Australian submarines: France opts for diplomatic sanction

It is the strongest reaction in the spectrum of acts to unleash anger against a historic ally. The recall of ambassadors. The lever was symbolically activated by France and for the first time against the United States and Australia. The words used were just as carried away: ” lie “, “Duplicity”, “Major breach of trust”, “Contempt”, declined the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian. Rarely has France shown so much acrimony, after the breach of the contract of 56 billion euros in which France was to supply Australia with 12 submarines, for the benefit of an alliance with the United States. and the United Kingdom.

The French government caught off guard

The targeted countries have tried to explain themselves. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison assures that France had ” all the reasons to know that we had deep and serious reservations ” on the French contract. In the end, Canberra forged a strategic partnership with Washington and London to counter China by favoring American nuclear-powered submarines. The White House also denies having taken Paris as a traitor.

It all went very quickly, however. France was surprised by an acceleration of the calendar, believes Marc Finaud, former diplomat, consul in Sidney between 2000 and 2004. “The United States, in the midst of internal work to renew its nuclear doctrine, suddenly felt the need to restore its image after the debacle in Afghanistan; the British also wanted to restore their image as a “global” nation, after Brexit ”. Paris nevertheless deemed it unnecessary to recall the French ambassador to London. Jean-Yves Le Drian, after having castigated on France 2 “ permanent opportunism “ of the United Kingdom called the country “Fifth wheel of the carriage” in that case.

Like a scent from 2003 at the time of the Iraq war

Is the bitterness of Paris feigned or real? Peter Ricketts, former UK Ambassador to France, urges not to underestimate the “Real feeling of betrayal” French, which he compares to the break with the United States in 2003, at the time of the war in Iraq. “It seems to me as serious, even worse”, he commented in the Guardian.

→ READ. Indo-Pacific: a new Anglophone axis to counter China

Michel Duclos (1), former ambassador who was in New York at that time as deputy representative of France to the UN, confirms: “We can say that the crisis is of the same magnitude. I am not one of those who thinks that France is going to sit back and fold. I think, on the contrary, that Emmanuel Macron will raise the stakes ”, underlines this special geopolitical advisor to the Montaigne Institute.

France in search of counterparts

Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron will have a “Telephone exchangein the next few days ” And this,at the request of the American president, announced the spokesman of the French government, Gabriel Attal. Paris and Washington will also explain themselves to the UN General Assembly which opens this week in New York to obtain a form of reparation, believes Michel Duclos. “The Indo-Pacific area is vast, it is made up of India and Japan. The United States may not completely exclude us from any role to play ”, he says.

Otherwise, Paris will be able to try to move forward on the European strategic autonomy that it intends to defend during a Defense Council of 27, in the first half of 2022, when France will assume the rotating presidency of the EU. Yannick Queau, director of Grip, expert in the arms trade, does not expect ” major inflection ”In the wake of the German elections, and just before the French presidential election. “Many Member States will insist on not calling into question the transatlantic link”, he predicts from Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic countries, and to a lesser extent Germany.

France can at best hope for a normalization of the relationship to its advantage with Washington, as has been the case in the past. After the “Clash” from 2003, France had rather quickly found reasons to reconcile with the Bush administration, which left the field open to the Elysee to exert its influence in Lebanon and Syria.


An agreement that only lasted five years

2016. France signs a 35 billion euro contract for the supply to Australia of 12 diesel-powered submarines, equipped with combat systems by the American industrialist Lockheed Martin.

2019. The two partners sign a strategic cooperation agreement.

October 2020. Naval group settles in Port Adelaide in Australia where the submarines will be built. The formal contract on their manufacture was to be signed in 2023.

In Cherbourg, 500 employees including 40 Australians, work on this contract.

September 15, 2021. Australia breaks the agreement in favor of a strategic partnership with Washington and London and the purchase of American nuclear submarines.

250 million euros. Amount offinancial compensation for breach of contract with Naval group, according to Australian channel ABC.


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