The case that has been in the news for the past few days is the cancellation of the submarine contract signed in 2016 between Naval Group, the French government and the Australians. Our government is outraged by this stab in the back by our American, Australian and British “allies”…
What lessons and decipherments to draw from it according to my point of view of French citizen? These are the elements I will try to develop here. The positions taken in this article are personal, and are limited to my understanding of the elements available to me, but they are no less valuable than many positions taken by presumed expert commentators, and I will try to support them. The link with our digital sovereignty may seem tenuous, but the links exist, especially as regards the answers to be given to this crisis.
This naval contract, which should allow Australia to strengthen its naval component, was intended to acquire 12 non-nuclear attack submarines. Indeed, Australia, but also New Zealand, are fussy (were…) about nuclear non-proliferation, going so far as to prohibit any nuclear-powered vessel from calling at their ports…
This contract, won in 2016 by Naval Group in the face of competition from the Germans (TKMS) and the Swedes (SK), was confirmed in 2019 with the laying of the foundation stone of the shipyard that was to build the 12 submarines (Les Echos).
However, it must be recognized that from the outset, Naval Group has faced strong criticism orchestrated by its former competitors and who knows, probably by the Americans, who do not suffer from competition to their military-industrial complex. However, Naval Group thought it had the case locked up (La Tribune Fev. 2019), However, criticism of this contract has not ceased, and many articles have been written about it, with “victories” and challenges, very well described by Michel Cabirol in La Tribune (24 mars 21, 4 juin 2021 )
So there were (weak?) signals that should have alerted our intelligence services and our government. Especially, as other resounding slaps occurred, the forceful passage of Biden, to win the contract for the renewal of the Swiss air fleet, while the Rafale was well placed… The choice of the F-35 by the Swiss, which from a purely operational point of view, is a nonsense. We can see that the President is waking up to the Australian affair and is showing his annoyance with the Swiss by cancelling a meeting not yet scheduled with their President…
The last important element that we must take into account is the reluctance, if not the virtual absence of response from our European partners. We are factually quite alone.
On the French side, let’s face it, many mistakes have been made, and they are of several political, geostrategic, economic, commercial and industrial orders.
Some of these mistakes may seem anecdotal, but their accumulation ends up producing disastrous effects. One of the first ones that I see is to neglect the contractual and commercial aspects and to be convinced that the real or supposed technical quality of the product is itself sufficient.
Another mistake, in my opinion, is to enter into unbalanced partnerships, for the wrong reasons, often the desire for political clinging to the detriment of our industrial know-how and our national interests. One of these cooperations, though often cited as an example of success, is, in my opinion, proof of poor management of our interests, namely Airbus (Challenges 2007), where the Germans gradually took power, allowing German industry to develop to the detriment of French industry, with the passive complicity of our ruling elites (Les Echos 2008). We wanted to tie the Germans to the Airbus adventure for political and financial reasons but blinded by the myth of the Franco-German couple, we are gradually losing leadership of this industrial flagship, initially carried by France and its aeronautical know-how.
We can legitimately ask ourselves about the relevance of Franco-German cooperation, as in the case of the SCAF project, where we run the risk of losing the undisputed leadership in Europe in aviation that Dassault represents. Let’s not talk about the armoured vehicle project either, where Germany is gradually taking over the lion’s share of the cake, as in the case of the SCAF. The Germans have no qualms about giving priority to their industry, and I don’t condemn them for that, but I do have a harsh opinion of our leaders who no longer think about our industrial interests, whereas the defense sector was still one of the most successful sectors and a source of qualified jobs with high added value… However, we must recognize that there have been some surprisingly successful collaborations with our British partners, such as the French-German project, where we run the risk of losing the undisputed leadership in Europe in the aviation sector, represented by Dassault. Let’s not talk about the armoured vehicle project either, where Germany is gradually taking over the lion’s share of the cake, as in the case of the SCAF. The Germans have no qualms about giving priority to their industry, and I do not condemn them for that. On the other hand, I have a harsh opinion of our leaders, who no longer think about our industrial interests, while the defence sector still remains one of the most successful sectors and a source of qualified jobs with high added value… Let us acknowledge, however, that there have been occasional collaborations that have been surprisingly successful, with our British partners, such as the Jaguar…
The Rafale contract in Morocco was symptomatic on this point where the DGA and Dassault approached the Moroccans with two different offers (L’Express). It is either a question of crass incompetence, or of a provoked clumsiness?
