Franco-American tension over submarine deal puts fresh strain on transatlantic ties

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US President Joe Biden participates is a virtual press conference on national security with British PM Boris Johnson (R) and Australian PM Scott Morrison on Sept. 15, 2021. (AFP)
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​ Somewhat neglected after the Cold War, attack submarines are now making a serious comeback around the world. (US Navy photo via AFP) ​
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In this February 18, 2017, file photo, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group patrols the South China Sea after Beijing told Washington not to challenge its sovereignty in the waterway. (US Navy via AFP)
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US President Joe Biden has been warned not to push France into other alliances that Washington may regret. (AFP photo)
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Updated 20 September 2021
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Franco-American tension over submarine deal puts fresh strain on transatlantic ties

  • France feels excluded from AUKUS and robbed of chance to land a lucrative submarine deal
  • Macron recalls ambassadors from the US and Australia for consultation in show of anger

LONDON: The reaction of France to the new trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US brings to mind a powerful cartoon published by an American newspaper during the Trump years, when the US president was ruling by executive order to evade Congress.

The cartoon, which appeared in the Buffalo News, depicted the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France to the US, stabbed in the back not with a dagger but with the president’s pen. Just like Lady Liberty in this cutting depiction, the French must feel as though a dagger is buried between their shoulder blades.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday likened the new Indo-Pacific security alliance, known as AUKUS, to a “stab in the back” and the sort of betrayal that “is not something allies do to each other.”

Because of “the exceptional seriousness of the announcements made on Sept. 15 by Australia and the United States,” Le Drian announced that Paris would immediately recall its ambassadors to the US and Australia for consultation.

French grievances over the deal relate both to its strategic and financial implications. Paris was not only excluded from the Indo-Pacific strategy but has also lost out on a hugely lucrative contract with Australia to build nuclear submarines. Canberra is tapping American tech instead.

The new alliance, announced during a virtual meeting of US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has ignited a firestorm of criticism from France.

While many observers in Washington applauded the pact as a clear challenge to China, others warned that the agreement marks the beginning of a new arms race in the region, or perhaps even a strategic blunder hot on the heels of America’s Afghanistan withdrawal debacle.




US President Joe Biden participates is a virtual press conference on national security with British PM Boris Johnson (R) and Australian PM Scott Morrison on Sept. 15, 2021. (AFP)

Since taking office, Biden has sought to reset America’s frigid relations with its oldest European allies, yet the AUKUS move appears to have had the opposite effect, alienating France and the wider EU.

It has also exposed a potential rift between the US and its European allies on how to handle the growing influence of China. Differing positions on whether to confront or cooperate with Beijing might, as the New York Times recently put it, “redraw the global strategic map.”

The timing of the AUKUS deal could not have been more critical, coming as it did on “the eve of the publication of the EU strategy in the Indo-Pacific, and as Paris has risen as the main EU strategic actor in the region,” wrote Benjamin Haddad, director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council.




France's ambassador to the US, Philippe Etienne, has been recalled to Paris for consultations amid a US-France diplomatic row over the sale of submarines to Australia. (AFP file photo)

He predicts the new dynamic will “create a blow to transatlantic strategy in the region and create a lasting hurdle in US-French relations.”

Next week, the White House is due to host the first in-person meeting of leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India. “The Quad,” as it is known, is another important pillar of Biden’s China policy.

Beijing views the Quad, and the new AUKUS, as a “clique based on a Cold War ideology and detrimental to the international order.” China’s regional rival India, meanwhile, predictably welcomed the new alliance.

Although Biden, Johnson and Scott did not mention China in their AUKUS announcement, the pact was described in the US as part of the president’s policy to “refocus” American national security and to reorient its military posture toward the Chinese threat.




China's increasingly expanding navy and aggressive actions beyond its borders has spurred the US, Japan, Australia and India to form a strategic alliance. (Shutterstock image)

The administration has sought to justify its abrupt departure from Afghanistan on the grounds that it needs to pool its resources to address the threat emanating from China. Critics might have given the Biden team the benefit of the doubt had the new strategic architecture in the Indo-Pacific not come at the expense of US-French relations.

France has good reason to be upset. The new deal with Australia, described as “historic” by the US media and “another step by Western allies to counter China’s strength,” torpedoed the largest military contract Australia has ever awarded — a deal for nuclear submarines worth 90 billion Australian dollars ($65.5 billion), signed in 2017 with the French defense contractor Naval Group.

The US media played down the French reaction to AUKUS and chose not to ruminate over what sort of message the deal might send to America’s allies elsewhere. Instead it focused on the historic nature of the sharing of US nuclear-propulsion technology with Australia.




French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 15, 2021. (AFP)

Defense News hailed the deal as the first time the US has shared this type of technology with any ally since the US-UK Mutual Defense Agreement of 1958.

Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, likewise drew a parallel between the new pact and the Eisenhower administration’s policy of sharing nuclear technology with the UK, a policy that caused French President Charles de Gaulle to decry “Anglo-Saxon nuclear cooperation and propelled France to develop its own nuclear capabilities.”

Indeed, much like de Gaulle, French President Emmanuel Macron might well interpret the AUKUS deal as a deliberate Anglo-Saxon snub that undermines its strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific.

France is not a minor player in the region. It is the only European country with a big presence in the Indo-Pacific, including about 7,000 soldiers on active deployment.

Cutting France out of the new strategic architecture represents a blow both to Paris and to Macron, who had prided himself on fostering a good relationship with Biden. The perceived snub could backfire badly for the Anglo-Saxon trio by pushing the French president to seek alliances elsewhere.




Daphné class French submarine under construction in Lorient, France. (Shutterstock photo)

Many observers had expected more from the Biden administration after its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the damage this caused to America’s global standing and perceptions of its commitment to its allies. Instead, AUKUS looks like more of the same.

Biden’s secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, is a francophone who grew up in Paris and has long enjoyed good relations with the French. This had raised hopes of a new flourishing of ties between the two governments. Instead, relations have hit rock bottom.




US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron meeting like long-lost friends during then G-7 summit in Cornwall, UK on June 13. (GETTY IMAGES/AFP/File Photo)

The perceived betrayal seems all the more cruel when one takes into consideration how much America has gained from its French connection during the war on terror. In Africa especially, it is French forces who have led operations against Daesh affiliates. Only this week, Macron announced the assassination of Adnan Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi, the leader of Daesh in the Sahara, who had been accused of killing four Americans.

In Washington, foreign policy watchers currently interpret the rift with Paris as a “tactical error and not a strategic mistake.” But the French beg to differ.

When Blinken recently posted a tweet calling France a “vital partner” in the Pacific, Gerard Araud, the outspoken French former ambassador to Washington, responded sarcastically: “We are deeply moved.”

As Washington sets about redrawing the strategic map in the Indo-Pacific, it would perhaps be wise not to take its oldest friendships for granted. Indeed, if America cannot be counted on to stand by its allies, Washington could find itself short of friends when push comes to shove.

 


Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

Updated 47 min 29 sec ago
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Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

  • Israel’s ‘systematic misinformation campaigns’ aim to ‘cover its brutality and genocidal massacres’ in Gaza, OIC says
  • At least 88 journalists have been killed in Palestine since Israel’s onslaught on Gaza began in October 

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s state minister for information has proposed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation create a collaborative digital platform to combat Israel’s disinformation campaign against Palestine, as the Muslim grouping launches new plans to expose Tel Aviv’s war crimes. 

Information ministers of OIC member countries were in Turkiye over the weekend for an extraordinary session discussing Israel’s disinformation campaign and attacks on journalists in Gaza, where nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since October. 

State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Ali Arafat said Israel’s “despicable disinformation campaign” is an attempt to cover its blatant war crimes in Gaza, including the indiscriminate targeting of babies and children, as well as journalists and humanitarian workers. 

“The world has hardly seen the continued killing of journalists and the spreading of disinformation as is happening in Gaza. I believe fighting to contain and combat against such dissemination of misinformation needs collective effort,” Arafat told the participants. 

At least 88 journalists and media workers were among the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in over four months since Israel began its onslaught on Gaza, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

“We need to create a collaborative digital platform to combat the spreading of such disinformation against Palestine. I request the OIC Secretariat to prepare a plan in this regard immediately,” Arafat said. 

Bangladesh is ready to support the OIC in establishing an information pool documenting Israeli war crimes that can be regularly shared with its member states, he added. 

“Muslim Ummah must work together to stop this massacre and let the world know the truth. Bangladesh supports and stands firm by our Palestinian brothers and sisters in this dire situation.” 

In a final communique, OIC information ministers condemned Israel’s “systematic misinformation campaigns” to “cover its brutality and genocidal massacres committed in the Gaza Strip.”

The 57-member organization also condemned Israel’s “systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists,” describing it as part of a campaign to “silence the voices of truth-tellers.” 

The OIC said they are determined to collectively “counter and expose attempts by the Israel colonial occupation to cover up the destruction” in the besieged enclave, as they mandate the group’s media monitoring unit to establish an action plan to “lay bare and counter” the Israeli disinformation campaign at the international level. 


