So Emmanuel and Joe kissed and made up and Boris tried to make a joke of the whole affair while titillating his supporters by mocking Emmanuel.
Is the great submarine crisis of 2021 over? No. There is still much of this strange saga which is unexplained – submerged if you like.
President Macron still faces awkward questions.
How did France miss so many signs and symptoms that the US, Australia and Britain were plotting behind France’s back?
What is France’s true strength and importance militarily and diplomatically if the Anglo-Saxon trio was prepared to humiliate Paris in this way?
Is there something about Macron himself – his tendency to lecture; his cocksure certainty – which made him the target, not just France?
For the time being, Macron has emerged from this murky business reasonably well. It is unlikely, I think, to damage him domestically.
He obtained, in his joint statement with President Biden on Wednesday night, what amounted to an American apology (a rare event). He seems, on paper at least, to have gained a couple of concessions from the United States on support for European defence policy and further US logistical help for the French-led anti-Islamist war in the Sahel.
— Élysée (@Elysee) September 22, 2021
How solid those commitments from Washington are remains to be seen.
Relations between Paris and Canberra remain – and will remain for some time – plunged into a freeze of Antarctic intensity.
Relations between Paris and London will continue as before – miserably bad on the surface; correct and even cooperative at the practical level beyond the tabloid headlines.
Boris Johnson’s little franglais joke – asking Macron to “donnez moi un break” – will confirm the view in Paris that the current British Prime Minister is not a serious person; that he turns everything into either a joke or a lie.
Boris Johnson, speaking outside the Capitol, says it’s time for the French to “prenez un grip” and “donnez-moi un break” after the spat over a U.K. submarine deal with the U.S. and Australia pic.twitter.com/FpVywohTjK
— Kitty Donaldson (@kitty_donaldson) September 22, 2021
Johnson was promoting the false view – common in the UK media but also the US media – that France was merely sulking because it had lost a €56bn submarine contract signed with Australia five years ago. Nothing to see here. Just normal business. Just the French being the French.
That is not what happened. The US, the UK and Australia had been in secret talks for six months on a new Indo-Pacific security pact including a vague promise to build US-UK nuclear submarines to replace the French ones (diesel powered at Australia’s insistence).
The AUSUK pact, announced last Wednesday without notice, blew up not only the French submarine deal but also, in effect, a nine-year-old security and cooperation agreement between Paris and Canberra. (France, let us recall, is an Indo-Pacific power with five French overseas territories or départements in the region.)
The secrecy of the talks and the undiplomatic brutality of the AUKUS announcement, was seen in Paris as a deliberate hit by the United States – a warning that Washington saw Indo-Pacific security and future relations between China and the West as the exclusive interest of the US and English-speaking junior partners.
The French said that they had documentary proof that the US had lied to them. On the day of the AUKUS announcement they said, they received a letter from an Australian admiral saying Canberra wanted to push ahead with the next stage of the French submarine deal.
In the last few days, everything and its opposite has been said about the Australian submarine contract. The safety of Australians and the performance of our industrialists deserve better than peremptory statements. A #thread to better understand the Australian submarine affair.
— Porte-parole du ministère des Armées (@HerveGrandjean) September 21, 2021
The issue, France said, was not just a submarine contract. It was how allies behaved to one another. If they behaved in this way, should they be considered allies at all?
Macron, we were told, was incandescent with rage. But he said nothing in public. He didn’t call Canberra or London. He refused to take a call from President Biden until Wednesday. He did call the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. He did – with some, but far from complete, success – urge other European governments and the European Commission to make statements supporting France.
The strategy seems to have been to distance Macron from the quarrel and big up his role in the solution – or temporary solution.
It is worth going line by line through the short Macron-Biden statement after their phone call on Wednesday evening.
It is made clear that Biden sought the call, not Macron. It is stated that “the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners”. That’s as close to an apology as France was ever likely to get.
The two presidents say they will meet in October.
Then Biden gives Macron three cadeaux.
He accepts the “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region”.
He “recognises the importance of a stronger and more capable European defence, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO”.
He commits the US to “reinforcing its support to counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel conducted by European states”.
The European defence statement is important. The US has always (rightly) wanted European countries to spend more on their own defence – but as part of Nato. Biden here is accepting the Macron Doctrine – that EU countries should have their own defence and security policy separate to Nato but in cooperation with it.
Does it mean anything? Is Biden really changing settled US policy? Or just sweet-talking Macron?
Other questions remain. Was AUKUS really a hit on France as well as China? Or was it clumsy diplomacy by one part of the Biden administration not talking to another? Or something cynically pushed by the US and UK arms industries?
Much of the submarine crisis remains unexplained. Maybe it will be forced to the surface one day. Maybe not.