French outrage over US submarine deal won’t sink long-standing alliance


The recent recall by France of its ambassador to the United States is an exceptional step in the long history of Franco-American relations, which began with the treaties of 1778 which created a military and commercial alliance between the two countries.

In France, President Joe Biden’s announcement on September 15, 2021 of a new trilateral security partnership between the United States, Australia and Britain has sparked disbelief and outrage.

The alliance, which allows Australia to acquire US nuclear-powered submarine technology, cancels a $ 66 billion submarine deal that Australia signed with France in 2016.

Beyond the financial implications that his country will face after Australia’s change of mind, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused the United States and its partners of “lying, of duplicity, of ‘a major breach of trust and contempt “.

A September 22 phone conversation between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron helped chart a course for reconciliation. The two leaders agreed on in-depth consultations on topics of strategic interest, which will be followed by a meeting in Europe at the end of October. Yet Le Drian acknowledged that resolving the crisis “will take time and require action.”

But despite French outrage over the deal, there is little chance of irreparable damage between the two countries. On the contrary, the current diplomatic crisis highlights a cycle of conflict and rapprochement which, as my research shows, has characterized US-French relations from the very beginning.

The high expectations between the United States and a country often described as its “oldest ally” have often led to diplomatic misunderstandings and feuds in the past.

“Perfidy”, privateers and demonstrations

Less than 20 years after French and American soldiers fought side by side against the British on the battlefields of Brandywine and Yorktown, the two nations disagreed over Jay’s Treaty of 1794, which restored relations between the United States and Great Britain.

France viewed the treaty as a betrayal of America. In a note that echoes Minister Le Drian’s recent grievances, the ruling French Directorate, composed of five members, complained that “the United States government has added the full measure of perfidy towards the French Republic, his most loyal ally “.

France therefore allowed its privateers to seize American merchant ships, inflicting considerable damage on American trade.

In the United States, protests erupted in Philadelphia demanding war with France. And Congress quickly passed legislation to fund a naval force, as well as the Aliens and Sedition Acts of 1798, which increased the residency requirement for US citizenship from five to 14 years, allowed deportation. foreigners considered dangerous; and restricted speeches critical of the government.

The ensuing undeclared naval warfare, later known as “quasi-war,” continued until the Treaty of Mortefontaine in 1800, which restored more amicable relations between the two countries. During hostilities, France seized more than 2,000 American ships along the Atlantic coast and in the West Indies.

American ill will

The two nations narrowly escaped war again under the reign of Napoleon III in 1852-1870.

In 1862, the French Emperor attempted to establish a puppet regime in Mexico and installed Maximilian of Habsburg as Emperor of Mexico.

For Napoleon III, this Catholic and Latin monarchy would thwart the influence of the Protestant and Republican United States in the New World.

The United States viewed this move as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, the foreign policy established in 1823 by President James Monroe which declared that any European interference in the Western Hemisphere would be considered a hostile act against the United States.


Although the United States was unable to retaliate directly during the Civil War, fearing that France would side with Confederation, Secretary of State William Henry Seward has repeatedly warned the French that their interference in the Mexico would have serious consequences.

In 1865, once the Civil War was over, discussions of a Franco-American war became widespread after President Andrew Johnson sent General John M. Schofield to Paris to warn the French that time was running out before the States -Unis did not resort to military intervention to expel Napoleon. the forces of III from Mexico.

Although Napoleon III finally agreed to withdraw his troops, this Mexican intervention earned France a great deal of malice in the United States.

Its effects will be felt during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when despite the neutral position of the American government, American public opinion clearly favors the Germans over the French.

Tensions of the 20th century

Diplomatic crises between the United States and France repeated themselves throughout the twentieth century.

According to US diplomat George Vest, President Charles de Gaulle’s decision to withdraw France from NATO’s integrated military command in 1966 prompted former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and other foreign policy advisers to “imagine all the means to return the book to France, to put our relations to a minimum, to retaliate in all possible punitive ways.

Ultimately, however, President Lyndon B. Johnson responded by telling de Gaulle that the United States was determined to join with other NATO members in preserving the alliance‘s deterrent system.

In 1986, relations deteriorated again after President Francois Mitterrand refused to allow US bombers to cross French airspace en route to strike military targets in Libya. Anti-French protests followed in several American cities. Crowds poured Bordeaux wine down the gutter and burned French produce in bonfires.

Another crisis followed France’s refusal to support the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The anger and desire of US officials to “punish France” was accompanied by a media campaign against “monkeys”. French cheese eaters.

The diplomatic confrontation left very serious tensions, which were not fully resolved until 2005, when bilateral relations resumed a more normal course.

In all these cases, as in the current crisis, reactions on both sides have gone beyond the political realm: the language of passion has replaced the more neutral discourse of diplomacy.

This passionate turn is the result of the mythology that surrounds France’s view of herself as America’s “oldest ally” and America’s idealistic view of herself as the only savior. of France during WWI and WWII.

This mythology that no matter what, France and the United States should always be on the same side – politically, economically and diplomatically – hinders a more realistic relationship between the two countries.

Going beyond the rhetoric of the “oldest ally” could allow the two countries to take a more productive look at the true nature of their relations: those of two democratic nations whose interests sometimes coincide, sometimes diverge in the complex world of twenty-first international relations. century.


The article originally appeared on The Conversation. It is written by Hervé-Thomas Campangne, Professor of French Studies, University of Maryland

(Only the title and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)


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