Liberty and Fraternity, yes. Equality, not that much.
Born of a revolution fought for freedom, the ties between the United States and its oldest ally, France, have long been fraternal, but they have also been marked by a deep French unease about their equality.
French concerns about being the junior partner in the relationship boiled over last week when the United States, Britain and Australia announced a new Indo-Pacific security initiative, aimed at counter the rise of China. The AUKUS deal scuttled a multibillion-dollar submarine deal France had with Australia, but, more alarmingly for the French, pointedly ignored them, reinforcing a sense of insecurity that has haunted Paris since end of World War II.
France has long bristled with what it sees as Anglo-Saxon arrogance on the world stage and has not hesitated to rally resistance to perceptions of British and German-speaking domination in areas ranging from trade to conflict.
Successive US presidents over the decades have ignored French warnings about Indochina’s military commitments to Iraq. France’s lessons learned in Vietnam and Algeria have not been translated. And, when France has occasionally supported military interventions, especially in Syria in 2013, the Americans retreated.
So the latest affront, AUKUS, resulted in an outburst of anger, with the French loudly protesting and recalling their ambassadors to the United States and Australia while avoiding the British in an open manifestation of centuries of rivalry.
The French argue they are a natural partner in an initiative to tone down China’s growing assertion in the Pacific, with far more territory, troops and influence in the region than Britain, whose l he empire was reduced to a single inhabited island. As such, they would have expected to be consulted, especially by a US administration that ostensibly defends multilateral diplomacy and values its allies.
“It leaves an unpleasant taste to be despised and sidelined,” said Pierre Vimont, former French Ambassador to the United States who is now at Carnegie Europe, a branch of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “France was completely left out of this new alliance even though we didn’t want to be part of it.
And, while officials in the Biden administration have raised eyebrows at the intensity of the French backlash, many admit that the initiative’s announcement has been mismanaged, without thinking about how Paris would react.
Indeed, the joint US-French statement following Wednesday’s teleconference between Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron said that “the two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on issues of interest. strategic for France and our European partners. . “
Privately, some US officials consider the deployment of the submarine deal awkward. “Here is a new partnership of bromance ANGLO SAXON with our best friends, the Brits and the Ozzies. No Gauls are allowed, ”said a seasoned diplomat who was not authorized to speak publicly on the case in an email.
This resentment is palpable among French academics and leaders, especially those who barely concealed their distaste for President Donald Trump and his brash and blunt “America First” ideology and warmly welcomed the arrival of Biden and his mantra ” America Is Back ”.
“France is disappointed because it did not expect it from the Biden administration, which it thought much more multilateral and transatlantic, even Francophile,” said Laurence Nardon of the French Institute of International Relations.
In fact, Biden’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is a French speaker who grew up and attended high school in Paris. And despite the fallout from UKUS, Blinken is still planning an official visit to Paris in early October.
Yet the anger of the French at the snub was such that a normally routine meeting between Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on the sidelines of the United Nations Annual General Assembly in New York this week became a problem, which has led to uncertainty as to whether this actually will take place.
When he finally did, Thursday, a day after Biden spoke with Macron, France’s Foreign Ministry said the meeting was aimed at “restoring confidence,” but Le Drian said “it would take time to end the crisis between our two countries and require action.
The US minutes of the meeting made no mention of a “crisis” or “rebuilding confidence” but winked at Indo-Pacific issues and “the need for close cooperation with the United States. France and other European allies and partners active in the region “.