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What in the World?

It’s no surprise that Australia cancelled sub deal with France

Sep 21, 2021


When the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia teamed up on a defense deal, it not only shocked France but left them furious. What in the world are the French so upset about? They’d already reached an agreement to sell submarines to the Aussies, but Australia bailed on the French when Great Britain and the U.S. came calling. When you look at the geography at play here, you’ll see this outcome was quite predictable. The French just failed to see why their Aussie agreement was destined to disappear.

Hey, everyone.  Hello from my backyard. Not bad, is it? Any hoo, this story about the French and the Australians and the submarine sale — it’s just the gift that keeps on giving. 

The Australians are now dealing with the fact that the French are trying to cancel, or at least delay, and the French have withdrawn their ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington, DC in protest.

Now, a couple of things from this, first of all, the French subscribe to a slightly different view of diplomacy, than the Anglos in general and the Americans in particular.

 The Anglos and the Americans like to believe that all things are professional, all things can be separated, and we can use diplomacy to address issues point by point by point. 

The French never had their political system completely ripped apart by the world war. So they subscribed to an older strategy where the nation and national prestige are interlinked with economic and security and intelligence issues, and they all go together. And what is right for the nation or for France is different from what is right for everyone else. And this allows the French in their mind to do things that other countries shouldn’t do. 

So, for example, back in the 1980s, a counter-intelligence ring in the United States discovered that the French were spying on American companies to seal corporate secrets. And when confronted, the French were appalled, not that they were caught. They were appalled that the Americans were spying on them, spying on us. And that was a no go. Anyway, the point being this, this is a position that is practically Russian or Trumpian or, or even Chinese, but it’s old school. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

It’s just that it’s different. And it’s not something that kind of meshes with the way that we see diplomacy.  

Second, the French, honestly, shouldn’t be surprised that the submarine deal fell through, and it’s all about geography. So the first issue, the most important issue for the French writ large are the relations to the east with Germany.  Second, the relations with the Brits. Third with Spain and Portugal, fourth with Northwest Africa, fifth with Eastern Mediterranean, specifically the Turks, sixth with the Egyptians and Suez, seventh with the Persian Gulf. 

Only if they have all those ducks road up can they then penetrate into the Indian Ocean.

And there has not been a period where the French have had to do that in an era of Indian independence. 

And it’s not clear that the French have the political, diplomatic, and military power necessary to penetrate into the Indian Ocean basin. 

If they are successful, then eighth, they go into Southeast Asia where they have a bit of a colonial legacy, but it’s a very hostile one. 

Unlike the Brits who have reasonably passably friendly relations with many of their former colonies because they built educational infrastructure and physical infrastructure, the French treated their colonies as either a dumping ground or something to put a straw into and suck all the good parts out.

So, you know, they can’t just go into Vietnam and expect a warm welcome.  Only then can, ninth, they start to penetrate in the Pacific basin. 

So any sort of long-term deal to provide the Australians with military hardware is by definition dependent upon the Americans keeping that entire stretch all the way from Marseille to Darwin free and open for French commerce. 

That’s a bit of a risk if you’re Australian, and if you’re French, you know better. 

Now, the French are still going to be upset. There’s no way around that. 

This is a tens of billions of dollar deal, and that’s just human psychology. If something that is known to you, something you have is denied, you get pissed off.  But if you catch a Hail Mary, and then that is taken away from you, you get furious because all of a sudden this windfall is gone and that’s exactly what’s going on here. 

So the French are going to be upset. They are going to throw a fit. They are going to be a little insufferable. They’re going to be French.  But at the end of the day, American and French interests in Europe, broadly line up, and Australian and French interests in the Pacific have nothing to do with one another. So this too will pass. Until next time.

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