France (and Britain) should join the Quad

France (and Britain) should join the Quad
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President BidenJoe BidenNew York woman arrested after allegedly spitting on Jewish children Former Sen. Donnelly confirmed as Vatican ambassador Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE’s phone call to Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronFrench Senate votes to ban headscarves during sport competitions New French law bans unvaccinated from restaurants, venues Europe's energy conflict fuels outbreak of realism about climate policy MORE on Sept. 22 clearly was meant to mollify his French counterpart. Macron’s government, especially Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, had taken umbrage at Australia’s surprise decision to terminate its $66 billion purchase of 12 Barracuda diesel-electric submarines from France while concluding an agreement with the U.S. and Britain to co-develop and purchase nuclear submarines in their stead. Le Drian called the deal “a stab in the back.” And for the first time ever, France withdrew its ambassador to Washington — as it did from Canberra as well. 

The telephone call — which amounted to an apology that, as White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden to meet with national security team this weekend on Russia-Ukraine The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill Kaleigh Rogers discusses new voting restrictions MORE put it, “there could have been greater consultation” — and an agreement that the two presidents would meet in late October, resulted in the ambassador’s hasty return to his post. Nevertheless, there is a strong case to be made that the new arrangement, coupled with a broader agreement called AUKUS, to join forces in developing cutting-edge technologies actually makes good sense. 

The French submarine program was well over budget and behind schedule. The first submarine was not to be delivered until the early 2030s; the program began in 2007. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had dropped heavy hints during his visit to Paris in June that the deal was in serious jeopardy. Moreover, nuclear submarines, which Australia has not operated, are faster, more powerful, and have greater endurance than even the most advanced conventional diesel-powered boats. Indeed, it is for that reason that China has attacked the deal in hysterical terms, with its foreign ministry spokesman asserting that the three countries are “severely damaging regional peace and stability, intensifying an arms race, and damaging international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.”

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Still, Australia will not field any of the new submarines, whose contours have yet to be defined, years later than it would have taken possession of the first of the Barracuda class had Canberra not terminated its contract with the French. How many years later remains an open question, but the first submarine certainly will not deploy before 2040. In the meantime, Chinese maritime power will continue to grow. 

French anger at being excluded from the tripartite agreement is not without some merit. France is an Indo-Pacific power. Its territories and affiliated states include Reunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, and French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific. More than 1.7 million French citizens live in these overseas units; their populations elect representatives to the French National Assembly and the Senate. In addition, France’s 9 million-square-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone in the Indo-Pacific makes it the second largest in the world.                                                         

France long has maintained a considerable military presence in the region. It stations 8,000 troops throughout the Indo-Pacific, including land and air forces in Djibouti and New Caledonia, a naval base at Mayotte, and a naval headquarters in Reunion. It also deploys the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Indo-Pacific, most recently to participate in the Franco-Indian Varuna exercise.  

In light of the foregoing, perhaps the most effective way to mollify Paris, and further counter Chinese aggressiveness, would be to invite France to join the Quad. As recently as April, French naval forces trained with those of the Quad in a complex exercise involving surface, air and air defense systems called Exercise La Perouse. France has developed increasingly close ties with both India and Australia; a year ago, the three countries held their first trilateral exercise. France and India conduct joint maritime patrols in the Indian Ocean. French formal entry into the Quad might help to further tighten India’s military relations with the other three Quad states; New Delhi, and especially its External Affairs Office, is still rather skittish about the military aspects of its participation in the Quad. 

There have been reports that British Prime Minister Boris JohnsonBoris JohnsonUK's Johnson says Russian invasion of Ukraine would be 'disaster' for world UK lawmaker accuses government of blackmailing to keep Boris Johnson in power The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE would like the United Kingdom to join the Quad. Britain’s relationship with Japan, in particular, has grown stronger in the past few years, while the nuclear submarine deal as the first joint AUKUS project has further cemented its ties with its longstanding partners. Having Britain and France, both of which deploy strategic nuclear-powered submarines, join the grouping would signal that, despite the flap over the Barracuda cancellation, Franco-American and Franco-Australian ties have not seriously frayed — and that the coalition of forces that refuses to back down in the face of Chinese adventurism continues to grow.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.