For Laurence Nardon, head of the North America program at the French Institute for International Relations, the United States attaches no importance to its French and European partners, while it is focused on its strategic reorientation regarding China. The United States demonstrates yet again its unilateralism and impedes any inclination toward autonomy.
Jean-Yves Le Drian* has touched on a serious crisis of confidence with the United States and, in an unprecedented move, has recalled our ambassador to Washington. Is this crisis deeper than the preceding ones?
It seems to me that it is only the latest episode in the Franco-American disputes that we are used to. We can go back to the crisis of 2003, but this crisis is closer to that of 2013 [in Syria, ed.] because the British are once again part of the equation.
At the time, I had been quite struck by the fact that the Obama administration preferred to waive taking any action, despite having promised to do so, if the ally by its side was France rather than the United Kingdom. It is a new manifestation of the lack of confidence that the Americans have in us, despite their grand pronouncements that France is their “premier ally.”
Hence, Boris Johnson’s satisfaction in seeing this as a success for his “Global Britain” strategy. In that regard, the French were entirely right not to recall their ambassador to London in order to underscore how indifferent we are to Britain’s games.
Does France nevertheless have a geostrategic interest – by reason of its maritime territory and its military forces – in the Indo-Pacific zone?
It is all the more true given that France participated in an unprecedented naval exercise with the United States, Japan and Australia last June! There is at this moment unanimity within the Biden administration; everyone is thinking the same thing at the same time: The enemy is China, and everything must be rearranged based on that.
One can see this in the increasing strength of the Indo-Pacific concept with two powerful issues: a “new cold war” with China and the rivalry of great powers. What perhaps explains why France is unceremoniously shunted aside is that there are silos within the Defense Department and the State Department, and that it is the Asia-Pacific departments that lead the dance … without necessarily taking into account those who know Europe. And what seems smartest to them is to bet everything on Australia.
Would the more nuanced policies of France and Europe with respect to China also be one of the reasons we were left out?
That would rather bad faith on their part. We can clearly see that the accord on investments has been stopped, and that the European Union has recently taken considerably firm measures wiht regard to China. We are in a lose-lose situation on this question. The Americans are under the impression that Europe serves no purpose in their strategic reorientation. Nevertheless, they demand total alignment from us. So, whether we align or not, we are useless to them.
It is all the more distressing since we had hoped for something else from the new Democratic and post-Donald Trump administration, and from its Francophile secretary of state, Antony Blinken. And yet, America is resuming its unilateralist approach. All of this is really deplorable.
Is France going to be able to regain leverage vis-à-vis Washington and at the same time push the concept of strategic autonomy?
Will we be compensated for this insult? There is, of course, trans-Atlantic trade, and the lifting of tariffs still in force on steel and aluminum. The negotiations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the taxation of multinationals could, perhaps, get tougher with respect to the big technology companies. There is also the painful issue of travel visas: we have been unable to travel to the United States for two years.
But the real issue that we could try to get the Americans to change their attitude about is strategic European autonomy. Will the U.S. continue to block any effort to move forward on this issue, and thereby signal that Europe is no longer on its strategic radar?
*Editor’s note: Jean-Yves Le Drian is France’s minister for Europe and foreign affairs.