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What is it about the French? Or, at least French leadership. True, much of US leadership hasn’t been terribly stellar over the past century, but there’s something about the arrogance of French leaders that’s remarkable.
In July 2017, just two months after assuming office as President of France, Emmanuel Macron canceled the traditional press conference on Bastille Day, his spokesman asserting that his “thoughts were too complex for journalists to understand.” Macron later went so far as to state that he intended to “rule like Jupiter [the chief god in the Roman pantheon], remote, dignified, weighing rare pronouncements carefully.”
One is reminded of de Gaulle’s comment that: “When I want to know what France thinks, I ask myself.”
In case you missed it, on September 15th a new trilateral pact (AUKUS) was announced among Australia, the United Kingdom and the US; France is very upset.
According to news reports out of Australia, some time in late 2019 or early 2020 representatives from the three governments (Australia, the UK, and the US) began negotiations for what became a trilateral security pact. Among other features of the pact, is a deal to assemble 8 nuclear submarines in Australia. All the details of what will be made by whom and where have not been released.
The deal has caused quite a furor in France because several years ago Australia had inked a deal with France - for $90 billion Australian (about $65 billion US or 55 Billion Euros) - for 12 diesel submarines. Now, that deal is cancelled, and France is livid.
But, is all the wailing real?
To begin, there are two shipyards in the US that make nuclear submarines: Electric Boat in Groton Connecticut, and Newport News Naval Shipyard (NNNS) in Newport News Virginia; (England also has a nuclear capable yard: Barrow-in-Furness).
For nearly a decade there was a French company - Areva - that, in partnership with US companies, had a facility at NNNS working on nuclear propulsion. That facility closed several years ago, and the company was restructured. But the French remain very much interested in nuclear power developments both at home, and abroad.
The French also retain a competent and thorough intelligence community that looks out for French interests.
Which raises a question: Is it possible, given French contacts with the US (and Australia), and in particular with US shipyards, that the French didn’t know about these negotiations? Or is it possible they did know, and saw it as an opportunity to further French interests? And now that the deal is public, does it matter?
For quite a few years there has been talk about an EU military, that is, a military force that would be apart from the NATO force. There is, in fact, already an EU military force, mainly a series of headquarters, that uses most of the same forces committed to NATO, but the point is that they make decisions separately from NATO, that is, separately from the US. But NATO remains the “Big Dog.” What if that changed?
And who would really benefit from such a development?
When, on 18 March 1966, De Gaulle announced that France was leaving the integrated military command structure of NATO, he did it for two reasons: reassert French sovereignty by getting all US forces off of French soil, and by asserting sole French command and control over French nuclear forces. There was a third, unspoken, reason as well, it gave de Gaulle an edge in parliamentary elections later that year.
It’s worth noting that France has its own “Triad” of nuclear forces - ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs and nuclear capable aircraft. It’s also interesting that in the 1960s the French had nuclear tipped “Honest John” missiles (later replaced by the “Pluton” missile). These missiles were short ranged, and their use would have seen all those warheads land on West Germany.
Back to our current situation: the French are now furious; when publicly informed, they stormed off in high dudgeon. French Foreign Minister Le Drian said that France had been “stabbed in the back;” President Macron is reportedly extremely angry.
It may well be that they’re livid. But, what if Macron knew? What if his intelligence people were doing their jobs and had ferreted out word of this deal? Even if they didn’t know for certain, might it have lead to some planning, some “what ifs?” Might this not present Macron the opportunity to be “Olympian?” Might this not present to Macron an opportunity to assert French and EU independence, under the guise of “you can’t trust the US - Brits - Aussies anyway,” to the benefit of France, and of Macron?
If France, if Macron, can convince the Germans, perhaps the Spanish, the Italians, and the Dutch, to agree to a fully flushed out EU military, one which tacitly took precedence over NATO, who would be top dog? France would be the only nuclear power, France would be the only country with a blue water navy, France would be the only country with overseas territories of any note. France would become the dominant power. And Macron would be the man who created it all.
Like Jupiter among the lesser gods of Olympus, Macron and France would dominate the nations of Western Europe.
It may not be happening, but it may be. We should probably think about what happens to US, British and Canadian interests if NATO is weakened by, as a smart friend called him, this would-be Napoleon. And what would it mean to our Eastern European allies?
It was bad enough when De Gaulle said that: “I always thought I was Jeanne D’Arc and Napoleon.” But Macron thinks he’s Jupiter…
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...