It is also probably necessary to review the markets on which we should position ourselves, is it relevant to lose energy on markets acquired to the Anglo-Saxon domination (countries that will put their cultural and strategic interests before any other consideration), or to conquer financially risky and almost unsolvable markets…
It would also be salutary to stop being naïve and not to hesitate to use the same twisted tricks that competition has inflicted on us, whether American or intra-European, as demonstrated by the murky game of German and Swedish industrialists in the Australian affair.
The main mistake, induced by the blind adherence to globalism and ultraliberalism, was to orient the French economy towards a service economy and to have abandoned dirty and polluting industry, to relocate it under the pretext that the added value and the grey matter would remain in the West and in France… 40 years later, the pandemic that we have just gone through highlights the lie conveyed by our ruling classes that most of the French population had well understood…
Indeed, the capacity for innovation and growth is based on the fertile ground of a strong industrial fabric, which also feeds the growth of services, but the opposite is not true.
Our political class is guilty of having slowly deconstructed or allowed to deconstruct the whole industrial tool, notably the military one, that General De Gaulle had built. The contempt of our ruling classes for the industrial thing, considered as dirty (not ecological) and with low added value (not sufficiently “intellectual”), and the subjection to the globalist and free trade theory, made us lose, I would even say sell off, many of our industrial jewels. Of course, the rule of fierce and compulsory competition imposed by Europe has only accelerated this trend. There was thus abandonment of a true industrial policy.
Then comes the favorite activity of our intellectual, economic, political or journalistic elites, the French Bashing… What is French is never good, what is American, or German is the best. This is true for technical products, but also for managerial fashions, economic theories, etc… All this does not contribute to maintain a pride in one’s country and the will to see it shine. The only thing that counts is to maximize profit, to imitate the start-up model of fund raising, which makes some start-up creators more obsessed with putting together the dossier for fund raising than with ensuring the quality of their product and the existence of a real market. But it’s not a big deal, 90% of start-ups don’t survive after 5 years, it’s “normal”. (L’ADN).
We can also wonder about our government services and our intelligence services, which did not take the measure that the arrival in power of a conservative at the head of the Australian government represented. A new Prime Minister who has never ceased to denounce the actions of his predecessor on this contract… This should have alerted us, at least more than it seemed to do so.
The first mistake, and I am not sure we will give it up even after the affront we have received, is the fact that we are a privileged partner of America, a euphemism for our position as a follower. Since 2007, to put it simply, we have been the obedient auxiliaries of American forces, without benefiting from them, as the Syrian and Afghan cases show..
The second consubstantial of this first one, is to think that we could have a place in the Anglo-Saxon alliance, the refusal opposed to Hollande to accept France in the Five-Eyes alliance, was the proof for those who would not have already integrated it (Foreign Policy 2013)
Another dramatic mistake was the reintegration of France into the integrated command of NATO, initiated by Chirac and carried out by the most American of our presidents, Sarkozy… And since then we have been mainly America’s auxiliaries in its wars “for good”.
Another mistake is not to have wanted to see the displacement of the geostrategic game and of the cultural and economic influence, which was centered on Europe for centuries, moved towards the United States in the 20th century, and is now oriented towards Asia and the Indo-Pacific zone. Worse, our propensity to beat ourselves up and to forget our greatness, or even to want to destroy it, has made us neglect our overseas territories, which are also France and which should play a crucial geopolitical and economic role if only we had the means to do so and if we involved the populations who live there.
There are probably other errors that I have missed, but these seem to me to be symptomatic.
The shadowy areas
In this case, however, there are still grey areas that are unlikely to be cleared up. As we have seen, the implementation of this contract has not been, by far, a long and quiet river. We have had to endure many attacks below the belt from our European allies, our unfortunate competitors in this story (Naval Group’s smear campaign with Australian opinion).
The question that is on the minds of many observers is how could our intelligence services have failed to detect at least some weak signals? This nagging question also haunts me, but our services, despite the naysayers, are seasoned and rather efficient. From my point of view, there are two hypotheses, both of which are unpleasant to consider.
The first one, the most credible one considering the information at our disposal, is that our services have been “smoked out” by a disinformation operation of the Americans and the British. And this kind of failure is conceivable, without calling into question the intrinsic qualities of our intelligence services. Indeed, we are so dependent on our interconnection with the American intelligence services, including in technological terms, that this hypothesis is credible, but it clearly questions the nature of our relations with our Anglo-Saxon allies, and the future we should give to these relations.
