Ties between the United States and its “oldest ally,” France, have long been friendly. But those bonds also include French unease over an imbalance in the relationship. So when an American snub scuttled a French submarine contract, feelings turned frosty.
Insecurity has haunted France since the end of World War II. After all, the French weren’t part of the agreement among the allies left standing at end of the war: the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Still today, French leaders bristle at what they see as Anglo-Saxon arrogance on the world stage.
It hasn’t helped that American presidents have often ignored French warnings about global situations. When France has supported military interventions, the Americans sometimes have pulled back.
Bad blood boiled over this fall when the United States, Britain, and Australia announced a new security initiative (proposal) for the Indo-Pacific region. The plan aims to counter a growing problem with China. That nation asserts its ownership and presence in the area comprising the Indian Ocean, the west and central Pacific Ocean, and the waters between. China’s right to be there, with both an economic and a military presence, is disputed by other nations.
The AUKUS agreement (derived from abbreviations of the three countries) destroyed a French multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia. But worse for France, the deal completely ignored that country.
Irate French leaders protested and recalled their ambassadors to the United States and Australia. They outright shunned the British in an open display of centuries of rivalry.
The French argue that they are a natural partner to help thwart China’s rise in the Pacific. After all, France possesses far more troops, territory, and clout in the region than Britain does. Therefore, the French expected at least to be consulted.
“It leaves an unpleasant taste of being disdained and sidelined,” says Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador to the United States. “France was totally left out by this new alliance even if we didn’t want to be a party to it.”
Biden administration officials raised eyebrows over the French reaction. But many acknowledge that the initiative announcement could’ve been handled better.
A statement after a call between Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron admits, “the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies.”
Privately, some American officials see the rollout of the submarine deal as clumsy. One diplomat calls the deal a “bromance . . . with our besties”—cheekily adding, “No Gauls allowed.” (Gaul is a region of Western Europe where France and several other modern countries now exist; it’s also a play on words for “girls” in this usage.)
The resentment is strong among many French academics and leaders. They say they “didn’t expect this from the Biden administration,” according to Laurence Nardon of the French Institute for International Relations.
French anger over the snub was so great that a normally routine meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the annual United Nations General Assembly became tense.
The two eventually met, and Blinken gave a nod to “the need for close cooperation with France and other European allies . . . in the region.” French officials repeated their commitment to cooperation with the United States against Islamic extremists in Africa.
But scars from the submarine saga run fathoms deep.
Thankfully, God doesn’t wait for humans to be trustworthy before He forgives them. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)
Rebuilding trust “won’t be easy; it will take time,” says a French official. “It will involve huge work, intensive work.”
Blessed are the peacemakers. — Matthew 5:9
Why? To understand the basics of the AUKUS treaty; to recognize reasons behind French feelings of unfairness; to analyze the roles that trust and wisdom play in global relationships.
Pray: For willingness to forgive others; for global peace; for sensitivity to others’ feelings; and for national wisdom in global situations that may stir conflict.