(Art design: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli
Do the United States still consider France to be their ally?
We have to ponder this question because of the submarine contract signed between France and Australia, and broken in September 2021, to the benefit of the U.S.. If a country takes 35 billion euros from you, possibly revalued to 55 billion, then is it still your ally? This actually looks more like hostile behaviour on the part of the Americans.
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Hence, whether the U.S. and France are still allies is a puzzle. And one that is important to solve. Indeed, this kind of American attitude could possibly happen again in other circumstances, with other countries. We must therefore understand what happened and why.
This understanding, the explanation of the puzzle, lies in the American national interest, which this article and the video address. The article also details all the sources and footages used in the video.
The video is in French. For non-French speakers, if you need subtitles and those offered by Google are insufficient, let us know.
This article deals with a crucial issue: the national interest of the United States.
Any analysis of international relations or geopolitics must be made in the light of what the actors involved define and perceive as their national interest.
Understanding these national interests accurately is key to understanding what is happening in the world. Indeed, the national interest of each country acts as a framework that informs and constrains the perceptions and actions of those countries.
We really need to understand these national interests from the inside, as the actors themselves perceive them, and not to project our perceptions.
This is even more important in the case of the United States, given their power in the international system. All the American actions will, indeed, have major repercussions on the whole system.
Three recent documents
To identify this American national interest, we use, of course, the accumulated knowledge on this subject, to which we add three recent documents.
First, in March 2021, on taking office, President Biden published an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (INSSG). This will be our first source.
Second, we use the unclassified summary of the National Defense Strategy 2022 (Factsheet NDS 22 – published on 28 March 2022 in classified form).
Finally, we also look at the previous 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS 2018). Despite the 2021 Interim National Security Guidance, the vision and understanding of the world and of the U.S. national interest have not fundamentally changed with the election of President Biden.
The American National Interest
A simple concept
The American national interest is simple.
Basically, it is about protecting the security of the American people (ISSG). It is further broken down, as explained in the NDS 22 factsheet, into three vital U.S. national interests:
“The protection of the American people,
The expansion of America’s prosperity,
The realisation and defence of our democratic values.”NDS 22 Factsheet
A sacred mission
It is key to understand that the defence and expansion of American interests is a sacred duty for the U.S..
This idea of a sacred duty and mission cannot be stressed enough in the case of the United States. Indeed, the United States see themselves as the force for good (for more details, see Robert W. McElroy, Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs, Princeton University Press, 1992; Helene Lavoix, “Which U.S. Decline? The View from the U.S. National Intelligence Council“, 25 September 2017; “Sources of American Decline… and Power – The View from the U.S. National Intelligence Council“, 9 October 2017; “The Paradox of U.S. Decline … and the Tensions with North Korea“, 6 November 2017, The Red Team Analysis Society).
To remain in power, to rule the world is thus for the U.S. and its political authorities a sacred mission, an imperative, since without their righteous leadership there would be only chaos and the reign of evil.
Thus, the United States think of themselves as the repository of a power that they must imperatively retain. Indeed, as stated in Biden’s INSSG, thanks to this might “across all forms and dimensions of [our] power”,
“The United States’ enduring advantages enable us to shape the future of international politics to advance our interests and values, and create a freer, safer, and more prosperous world.”2021 INSSG (p. 8)
The main components of the American National Interest
The American national interest si composed of three main elements.
Defence and power at home
First, the U.S. will seek to promote domestic defence and strength. This is spelled out as including their people, their economy, their national defence and their democracy (INSSG, p.9).
It is thus quite identical to the previous principle of “America First”.
This component of the national interest is logical in terms of governance, since it is the mission of the political authorities to ensure the security of their citizens first, with others coming only later (Barrington Moore, Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978; Max Weber, Le savant et le politique, (Paris : 10/18, 1963) originally «Wissenschaft als Beruf » & « Politik als Beruf » 1919; Hélène Lavoix, What is Political Risk?, video).
International order and alliances
Then, the U.S. focus on the international order as well as on their alliances (INSSG, pp.10-15).
Protecting the American order
The United States seek to protect and reinvigorate the alliances, institutions, agreements and norms that underpin the international order that they largely contributed to establish after World War II (INSSG, notably pp.9-11).
Actually, some of these institutions, namely the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are seen as fundamentally part of the American order, notably as they are part of what is called the Washington Consensus (an agreement between these two institutions and the U.S. Department of the Treasury on policy recommendations notably for developing countries based on neoliberalism, for an overview, Stephen R. Hurt, “Washington Consensus“, Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 May 2020).
The U.S. need all the more to protect this order that it is being challenged, from their point of view, particularly by China, but also by Russia (2018 NDS, INSSG).