US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Updated 26 min 35 sec ago
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US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

  • The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media
  • In the video, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid

WASHINGTON: An active member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington over the weekend in protest of the war in Gaza, the Pentagon said Monday.
Emergency responders on Sunday had rushed to the scene just before 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) in response to a “call for person on fire outside the Israeli Embassy,” according to a message on X, formerly Twitter, by the capital city’s fire department.
They arrived to find that officers from the Secret Service — the US law enforcement agency tasked with protecting embassies in Washington — had already extinguished the fire.
The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media.
He was initially transported to hospital with “critical life-threatening injuries,” the fire department said.
An Air Force spokeswoman told AFP Monday morning that the unnamed “individual involved in yesterday’s incident succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night.”
“We will provide additional details 24 hours after next-of-kin notifications are complete.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said no staff were injured in the incident, and that the man was “unknown” to them.
In the video shared on social media, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid.
He then lights himself on fire while yelling “Free Palestine!” until he falls on the ground.
The video was reportedly first shared in a livestream on the social platform Twitch.
The shocking act came as protests are increasing across the United States against Israel’s actions in Gaza, where it is waging a retaliatory war for an attack on October 7 by Hamas militants.
With the death toll in Gaza nearing 30,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there, international pressure has been increasing on the United States to rein in its ally Israel and call for a ceasefire.


Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

Updated 26 February 2024
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Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

  • The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army

The Russian authorities on Monday sought a prison sentence of nearly three years for a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine.
The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army and sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison, in a retrial after he was earlier ordered to pay a fine. In a move that underscored how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin’s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution appealed the fine, seeking a harsher punishment.
The charges against Orlov, co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, came after he posted on Facebook an article he wrote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. He has rejected the case against him as politically motivated.
A court in Moscow in October 2023 delivered a guilty verdict and fined Orlov 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time), a significantly milder punishment compared to the lengthy prison terms some other Russians have received for criticizing the war.
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the verdict, and a higher court voided the fine and sent the case back to the prosecutors. A new trial began earlier this month, another step in a yearslong, unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that the Kremlin ratcheted up after sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
The hearing on Monday drew over 100 supporters and more than a dozen Western diplomats, Russian independent news site Mediazona reported. Orlov brought a book to the hearing — “The Trial” by Franz Kafka — reflecting his view of the trial as absurd. At a hearing on Thursday, Orlov read the novel and refused to engage in the proceedings.


The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

Updated 26 February 2024
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The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

  • The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan
  • It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban held a public execution on Monday of a man convicted of murder in northern Afghanistan as thousands watched at a sports stadium, the third such death sentence to be carried out in the past five days.
The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, where the brother of the murdered man shot the convict five times with a rifle, according to an eyewitness . Security around the stadium was tight, said the witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war.
The development was ominous as the Taliban, despite initial promises of a more moderate rule, began carrying out severe punishments in public — executions, floggings and stonings — shortly after coming to power. The punishments are similar to those under their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Taliban government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The statement said Monday’s death sentence was carried out following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The executed man, identified as Nazar Mohammad from the district of Bilcheragh in Faryab province, had killed Khal Mohammad, also from Faryab. The killing took place in Jawzjan.
On Thursday in the southeastern Ghazni province, the Taliban executed two men convicted of stabbing their victims to death. Relatives of the victims fired guns at the two men, also at a sports stadium as thousands of people watched.
Separate statements from the Taliban’s supreme court said a man and a woman convicted of adultery were flogged with 35 lashes each in northern Balkh province over the weekend. Two other people were lashed in eastern Laghman province, also over the weekend; they were given each 30 lashes for allegedly committing immoral acts.
The United Nations has strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings and stonings since seizing power, and called on the country’s rulers to halt such practices.


Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

Updated 26 February 2024
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Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

  • Research group ‘India Hate Lab’ documents 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023
  • Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, India’s prime minister since 2014

Anti-Muslim hate speech in India rose by 62 percent in the second half of 2023 compared to the first six months of the year, a Washington-based research group said on Monday, adding the Israel-Gaza war played a key role in the last three months.

India Hate Lab documented 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023, 255 of which occurred in the first half of the year while 413 took place in the last six months of 2023, the research group said in a report released Monday.

About 75 percent, or 498, of those incidents took place in states governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the report. The states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh accounted for the most hate speech.

Between Oct. 7 — when Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel, sparking the conflict in the Gaza Strip as Israel retaliated — and Dec. 31, there were 41 incidents of hate speech against Indian Muslims that mentioned the war, the report added. It accounted for about 20 percent of hate speech in the last three months of 2023.

The research group said it used the United Nations’ definition of hate speech — prejudiced or discriminatory language toward an individual or group based on attributes including religion, ethnicity, nationality, race or gender.

Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, who became prime minister in 2014 and is widely expected to retain power after the 2024 elections.

They point to a 2019 citizenship law that the UN human rights office called “fundamentally discriminatory;” an anti-conversion legislation that challenges the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and the 2019 revoking of Muslim majority Kashmir’s special status.

There has also been demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction and a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka when the BJP was in power in that state.

Modi’s government denies the presence of minority abuse and says its policies aim to benefit all Indians. The Indian embassy in Washington and India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

India Hate Lab said it tracked online activity of Hindu nationalist groups, verified videos of hate speech posted on social media and compiled data of isolated incidents reported by Indian media.