France’s Agony Over Submarine Deal Was Unavoidable
Reprinted with permission from Creators
About France and its submarines: Australia's decision to cancel a $60 billion contract to buy them and purchase American nuclear subs instead had to hurt. In response, France's foreign minister called the U.S.-backed move a "stab in the back," and President Emmanuel Macron recalled his ambassadors from both Washington and Canberra.
The backstory should take precedence over the drama flowing from the rift between America and its oldest ally. It centers on a growing alarm at Chinese aggression in the Pacific and how seriously the U.S. and its Pacific allies are taking it.
Australia's Defense minister denied charges that the United States and Australia schemed in secret to cut France out of the sale. He said his government had been "frank, open and honest" with France about its concerns — also that the work was overbudget and behind schedule. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insists that U.S. officials had also spoken with the French about this before it was announced.
Any diplomatic failure aside, the harsh reality is that American submarines are the superior machine for patrolling the Pacific. Nuclear-powered subs can stay underwater longer and at high speeds. France's diesel boats need to surface periodically.
What about President Joe Biden's predecessor? Former President Donald Trump was, in many ways, a gift to the Chinese. He did ban U.S. investment in Chinese companies tied to China's military or surveillance, a policy Biden has largely continued. But much of his confrontation with China took the form of verbiage.
Chinese elites saw him accelerating what they considered America's decline. They considered Trump "ignorant, erratic and tiresome," according to The Economist. They liked that he wouldn't condemn Chinese repression and that he opposed military action abroad.
It must have also pleased them that Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade deal was designed to help its members — which included Canada, Japan and Australia — compete with China. America's exit from the TPP helped China advance its economic domination of Southeast Asia.
Biden has vowed to engage in "extreme competition." China is plowing huge amounts of government money into building a massive semiconductor industry. Computer chips are the brains that run airplanes, mobile phones and cars. You can't have a modern economy without them, and a semiconductor shortage is hobbling American manufacturing.
The U.S. is joining with Japan, India and Australia in developing their own semiconductor supply chains. One reason we and our allies need strong defense capability in the Pacific is fears that China would invade Taiwan, which produces over 60 percent of the world's computer chips.
The administration seeks to greatly expand American manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. Used in electric cars and for storing renewable energy, these batteries are essential to a green economy. China has 93 "gigafactories" that make them. The U.S. has four.
Australia has had its own battles with China. When it called for independent investigators to be let into Wuhan to study the origins of the virus, China retaliated against billions in Australian exports. The Biden administration called the move "economic coercion."
What pains France must also pain the U.S. France does join our fights. In August, a French drone strike in West Africa took out an Islamic State mastermind of attacks that killed four U.S. soldiers and six French aid workers. France maintains a significant military presence in the Indo-Pacific.
You can understand the blow to France's arms industry and pride in having such a huge submarine contract so publicly ripped up. But defense needs should be the No. 1 consideration. The United States has concluded that China has graduated from mere economic competitor to military rival and must act accordingly.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
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