de Gaulle Returns, Water, East Asia Arms and the Week in Review

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de Gaulle Returns, Water, East Asia Arms and the Week in Review

The eternal return of de Gaulle. After news of the UK-Australia-U.S. technology sharing agreement broke at the end of last week, France responded with righteous indignation, recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra and accusing both of “unacceptable behavior.” France also made a big deal of its relationship with India, pledging to act jointly in the Indo-Pacific. France and the U.S. subsequently patched up relations via a Biden-Macron phone call, with France agreeing to send its ambassador back and Macron and Biden scheduling a summit for October.

What it means:

Some context: In 2016, Australia signed a deal with France to purchase 12 diesel-electric submarines at a cost of roughly $40 billion (which U.S. papers have happily pointed out were delayed and over budget). Last week, Australia decided to forgo its agreement with France in favor of 8 nuclear-powered submarines from the United States. Australia becomes only the second country (the UK was the first in 1958) to receive access to U.S. submarine technology. France is very mad, both for the financial loss of the deal and by what it views as a betrayal.

Aside from the France-U.S.-Australia-UK squabbling, China’s response has been particularly apoplectic, for all the advances Chinese naval technology has made in the last two decades, anti-submarine warfare is arguably where the People’s Liberation Army Navy is weakest.

A few things to keep in mind. First, this is not surprising behavior by France. Since the day World War II ended, France has tried to preserve and reassert itself as a global power (with relatively little success). In the 1950s, Charles de Gaulle insisted on France developing its own nuclear weapons and was very skeptical about the creation of NATO. France also blocked British entry into the European Common Market after the U.S. agreed to supply the UK with Polaris missiles in 1963. Second: After the UK opted to withdraw from the European Union, it opened the door to the European Union becoming a European continental power.

Third and most importantly, however: France still has far more in common with the U.S., the UK, and Australia than it has problems with all three. The U.S.-France relationship will survive this blip. France, Australia, and the UK will continue to issue sharply worded statements and make fun of each other. In the grand scheme of things, the specific anger over this submarine deal will fade.

What won’t fade, however, is France’s more activist pursuit of its foreign policy imperatives, and its attempts to make the European Union a stronger and more sovereign entity, one whose priorities coincide with France’s. Middle powers like Australia will also look to strengthen their military preparedness, specifically their ability to deter attacks. At a minimum, that means more military spending across the board and maximally could mean a new era of arms races and nuclear proliferation.

Till the rivers all run dry. Water levels continue to decline to historic lows on the Paraguay and Paraná rivers. The level of the Paraguay River was measured at -0.50 m, four centimeters away from the historical minimum observed last October. Experts warn that the situation will continue to deteriorate even as the Paraguayan government attempts to dredge critical areas at Concepción and Villeta. Fuel ships may soon be limited to 50 percent capacity. Meanwhile, Argentina has agreed to a 90-day contract with Belgian firm Jan de Nul to dredge the Paraná.

What it means: There are both regional and global implications: regional as the cost imports rise as river transport becomes inefficient or even impossible in some areas, global as the cost to export major agricultural commodities like soy, corn, beef, and wheat rise. We have been tracking this story and the underlying drought and weather patterns causing it regularly in our LatamPolitik newsletter and encourage you to check that out if this subject is of interest.

A budding arms race in East Asia. Yoon Seok-youl, likely candidate for South Korea’s presidency for the conservative People’s Power Party (PPP) in South Korea’s March 2022 presidential elections, released 11 election pledges. Included was a promise to strengthen relations with the U.S. – and to request that Washington deploy tactical nuclear weapons and even share nuclear technology with South Korea.

What it means: Polls have seesawed back and forth between Yoon and likely Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung in recent months. Due to its size and influence, we tend to pay an inordinate out of attention to China, and rightfully so. Still, politics is changing throughout the region, especially in Japan and South Korea.

Poland defies the EU. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki decided not to attend a summit in Budapest featuring members of the Visegard-4 countries because of an ongoing dispute with Czechia over the Turów coal mine near the Czech border. Morawiecki made the decision after the European Commission opted to fine Poland €500,000 for each day that it extracts coal from Turów.

What it means: This is no small squabble: the mine in question generates roughly 7 percent of Polish electricity. Coal is one of a number of issues Poland and the EU have clashed over. What is notable here is the EU taking concrete steps to punish Poland’s unwillingness to follow its directives, as well as a significant deterioration in Czech-Polish relations.

Honorable mention

The European Commission proposed a new rule that would create a universal charging solution for phones and small electronic devices, all of which must use USB-C chargers. Can we please do this in the U.S.?

Speaker of Tunisia’s parliament and head of the Islamist Ennahdha Party, Rached Ghannouchi called for “a peaceful struggle” against Tunisian President Kais Saied.

Democratic Republic of Congo President Félix Tshisekedi is launching a “review” of the DRC’s relationship with China.

Turkey’s Central Bank cut interest rates by 100 basis points to 18 percent.

German elections are this weekend. Final polls going into the weekend suggest SPD will win the largest percentage of votes.

The White House budget office informed federal agencies to prepare for a U.S. government shutdown.

A number of soybean crushing plants in China have been ordered to shut down to curb electricity supplies in order to meet Chinese central government emissions targets.

China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (the artist formerly known as the TPP).