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France in search of allies in the Indo-Pacific zone



► Can France Europeanize the crisis?

Paris shows its desire to “To raise the issue of European strategic autonomy loud and clear”. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was to participate, Monday, September 20, in a meeting with his counterparts from the European Union organized by the High Representative for External Relations Josep Borrell. The opportunity to explain that the “crisis of Australian submarines”, as it is called in France, is not reduced to the cancellation of an armaments contract between France and Australia.

The political stake lies, according to Paris, in the ” lack of consistency Of the United States in the treatment of its allies in the Indo-Pacific region. Until then, the deafening silence of European capitals seems to indicate that most of them have a different reading of the situation. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, this new illustration of the unilateralism of the Biden administration shocks them, but there is no question of doing without the guarantee of American security, even weakened.

During the French presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022, Emmanuel Macron intends to give new impetus to European defense. A summit of the 27 will be held in the spring in Toulouse to adopt a “strategic compass”, supposed to define common interests and objectives. Still, the idea of ​​a strategic autonomy for Europe is perceived, on the part of Germany as well as other European countries, as a desire to break the transatlantic link, a ” illusion According to German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (“AKK”). Across the Rhine, we prefer to talk about strengthening “Capacities to act” on a European scale.

“Once again, European strategic autonomy is formulated by France in opposition to the United States and to American policy”, analysis Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director, in Paris, of the transatlantic think tank German Marshall Fund of the United States. ” If we want to move forward constructively, this autonomy must start from a discussion between Europeans on their security interests, the strategy to be implemented and the capacities to be developed jointly in order to be relevant in an increasingly shaped world. by hard power.

► Can it find the means to act against Washington?

Two years after Emmanuel Macron’s remarks on “Brain death” of NATO, Paris hopes to influence the definition of the new strategic concept to be adopted at the next Alliance summit, in Madrid in 2022. And wishes to guide NATO’s positioning in the standoff between states -United and China. As well as influencing in favor of a rebalancing of the functioning of the organization more favorable to Europeans.

As long as the Europeans do not agree on a common analysis of their interests, the construction of a European pillar within NATO will not succeed. », Affirms Dominique David, advisor to the President of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri) and editor-in-chief of the quarterly review Foreign politic. ” The only solution is to move forward step by step with cooperation within the framework of the European Union, in particular in the industrial field, to create de facto solidarities.

In its strategy against China, and despite the Australian choice pushed by Asia-Pacific specialists in the National Security Council, the Biden administration does not seem to have decided on how to obtain greater involvement. Europeans. “The United States has not made a clear choice between burden-sharing – a division of labor between an Indo-Pacific-centric United States and a Europe more involved in the security of its neighborhood, both east and east. in the South – and risk sharing where Americans and Europeans coordinate their policy in both theaters ”, analysis François Heisbourg, special advisor to the Foundation for Strategic Research.

Canberra’s cancellation of the contract to supply French submarines in favor of a strategic partnership with Washington and London ultimately reflects the balance of power between the powers in the Indo-Pacific. ” It is a reaffirmation of American leadership, emphasizes Dominique David. Joe Biden had already succeeded in imposing the mention of the systemic challenges presented by China in the final communiqué of the NATO summit in June. France likes to qualify itself as the second maritime power in the world, but any European deployment in the Indo-Pacific, whether economic, political or military, remains very fragile because the bosses in the area are not Europeans.

► Can it pursue an Indo-Pacific strategy without the United States?

The brutal cancellation of the submarine contract with Australia shakes up France’s Indo-Pacific strategy, a priority for Paris which is looking for a way, with Europe, to exist in this epicenter of tensions between the Chinese giants and American. The French president has made the Indo-Pacific, a region where France has immense territories, a priority from 2018. In the regional context of the Pacific where tensions continue to grow, Paris for its part completed in early 2021 the deployment of one of its nuclear attack submarines, theEmerald, a first since 2001.

But if France seeks not to let itself be locked into the Washington-Beijing bipolarity, and not to be a vassal of the Americans, it must multiply its alliances in an area where there is no security architecture but a multitude of organizations which coexist there: Asean, Organization of Shanghai, Apec, Quad… and now Aukus, the new agreement Australia, United Kingdom, United States.

France cannot pursue an Indo-Pacific strategy without the United States, emphasizes Antoine Bondaz, researcher specializing in Asia-Pacific at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS). The United States remains an essential partner, like Australia.

Even if the Hexagon tries to deploy military means and relies on partnerships with important players in the region, “ what has just happened with Australia should accelerate the process of diversifying our partnerships “, Insists Antoine Bondaz,” well beyond Japan and Australia, aligned with the United States “. France has moved closer to India (sale of Rafale, military cooperation) but given the Chinese threat (in four years, China has launched the equivalent of the French fleet), Paris is not a leading ally for these countries. ” France must seek other partnerships, considers Antoine Bondaz, as with Indonesia and South Korea.

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