian shock, this spectacular rupture casts a chill between Paris and Washington, while Joe Biden was supposed to embody an improvement in the transatlantic relationship after four years of Trumpian brutality.

“First competitors”

“It is certain that we have a small diplomatic crisis on the table”, summarizes Anne Cizel, specialist in American foreign policy at the Parisian university of the Sorbonne. “The United States is sending a somewhat curious signal in that it is calling for a presence [militaire] of their European allies in the Indo-Pacific and at the same time are positioning themselves as the first competitors in the sales of French submarines ”, she summarizes.

Joe Biden has also promised to continue to “work closely with France”, “key ally” in the Indo-Pacific region. Obviously without appeasing the wrath of Paris.

French diplomacy has never yielded to pro-Biden enchantment, aware that he would pursue the same strategic priority – rivalry with China – as his predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama (2009-2017), even if he put more forms vis-à-vis his allies.

Paris can boast of a privileged relationship with the United States on a number of issues, starting with the anti-jihadist fight, from Iraq to the Sahel. But the affair of the strategic partnership with Australia – which also aims to counter the ambitions of China – concretizes a little more, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a very unilateral mode of action and decision of the new American president.

“This confirms the fact that the United States expect docility from their allies and are not in a logic of consultation”, observes Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).

American “centrality”

“The relationship with the Biden administration is extremely difficult quite simply because this administration, focused on China, wants to recall its centrality,” he told AFP.

Through this sequence, President Biden was also keen to make people forget the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan as quickly as possible by showing that America remained at the rendezvous of power.

For Anne Cizel, this blow to French ambitions also reflects a “leadership rivalry” between the United States and a French president, Emmanuel Macron, who poses as “leader of the defense of Europe”. “Donald Trump’s four years, difficult as it was on a transatlantic level, provided an opportunity for French, Franco-German leadership,” she notes.

Emmanuel Macron will continue to campaign for more defense and European strategic autonomy, especially industrial, during the French presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022.

A summit will also be dedicated to this occasion. “The time has come for the EU to move up a gear”, to “defend itself against cyber attacks, act where NATO and the UN are not present and manage crises in time”, pleaded Wednesday the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

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