Assessing the Biden Macron State Visit
One way to assess the success of an American – French state visit is to look at the joint statement coming from the meetings. If the focus is on the historic, long-term alliance of France and America going back to the American Revolution, there weren’t any major achievements coming out of the visit.
This week’s joint statement by Macron and Biden started off by reviewing the “relationship founded on more than two centuries of friendship.” It went on to talk about “shared commitment to democratic principles, values and institutions.”
The fact is that the French American relationship has been rocky. France and the US have been allies since 1778, but there have been rough times. There was the Quasi War of 1798 – 1800 fought between the US and France in the Atlantic Caribbean, and Mediterranean. There was the intervention in Mexico by the French during the Second French Empire and the placing of the emperor Maximillan in charge. In WWII, US forces fought Vichy French forces in Africa.
Since WWII, French President DeGaulle pulled France out of NATO’s military structure. France has refused in engage in some NATO military operations. When Australia switched to American submarines instead of using French submarines, France recalled its ambassador to the United States for the first time in their 200+ year relationship.
However, for all the “sound and fury,” both nations have retained close relations and even continued joint military operations, including closely operating their nuclear aircraft carriers. And American President George W. Bush thanked the French Navy (and the French aircraft carrier DeGaulle) to Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002. It is also carrying out air support missions in the Black Sea.
Clearly, like siblings, they are close, but do have their differences.
Clearly, the Ukraine was the major topic. That was highlighted by the fact that Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu was part of the French delegation to Washington.
The concern was less about the status of the war than lessons to be gained from the war and how it would impact France and the US. The Ukraine War is the first major industrialized war on the European continent since WWII. Although the US is discovering that it has less ammunition and weapons reserves than it would like, France has a bigger problem.
After the Cold War, France reshaped the mission of its military. It was geared for fast mobile engagements in former French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. It also lacked depth.
Based on the level of attrition in the Ukraine war, the current French Army would be quickly decimated in a few months. For instance, Russia is losing 10 tanks a day and the Ukraine is losing 2 tanks a day. Since France has just over 500 tanks, even with losses equaling Ukrainian tank losses, it would be losing about 12% of its tank force in a month.
This doesn’t even consider the lack of spare ammunition.
France has been working with the US and Germany to speed up the production of ammunition, spares, and replacement weapons.
France has been involved in a program called “Scorpion,” that will upgrade its armored forces by 2040. But it is more than building new vehicles like the Jaguar light armored vehicle and the infantry vehicle, the Griffin.
France, Germany, and the US know that modern warfare like that seen in Ukraine will quickly go through vehicles (and large amounts of money). And they know that it may take years before replacements will be ready.
This was part of the discussions between French and American defense officials this week.
The answer for the French is to develop armored vehicles based on commercial vehicles like truck chasses. Not only are they cheaper than specifically designed military vehicles, but commercial vehicle factories can also be quickly reconfigured to produce them.
Military vehicles designed from commercial products will also have better access to replacement parts.
The French are also eager to learn about US military technology the merges intelligence and communications.
One sticking point is China, which the US sees as a potential enemy, but France considers a partner. Can Europe benefit from industrial alliances with the US, without penalties like those that were in the “Inflations Reduction Act (IRA) and the “Chips” Act. Macron said Wednesday evening that these pieces of legislation would, “only work if there is coordination between us.”
Macron also warned that the US risked “fragmenting the West” with its climate law.
Biden stepped back and admitted the climate law had “glitches.” He noted that tax credits would favor American electric vehicles, while discriminating against European manufacturers.
One area of discussion that was mentioned in the joint statement, but wasn’t addressed in detail was the concern that Europe will face a critical energy shortage, combined with rising energy prices. They addressed “diversification of Europe’s natural gas supply,” but spoke of “reducing overall demand for natural gas in alignment with climate objectives.”
How this is going to keep Europeans warm when winter starts in a couple of weeks wasn’t explained. Talk about reducing natural gas prices avoided the issue of the increasingly high prices caused by heavy regulations.
The phase out of coal was mentioned in the joint statement without mentioning that some nations like Germany are increasing their mining and use of coal for power generation this winter. While Germany wasn’t at the meetings, this push to reduce coal mining while Europe is facing a cold winter will obviously be mentioned in future meetings with Germany.
The joint statement avoided the sensitive issue of Australia’s decision to stop purchases of French technology – a subject that led to the first recall of the French ambassador in Franco-American history. The paragraph on Indo-Pacific issues only noted that, “The United States intends to increase its support and material contributions to air, and maritime deployments conducted by France and other European nations in the region.
Note that Australia wasn’t mentioned – probably to assuage France’s feelings.
The joint statement also included “feel good” statements on a variety of subjects. These were shoehorned at the end when most readers would be likely to ignore them. The final paragraph said, “Through technical and scientific exchange, the United States and France intend to deepen their collaboration on shared priorities such as health, the environment and emerging technologies, including biotechnology, quantum science, and artificial intelligence.”
It’s interesting to note that the last paragraph on health, the environment, and emerging technologies, “including biotechnology, quantum science, and artificial intelligence,”was only 33 words long.
The first paragraph focusing on France and America’s long relationship was 180+ words long.
Clearly, based on the focus of the joint statement, little was achieved, especially on areas of disagreement.