Furthermore, since the U.S. are the force for good, the system it leads, de facto, can only bring about good. And this system being synonymous with good, to protect it is even more a duty. We are here in a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
More simply, the U.S. want to remain the only superpower running the international order that they set up at the end of the Second World War, and they also want to reinvigorate and modernise it… but not change it. Their order must remain.
The true meaning of alliances
As far as allies are concerned, we could be puzzled and see an inconsistency between American objectives and statements on the one hand, actions on the other. We shall use the case of the submarines contract between France and Australia to understand better what is taking place. This reasoning, furthermore, could be applied to other situations and events involving American allies.
The case of the Franco-Australian submarines contract
When France had signed a contract with Australia in 2016 to deliver submarines, and as the contract had already started, nonetheless the United States did not hesitate to literally steal it from France (“Implementing Australia’s nuclear submarine program“, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 14 Dec 2021).
Various arguments have been advanced to justify such action. Nonetheless, whatever the rhetoric, a contract is a contract and to promote its breach is wrong. This is even worse if it is done behind the back of one of the parties, as stressed by France (e.g. : “France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal“, The Hill, 17 September 2021; “French ambassador accuses Australia of deceit over submarine deal, Reuters“, 3 November 2021). Yet France is meant to be an ally of the United States.
This equated to a loss for France estimated at 35 billion euros (56-57 billion AUSD), the gain being estimated at more than 44 billion euros for the U.S., with a new cost of more than 70 billion AUSD for Australia (“Implementing Australia’s nuclear submarine program“, Ibid. – Note that a token 555 million euros – i.e. at best 1,5% of the contract – has been agreed in June 2022 between the French company Naval Group and the Australian government as compensation and to move forward “Australia announces compensation deal with France for scrapped submarine contract“, France 24, 11 June 2022).
The blow was all the harsher for France considering the difficult global economic situation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, for France, this also meant a global loss of influence as well as, more specifically, a negative strategic impact in the Indo-Pacific area.
This latter point is confirmed by the creation of the strategic security pact AUKUS, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., but not France (e.g. White House, Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS, White House, 15 September 2021).
However, as we can see from the maps below, France is the leading maritime power in the Indian Ocean and the second largest in the Pacific, just behind the United States (see for more details, Helene Lavoix, “When Seas and Maps Impact Geostrategy and the Future“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 15 September 2021).
The U.S. EEZs territory (left) and France 2014 EEZs and ECS territory (right)
Left: NOAA’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the United States and affiliated islands (dark blue). Right: SHOM map 2014 – used on the “Tableau des superficies” webpage, Limites Maritimes
Yet, as far as sovereign states are concerned, worldwide, in terms of maritime territory, France is only second to the U.S. and close behind it. The largest political entity in terms of territory, both maritime and terrestrial is the European Union.
Global territory per international actor (in millions of km2) – ranked per EEZs and ECS and ranked per total territory – Sources: mainly Bouron, “Mesurer les Zones Économiques Exclusives“, Ibid; USGS and NOAA; Portail national des limites maritimes; Wikipedia.
Could it be that the very size of the French maritime area, with its implications in terms of potential maritime power contributed to the United States actions in the Indo-Pacific regarding France? But then, does that mean that France is not really an ally of the United States?
It is all the stranger to have to ponder such a question that a recent survey among Americans singled out France as the country that was perceived as closest to the U.S. in terms of shared interests and values (Craig Kafura, “Americans on Their Allies, Partners, and Rivals“, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 13 October 2021). Thus, France would be, somehow, the ideal ally for Americans.
In order to make sense of this inconsistency regarding the way the United States handle their allies, we need to continue our analysis of the U.S. national interest.
Allies indeed … but subservient
Let us dig a little deeper into what it means to be an ally for the United States. We shall find here the first part of the explanation of the American attitude towards France. The reasoning we use, of course, can be applied to any other situation involving U.S. allies.
As highlighted in the INSSG, the United States will “promote a distribution of international power” that is favorable to themselves and will “deter and prevent adversaries” (or others) “from directly threatening the United States and our allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions” (INSSG, p. 9).
They can do so only because the are leading the world, while this global leadership is necessary to have such ambitious and global action. In the same token, these points show that the allies are indeed a lower tier that must conform to the vision and will of the American leader if not ruler. True enough the INSSG specifies here it only aims at “adversaries,” but, as we shall see below, any state is actually potentially concerned (see p.19).
We find here the beginning of an explanation for the American attitude towards France.
If France had been able to keep its contract and advance its strategy in the Indo-Pacific, then it would have had the potential to become a real competing power for the United States in the Pacific region. It could also have really started to dominate the Indian Ocean.
