What's driving France's hissy fit over losing the submarine deal with the Aussies?

The French are throwing an overwrought emotional reaction to Australia canceling its submarine deal with them. In a nutshell, the $66 billion deal was for France to supply 12 diesel-electric subs to Australia. Plagued with cost overruns that projected to raise the price to $90 billion along with delivery delays, Australia canceled the deal and instead agreed to purchase at least eight American-British nuclear power subs.

Before looking at what's behind France's reaction, understand these salient facts. Diesel subs are far inferior to nuclear ones in their operational capabilities. Worse yet, the French boats would have been obsolete before they were even delivered. This could be fatal for Australia. Although it's considered a continent, Australia is more like a large island surrounded by oceans. Plus, Australia has a comparatively tiny population of less than 26 million and it lives in the backyard of communist China, a country that grows more belligerent by the day. It goes without saying that a strong naval deterrent is vital for Australia's defense, and French submarines are woefully inadequate for the task.

Strong alliances are also critical. Obtaining nuclear subs from the U.S.-Great Britain suppliers and the technology that goes with them is the first major initiative of the new security alliance dubbed AUKUS for Australia-United Kingdom-United States. This helps to cement the partnership among these Anglo nations. On the other hand, what country would seriously rely on France for a vital part of its security? Not only is France too weak to project power halfway around the world despite its permanent bases in the region, but it also salivates for trade with China and has a history of duplicity and backstabbing allies when it suits French interests. Considering all that, It would have been insane for the Aussies to stick with the French submarine deal.

Now to France.

Yes, it is painful to lose a major military contract. But that doesn't explain the French reaction to the cancellation. France has a light footprint in the Pacific with three small territories -- New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and French Polynesia. The Australian submarine deal was an integral part of the French plan to become a major player in the Pacific. That hope is now dead.

That's not the full extent of France's angst. Norimitsu Onishi writing in the New York Times nails it. The respected longtime foreign correspondent (those who have worked with him say he is amazing -ed.) says the failed Australian sub deal raises the question in the corridors of power in France as to whether there's an unbridgeable gap between France's vision of itself on the world stage and its actual power. Or as Onishi put it, the French are asking themselves: "Are we still a great nation?"

Bertrand Badie, an expert on French foreign policy at Sciences Po university, says France's past glory (the Napoleon era) continues to shape its national psyche. This gives France a delusion of grandeur. France believes that because once upon a time it was a powerful nation that it still should be. It may seem absurd to an outsider, but Badie notes France sees itself as occupying a premier rank in the world's pecking order. Badie is more realistic than many of his fellow countrymen as he gives this pithy analogy. He says France is like an old aristocrat who's now forced to dine next to a peasant who's become rich, and he finds it unbearable. That right there explains much of French envy and resentment towards the United States.

What's also adding to the French questioning their role in the world is the casual matter in which the countries of the AUKUS nixed the French submarine deal. None of them considered the French worth consulting before the cancellation was formalized. And why would they? France would have done everything possible to obstruct Australia from obtaining the needed U.S.-U.K. nuclear subs. As it was, France only found out about the new arrangement a few hours before it was announced to the world. That stung Gallic pride to the core. This prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to petulantly recall France's ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia and threaten to sabotage the nearly completed trade deal between the European Union and Australia.

As long as France continues to live in the delusional state that it is still a great world power, it will cause trouble. Fortunately, most of the trouble will be centered in Europe. France will be in for another shock the day Germany throws off its WWII guilt and asserts itself more fitting its economic power.

Image: President of the Russian Federation, www.Kremlin.ru (cropped), via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

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