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The Submarine Deal Crisis and the Sea of Doubts

The Submarine Deal Crisis and the Sea of Doubts

Monday, 20 September, 2021 - 10:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Vladimir Putin has a right to be relieved. Every crack in the US-led alliance delights him. This time, he is overjoyed because he is not in the eye of the storm. The crisis clearly expresses America’s preoccupation with the Chinese challenge.


True, it is not the first time that public disputes between the United States and its allies have jumped to the fore, but the new crisis comes amid a new environment related to America and questions about its management of the world.


Voicing anger with the tripartite security alliance, which cost it what it considered to be the “deal of the century” with Australia, France used harsh terms to express the deep suspicions that had lurked beneath the quiet surface of relations. Deepening Paris’ resentment was its belief that Joe Biden’s administration would in no way spring the kind of surprises that the French capital dreaded during the era of its predecessor.


Thus, Paris spoke of “betrayal”, being “stabbed in the back”, “selfishness” and “opportunism”, justifying the summoning of its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations. Paris accused Canberra of violating the submarine deal and believed that the US offer encouraged the move, without neglecting to speak about British opportunism.


The submarine deal crisis has revealed that the Western world is going through a period of profound doubts. In the world of the two camps, the story had been much clearer. One could foresee the risks and the possible reactions. People strongly believed that the lines of contact were impenetrable without risking a major bloody feast. This mutual fear prevented big adventures. Breaches were confined to marginal regions of the world.


The Soviet Union, for example, did not attempt to carry out a coup against the scene that emerged in Europe after World War II. Moscow was satisfied with managing the arenas to which it belonged and in which it had the right to interfere in a certain way. The Red Army, for example, did not advance to erase the lines of contact. There was a conviction that the US would not hesitate to defend Western Europe if it was exposed to an imminent danger. There was a prevailing sentiment in Western Europe that NATO was an umbrella that provided protection, similar to a feeling in the other part of the continent that the Warsaw Pact would not neglect the safety of its member.


The picture changed after the fall of the Soviet Union. The world felt that an entire empire, along with its huge arsenal, was vanquished without a shot being fired. Undoubtedly, the US victory was colossal, leading Americans to draw up scenarios in the “American Century” and the dream of building a world that resembles the victor.


At the beginning of this century, terrorist organizations invaded the scene, driven by their primary and final mission in setting fire to the American fabric. The 9/11 attacks put the victorious United States through difficult tests, specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both countries, the US seemed liked a formidable power that could bring down a hostile regime by drowning it in a sea of fire, naturally, benefiting from the huge technological gap that favors it.


The limits of American power were also evident in both countries. The world watched the US forces as they withdrew from Iraq, as if they were intentionally or unintentionally leaving it in the custody of Iran, and later withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving it in the custody of the Taliban.


Recent years have contributed to increasing the suspicions in the Old Continent. It was not always about the United States’ mistakes in managing the world. Sometimes it pertained to doubts about America’s desire in continuing this role and the extent of its keenness on its alliances and allies.


US officials have not hesitated in speaking frankly in recent decades about Europe being unable in finding a secure position in the club of major powers. Putin’s Russia was trying to reap as much of the Soviet legacy as possible, while Mao’s heirs were penetrating the world with infrastructure projects and loans. In parallel, the European community was struggling to address with a united voice the affairs of the continent and the world.


The confusion was compounded by Britain’s abandoning of the European ship, coveting a special and intimate relationship with America. The submarine crisis erupted at a time of heightened European doubts. Was Europe’s position weakened after Britain left this multi-lingual club? What about the German-French path in the European Union, at a time when Angela Merkel is preparing to leave and Emmanuel Macron is heading towards the presidential elections?


If Europe could not unify its rhetoric in dealing with Vladimir Putin as an opponent, partner or competitor, who can guarantee the unification of its voice on the rise of China?


France’s crisis with the US-Australian-British tripartite alliance reveals that the world, which is led or is supposed to be led by the US, lacks a steady, calm and reassuring administration for allies. America has no competitor in this alliance over the top stop. European ambition never reaches this level. However, countries like France and Germany aspire to be partners – albeit modest ones - in formulating policies.


France has no interest in taking the path of no return in the crisis. Similarly, Washington has nothing to gain in striking the foundations of the relationship with Paris. The crisis is governed by the need for its parties to maintain relations after providing compensation and venting frustrations.


What is definite, however, is that the submarine crisis reflects the difficulty in managing a world, which is witnessing a frantic heated race over markets, domination, and occupying the top spot.


It will not be easy for the United States to organize a broad alignment on the grounds that China is the new “evil empire”. The submarine crisis has revealed that a sea of doubts divides the United States and quite a few of its allies, starting with France.


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