No one does pique quite like the French. And this great nation — or rather its government — has thrown a monumental fit of pique over the Australian government’s decision to scrap its $90 billion agreement to buy French diesel-powered submarines, and instead order nuclear-fuelled ones in a deal with the U.S. and the UK.
This was announced last Thursday in an unprecedented three-way presentation by President Biden, Boris Johnson and the Aussie PM Scott Morrison: they declared it to be the foundation of a new defence pact, AUKUS (against an unspecified threat, but obviously China).
Not only was Paris completely blindsided by this démarche, which was set up by the three leaders’ teams at the G7 summit in Cornwall, even as President Macron was pictured walking arm in arm with his supposed new best friend Joe Biden: this Anglo-American torpedoing of France’s Pacific alliance with the Aussies came on the eve of a gala dinner in Washington at the French Embassy to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Chesapeake.
A new defence pact was revealed by Boris Johnson, Scott Morrison and Joe Biden (pictured) this week in an unprecedented announcement which blindsided the French Government
The new defence pact was set up by the three leaders’ teams at the G7 summit in Cornwall, even as President Macron was photographed walking arm in arm with Joe Biden (pictured)
This was the naval engagement of September 1781 in which the French fleet’s victory over the British prevented the reinforcement of the besieged forces of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, leading directly to the triumph of the rebels — and American independence.
King George III was not happy: ‘After the knowledge of the defeat of our fleet, I nearly think the empire ruined.’
Even the Anglophile President Trump referred to this when he held a press conference in Paris with Macron in 2017: ‘France is America’s first and oldest ally, ever since General Lafayette joined the American fight for independence.’
Doubtless France anticipated more along those lines at its embassy in Washington, at which the head of its navy was among the French dignitaries expected to drink toasts with their U.S. opposite numbers.
No wonder Paris abruptly cancelled last Friday’s gala dinner — and followed up by withdrawing its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
They did not withdraw their ambassador from London, ostensibly because we were too insignificant in this matter (Britain was the ‘fifth wheel on the wagon’, sneered the French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian).
Pictured: US President Joe Biden and France’s President Emmanuel Macron shake hands as they attend a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, in June 2021
The AUKUS new pact will be a boost to companies who are most likely to provide much of the technology, based on the Astute class of British nuclear-powered submarines (pictured)
I think London can cope with that cattiness, especially as Australia’s switcheroo — as bamboozling to Paris as a Shane Warne googly — is a boost to such companies as BAE and Rolls-Royce, in pole position to provide much of the technology, based on the Astute class of British nuclear-powered submarines.
Besides, the humiliation is not ours. It is, though, not just France’s, but also that of all those who said that the vision of ‘Global Britain’, as a fully independent state post-Brexit, was fantasy.
Lord (Peter) Ricketts, the ferociously anti-Brexit former British ambassador to Paris, who recently wrote an article for the New Statesman describing Boris Johnson’s ‘Global Britain’ mantra as ‘delusions of grandeur’, admitted that the AUKUS deal was ‘a godsend’ for the Prime Minister.
No such concession is likely from the French EU commissioner Thierry Breton, who a few months ago said Brexit had been ‘supposed to boost Britain’s global standing. What we see is pretty much the opposite.’
Admittedly, the UK could have done this deal while still a member of the EU. Whether it would have done is another matter.
As the French newspaper Le Monde observed: ‘French frustration is all the greater as the UK is doing well. Since Brexit, Paris tended to consider the British ambitions with regard to the Indo-Pacific basin to be illusory. AUKUS puts the UK ahead of the game.’
French EU commissioner Thierry Breton (pictured) has previously said that Brexit had been ‘supposed to boost Britain’s global standing’ but said ‘pretty much the opposite’ has happened
What has really confounded so many pundits is that this pact has occurred under Joe Biden, who was, as opposed to the pro-Brexit Trump, seen as much closer to Brussels and Paris than to London.
I wrote here last year that this was based on a false understanding of the new President who, for all his Irish ancestry, is not anti-British: and so it seems to have proved.
For example, the former Channel 4 and BBC presenter Paul Mason wrote on the Social Europe website in January: ‘Whatever Boris Johnson imagines, the strongest relationship over the next few years will be between Washington and Paris. The UK, despite the hubris, will play a bit part.’
Like many other pundits, Mason based this assessment in part on the identity of the man Biden appointed his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. He is a fluent French speaker, who attended the Ecole Jeannine Manuel in Paris.
Thus, Andrew Adonis, the Blairite former minister who campaigned for a second Brexit referendum to overturn the result of the actual one, tweeted sarcastically a year ago: ‘Tony Blinken, likely to be Biden’s secretary of state, speaks fluent French and was brought up partly in France. He will love Brexit Britain!’
Or as the Politico website put it when Blinken got his job: ‘Much to the delight of French policy makers, Blinken is the real cassoulet’.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is fluent in French and attended the Ecole Jeannine Manuel in Paris. He was cited by pundits as a reason US-French relations would grow stronger
The fact that this man was instrumental not only in what was indeed a form of double-crossing of Macron but also in kiboshing Paris’s Indo-Pacific strategy is a shattering refutation of those preconceptions.
Obviously, this move by Biden and Blinken is not based on any deep affection for the UK. It is ruthlessly pragmatic, based on their own perception of America’s interests.
But that makes their decision to act in such a way all the more encouraging, at least for those who believe that Britain outside the EU is still a global strategic partner with clout.
Nona plays her Anti-Netflix gambit
When Netflix delivered its series The Crown, historians pointed out that it contained numerous damaging falsehoods about members of the Royal Family, some of them — as the Duke of Edinburgh was at the time — still living.
The American streaming behemoth (it has revenues of $25 billion a year) could relax in the knowledge that the Queen and her late husband never sued for defamation.
But now an elderly woman is standing up to the firm. This is 80-year-old Nona Gaprindashvili, from the former Soviet state of Georgia, who has issued a $5 million writ for damages over her depiction in The Queen’s Gambit.
Georgian chess player and women’s world chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili of the Soviet Union, pictured playing a game of chess at the International Chess Congress in London in 1964
This was a drama based on Walter Tevis’s book of the same name, a fictional account of an American, Beth Harmon, who becomes the strongest chess player in the world, trouncing a series of Russian grandmasters.
Tevis mentions Nona Gaprindashvili in his book — she was the top female player at the time — writing that ‘she had faced all these Russian grandmasters many times’.
But in the Netflix version, in a scene showing a woman clearly identified as Gaprindashvili, the narrator says, ‘She’s the female world champion and has never faced men.’ Not only is this the reverse of what the book said, it is also the opposite of the truth.
Gaprindashvili played against many male grandmasters, and was a trailblazer in this: in 1977 she shared first prize in a very strong open tournament, beating grandmaster Leonid Shamkovich along the way.
As she says of the Netflix portrayal, ‘This is my entire life that has been crossed out, as though it is not important.’
Nona, pictured in 2019, says the popular Netflix series has ‘crossed out’ her entire life
According to her British lawyer, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs (great-grandson of the 1st Marquess of Reading, Viceroy of India, no less), his client approached Netflix after the drama was broadcast, asking it to admit that its statement about her was false.
But ‘it responded with extraordinary hubris, dismissing Gaprindashvili’s assertion of defamation by claiming that the false statement was innocuous’.
Defamation writs are difficult to win in the U.S., as under American law it is necessary to prove ‘malice’. But it would be so good if Nona beat Netflix to add to her chess victories.
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