The second, even less pleasant, is that our services had the information and transmitted it to the highest level of the state, which did not wish to act, which raises questions about the motivations.
What to do, this question is probably bothering a large part of French people, even if they are not very interested in these subjects. It is never pleasant for a people with a thousand-year-old history rich in cultural, scientific, cultural and military influence to receive in its face the proof of its decline.
Quelles options géopolitiques ?
We must recognize that our President was visionary a few months ago when he spoke of the brain death of NATO. Should we take advantage of this crisis to get out of it? My Gaullian side would like to see such an exit carried by a speech with the panache of that of 2003 at the United Nations when De Villepin, our Prime Minister, announced our refusal to follow the Americans in their Iraqi adventure… Despite the non-negligible disadvantages, including in Europe, that this decision could have, I remain in favor of it. It is essential to send a strong signal!
Among the other actions, which I believe are necessary to implement, is to re-evaluate all of our strategic partnerships in the various geopolitical theaters. We need to leave behind the crumpled ornaments of our moralist positions, mainly imposed by the very messianic American diplomacy wanting to divide the world into two, good and evil… We must therefore, according to our national interests, review our relations with Moscow, a rapprochement based on well understood common interests could be relevant for the European continent.
We could also strengthen our alliance and our partnerships with India in the Indo-Pacific area and take advantage of the trouble caused by the actions of the Americans in the region recently…
We could also establish industrial and military cooperation partnerships with South American countries that are not disappointed by their North American neighbors.…
What industrial and economic responses?
In these fields too, we will have to build a response. Indeed, what has just happened must be an electroshock that makes all the economic actors aware of their responsibility towards the Nation that has allowed them to be born and to prosper, despite all its known defects and cumbersomeness, but which are not the subject of today.
We need to take measures that are first of all symbolic in order to express our discontent, and Arnaud Montebourg’s proposal to put an end to government contracts with private banks and American consulting firms (Europe 1) is quite relevant. In addition to marking our discontent, this would have a health effect in terms of national security
Then there are structuring measures to be taken in many areas, including one that is close to my heart: digital technology. We know that this is the industrial revolution of the 21st century, and that this sector is key to tomorrow’s growth, that it will also be a major asset in supporting the ecological transition and that, above all, it will provide the jobs of today and tomorrow. We must therefore take measures that should already have been taken. In particular, we need to migrate the hosting of the Health Data Hub, which is currently hosted on Microsoft’s Azure, to a sovereign host. We have several such hosts in France, including OVH, Scaleway, Outscale and Thésée Data Center. (Effisyn SDS –Mai 2020).
It already seems that there is a beginning of awareness, indeed the interministerial direction of digital announced on September 15 that Office365 from Microsoft was no longer consistent with the cloud doctrine of the French state, is it related to the crisis (Solutions Numériques.com) ?
The upcoming presidential election will also be the moment to question the way we position ourselves on the major issues of digital sovereignty, as I have already had the opportunity to discuss (Effisyn sds – Sept 21)
But there are two other key industrial areas in which I believe we will also have to revise our positioning. Indeed, can we continue to base our defense and armament policy on the foolish hope of a European defense, which cannot see the light of day because our interests are so divergent, including with the Germans? Should we continue to want at all costs cooperation programs, especially Franco-German, which will only lead to the further weakening of our defense industrial tool??
The second sector is nuclear power, in which we must reinvest massively. This is a key advantage in the development of our economy of tomorrow, to support low-carbon mobility but also our digital development and thus reduce its carbon footprint. Especially since there is promising research that would make it possible to recycle nuclear waste (in part) into batteries (Papergeek)
Of course, these tracks are far from being exhaustive and people more specialized in the field could propose many others.
This crisis must be salutary, and make us aware of the danger that our dependence on the United States represents. France has had a glorious past and an important influence; it still has a message to convey. We must not give up. The reconquest of our geostrategic, cultural and industrial autonomy is only in its infancy. It is crucial that all the presidential candidates have a common trunk on these aspects of sovereignty, in order to have a clear guideline for the next half-century.
Moreover, a rediscovered national pride, tinged with humility, would also help to ease a certain number of internal tensions.
I want to believe that we will find the way to a salutary renewal, for France, but not only.