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France’s Submarine Diplomatic Temper Tantrum Is Stupid

France Recalls Ambassador
Image: Creative Commons.

In one impetuous act, France demonstrated the bankruptcy of its foreign policy, its national pointlessness, and the broader obsolescence of NATO.

On Friday, Paris withdrew its ambassadors from the United States and Australia. At issue was Canberra’s decision to join the United States and Britain in a partnership to build eight nuclear-powered submarines, a first for Australia. Taking this step required Australia to cancel plans to build twelve diesel-electric submarines with French assistance worth $66 billion. Canberra, London, and Washington believe the change will make Australia’s navy more capable of deterring China.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the Biden administration for the move, declaring, “This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do.” He added that he was “angry and bitter.” The French government’s subsequent decision to recall its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra is considered a drastic diplomatic gesture, often a sign of extreme stress in a bilateral relationship or even a preface to the termination of diplomatic relations that precedes war.

The move lays bare what France and its foreign policy are really about: corporatism.

Did China’s recent crushing of freedom in Hong Kong and aggression in the South China Sea and cyberspace cause France to withdraw its ambassador? No.

Did Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine cause France to withdraw its ambassador from Moscow? No.

How about Iran or Cuba’s latest brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters? Did Paris get upset and pull its top diplomats in country? Of course not.

Actions by authoritarians that actually make the world more dangerous for the Free World earn a yawn from the renowned practitioners of realpolitik in Gay Paree. But if you disturb the rice bowls of politically connected defense firms in France, look out.

Australia’s decision is not beyond questioning. With no nuclear industry or history of operating nuclear submarines, the time and investment necessary to operationalize its new plans will be enormous, even with U.S. and U.K. technical assistance. Australia and the Free World may have been better off with cheaper and simpler subs that can be fielded faster and in greater numbers. But the decision is Canberra’s to make it is Australia’s money, which France ought to respect.

Paris’s hysterical reaction does more than just call into question whether postmodern France cares about anything more than helping its corporations. It ought to raise doubts about the usefulness of NATO itself to the challenges of the 2020s, especially the crucial task of confronting China.

Before the United States failed in Afghanistan, NATO failed there profoundly. While NATO declined to become involved in Iraq, it was willing to commence its first operation outside of Europe in Afghanistan, fighting the “good war.” It failed miserably, requiring the United States and other nations to take the lead again in 2014.

The European members of NATO have a collective GDP that is nearly fifteen times the size of Russia’s, but they still insist that they cannot defend against Russia without the United States playing the predominant role in NATO. With the exception of a few members in New Europe and Britain, NATO states have failed to come close to meeting their own promises on defense spending and groused mightily when former President Donald Trump urged them to meet their commitments.

And now France, a founding member of NATO, is willing to waylay diplomatic relations with two democratic allies because it lost out on a payday. Does anyone seriously think this gang will help the United States and our Pacific allies in a conflict with China? Will they even seriously help us try to deter China so that a conflict never occurs? Probably not if there’s no money in it for them. Beyond a firm but polite letter of condemnation of China if it starts a war, we can expect nothing of France or the rest of Old Europe.

In that sense, maybe we should thank France for its crass and childish move that reveals what really matters to Paris. It’s just a shame that Donald Rumsfeld passed away earlier this year. Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense when France organized an international coalition to thwart the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, imperiling our servicemembers, and then demanded haughtily that its companies be allowed to get rich from U.S. funds expended to rebuild Iraq. Rumsfeld had a house across from the French ambassador’s residence in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington. Maybe he would have gotten a kick from seeing the French ambassador packing up his junk and repairing to his honor-free country.

Christian Whiton was a State Department senior advisor in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is the editor of “Super Macro” on Substack.

Written By

Christian Whiton is a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest and edits Super Macro. He was a State Department senior advisor during the George W. Bush and Trump administrations.



  1. Luke

    September 18, 2021 at 12:53 am

    I have no doubt that the author of this article is a very smart man who is simply playing dumb. “France is upset because they just lost a payday” and only cares about protecting the economic interest of its national corporation….duh. just like any other country. How come American companies rebuilt Irak after the U.S government destroyed the country? Why do you think China “generously” lends money to African countries” to build infrastructure and then owns them when they cannot pay back? I am a dual citizen, and as we say in America “nothing personal, it is just business”…so don’t insult pur intelligence calling out other countries when they pu economic interest first, every country does. Please don’t insult our intelligence.

  2. Vince

    September 18, 2021 at 3:28 am

    Full of disgusting shit. Shut up and just enjoy your money man.

  3. Slack

    September 18, 2021 at 4:46 am

    France’s anger over Australia’s aboutface on its original Aus-franco sub deal is similar to America’s anger over Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 instead of US-made Patriot system.

    US has gone even further by enacting the CAATSA act which basically punishes anyone purchasing non-US systems from rival nations. It is called ‘ARMS BLACKMAIL’.

  4. Felix Ngwenya

    September 18, 2021 at 5:33 am

    I don’t think France is unfair to have taken this action.
    This truly shows an unfair decision by the American administration and Australia because,France had an agreement with Australia but America saw it fit to sideline France, who happen to be a NATO member and who also see China as a threat to the alliance interest. It could have been better that France should have been included in this latest deal.
    America is seen as a bully to it’s partners.
    The writer is biased and makes incomparable examples where France had no agreement with those nations.
    This shows how America exerts its muscles against other nations.

  5. Johnathan Galt

    September 18, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Sounds like Phrance wasn’t even invited to the discussion. It makes sense they are bent out of shape, but now that Phrance is a Muslim country they can no longer be trusted.

  6. Pancake Tabernec

    September 20, 2021 at 9:35 am

    “Did Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine cause France to withdraw its ambassador from Moscow? No.”
    But France canceled a contract for a ship with Russia.

  7. Colin Lam

    September 20, 2021 at 9:46 pm

    Let’s think from Australia side:
    – deal was signed 2016
    – project cost rises from 50 billions AUD to 90 billions AUD
    – Australia may receive its first new sub after 2035 (6 existing Collins-class will retired in 2026) and production will extend to 2050 for all 12 subs. Therefore it will take 34 years to complete (from 2016 to 2050)
    – local production input has been revised by the French from 90% to 60% saying that the Aussie are not up to the standard (and why didn’t the French “teach” the Aussie how it should be done?). 90% local input will provide 2800 jobs

    Now if a country should ALWAYS put its economic interest first. Australia is making a right choice, am I correct?

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