Both are unacceptable to the U.S.. The allies, for the United States, and as shown by their documents seen in the light of their actions, can, in fact, only be inferior, but never equal. They cannot and should never increase their power unless the United States allows them to do so.
Let us not forget that the U.S. think in terms of deterrence. Indeed, they highlight in the NDS the highly interesting concept of “integrated deterrence” (2022 NDS Factsheet). Henceforth, they anticipate and strike and threaten to strike harder, to avoid the possibility of a still non-realised “aggression”, and will do that across the various domains of power, in an integrated way. “
Let us now turn to the last component of the American national interest. It is here that we shall also find the second part of the explanation of the attitude of the United States towards France.
It is very important to understand that for the United States, the enemies are of two closely related types.
The emergence of an enemy order
First, at the systemic and normative level, of ideas and thought, the enemy is the emergence of a new international order carried and shaped by China and Russia, characterised as revisionist powers. This emerging order is conceived as “consistent with the authoritarian model” of the “revisionist powers” (2018 NDS, p.4).
Then, at the second level, we find, in a much more classical way, states that are designated as enemies, these states, moreover, being those that want to bring about the enemy international and systemic order.
These enemies are first of all China but also Russia, as well as other regional powers such as Iran and North Korea.
To quote the 2022 NDS Factsheet, the American defense has as priorities:
“Deterring aggression, while being prepared to prevail in conflict when necessary, prioritizing the PRC challenge in the Indo-Pacific, then the Russia challenge in Europe”2022 NDS Factsheet
This shows that the American hierarchy of threats singles out first the People’s Republic of China in the Indo-Pacific region, then Russia in Europe.
As a result, we can assess the fundamental quality of the Indo-Pacific as a region for the United States in terms of their national interest.
Now, this is precisely the region where France was making a strategic and commercial effort.
Of course, given the danger posed by China, the sacred mission of the U.S. and the necessary subservience of the allies, it was obvious that the U.S. would act to stop France.
The United States cannot accept that any power may gain a foothold – or improve it in the case of France – or worse have strategic ambitions in a region so vital to its national interest.
All of these elements constitute the major points of the U.S. national interest. They will inform the American understanding of the world, its analyses, its decisions, its strategies and its actions, as we have seen with the example of France, an ally of the United States.
In the Interim National Security Strategy Guidance, a sentence has been highlighted that summarises and underlines what the U.S. national interest is:
This agenda will strengthen our enduring advantages, and allow us to prevail in strategic competition with China or any other nation.”INSSG 21, p. 19
Those last three words – any other nation – are extremely important.
They underline that global dominance is indeed at the heart of the U.S. national interest. This global dominance the U.S. will do everything to maintain and strengthen, and will do so in a very active way.
Will the United States succeed? How will other states react? What instability will this create in our world? These are key questions that inform contemporary reality.
Footages for the video
By order of use
Jean Dominique Lavoix Carli, Featured image for the video and the article;
Airframe: A-10 Thunderbolt II, UNITED STATES, 03.20.2020, Video by Matthew Hilborn, Defense.gov
Archival material Public Domain or fair use from “Inaugurations Are Powerful Symbols of American Democracy“, VOA, 20 January 2021.
Inauguration of President Biden, various videos, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons and DVIDS B-Roll.
Profil des sous-marins de la classe Attack, Wikipedia
Royal Australian Navy Leads U.S. Navy Weapons Exercise, PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA, AUSTRALIA, 03.16.2022, Video by Petty Officer 2nd Class William Stephens, USS Frank Cable (AS 40).
Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2022 Trailer, OTTAWA, ON, CANADA, 04.26.2022, Courtesy video of the Royal Canadian Navy, Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet
The School of Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies, MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, AL, UNITED STATES, 04.10.2019, Video by Michael Hasenauer and Tech. Sgt. Robert Webb, Air University Public Affairs
USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) Conducts Routine Operations in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, SOUTH CHINA SEA, 05.12.2015, Video by Petty Officer 2nd Class Conor Minto
Happy 73rd birthday to the PLA Navy! By: Global Times | Published: Apr 23, 2022 08:29 PM
Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation – CC 0.4. – 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment captured the airfield of the mock enemy and the bridgehead for the landing of the main forces of the formation at the exercise in the Crimea – Date 19 March 2021
China stays by PICs’ side in disaster prevention, COVID response By: Global Times | Published: May 27, 2022 12:48 AM
Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation – CC 0.4 – Joint Sea 2021 Russian-Chinese naval exercise starts in Sea of Japan
U.S. Marines in the Indo-Pacific, CAMP H.M. SMITH, HI, UNITED STATES, 04.08.2022, Video by Staff Sgt. Brett Norman, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.
United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City by Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.