SEPTEMBER 18, 2021
French President Emmanuel Macron has recalled his country’s ambassador to the United States, in a sharp rebuke of President Joe Biden’s unexpected decision to strike a nuclear submarine agreement with Australia that scuttled a pre-existing French contract.
“At the request of the President of the Republic, I am recalling to Paris without delay our ambassadors to the United States and to Australia for consultations,” French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian said Friday. “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15th September by Australia and the United States.”
The diplomatic recall is a dramatic demonstration of the degree to which the expectations for U.S.-French cooperation have been confounded in recent weeks. Macron afforded Biden a much-desired affirmation at the G-7 meeting in June, affirming that “America is back” as he sat alongside the new U.S. president, just days before hosting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Pairs.
“You are at the forefront of the tensions that exist in the region, of the threats, and sometimes of the intimidation. I want to reiterate here how much we stand by your side,” Macron told Morrison, in a pointed message to China. “I would like to remind you how much France remains committed to defending the balance in the Indo-Pacific region and how much we consider the partnership we have with Australia as being at the heart of this Indo-Pacific strategy.”
Morrison maintains that he “made it very clear” during their dinner that evening that Australia might soon scuttle the plan to purchase dozen diesel-powered submarines from France. Morrison’s team leaked months ago that he was looking for a way out of the deal, but no one in Canberra or Washington notified Paris of a new plan until this week.
“I made it very clear that this was a matter that Australia would need to make a decision on in our national interest,” he said.
American and Australian officials have made a point to compliment the French throughout their celebration of the new nuclear submarine agreement.
“I have very important relationships across . . . with my counterpart, and Jean-Yves Le Drian. we were both defense ministers together now foreign ministers together a number of friends through the French system as does Australia, of course,” Australian Foreign Minister Marisa Payne said Friday afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute. “But I absolutely understand their disappointment. There’s no doubt that these are very difficult issues to work to manage, but we will continue to approach constructively and and closely with our with our colleagues in France on these matters.”
Yet that rhetoric has done little to allay the sting of the discourtesy. Le Drian made no mention Friday of the United Kingdom, which also plays a key role in the new deal. Macron’s team is angry not only at the claim-jumping of the submarine contract but also “the American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia,” as the foreign minister the and French armed forces minister Florence Parly put it earlier this week
“The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that Australia and France had been working on since 2016 and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States aimed at studying the possibility of future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines constitute unacceptable behavior among allies and partners,” Le Drian said. “Their consequences affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”