London Concerned That France Is Making a Push for America’s Favorite Euro-Poodle
Once the seat of a world empire, now in bitter competition for belly rubs
British officials have grown concerned by France’s attempt to boost its military clout in Washington and are taking steps to ensure the UK remains America’s top defence partner, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
Eyebrows have been raised by what is seen as a concerted French push to portray themselves as America’s “oldest ally” and tout their own “very special relationship” with the US.
At least one sensitive memo has been circulated among British officials in recent years warning that France is attempting to gain advantage from the change in circumstances that comes with Brexit.
France will become the only nation in the European Union with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council when Britain leaves.
One well-placed UK source said: “When there’s a new policy problem, who will the US pick the phone up to first? The danger in the coming years is more of the time that will be Paris rather than London.”
The source added of the French: “They’ve seen an opportunity and they’re taking it. If roles were reversed we would probably do the same thing.”
It is understood those working on Britain’s defence strategy in Washington have been careful not to overplay their alarm, stressing that the UK remains America’s go-to military partner.
Britain is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network – unlike France – and continues to work hand in glove with the Americans on nuclear and defence issues.
However France has done little to hide its ambitions of enhanced standing in Washington and the issue has been deemed a strategic challenge that Britain should both monitor and counter.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, appeared to take a side-swipe at the historic UK-US “special relationship” when he delivered a speech to the US Congress during a 2018 visit.
“The story of France and the United States is a story of an endless dialogue made of common dreams, of a common struggle for dignity and progress,” Mr Macron said.
“It is the best achievement of our democratic principles and values. This is this very special relationship.”
While Mr Macron’s early ‘bromance’ with Mr Trump has soured – the US president reportedly said his counterpart was “short” and “a pain in the ass” after a video of world leaders laughing about him at Nato emerged – a similar message is being pushed by the French embassy.
France is often framed as the United States’s “oldest ally” in promotional literature and speeches – a reference to Paris’s support in the American Revolutionary War. The common enemy then was the British.
There are warning signs that France could have the opportunity and the means to challenge Britain’s ‘most trusted military partner’ status in Washington in the 2020s.
Based on new political commitments and the relative size of their economies, some projections suggest France’s defence spending will overtake that of Britain in the coming years.
In the world of Washington’s defence think tanks, France is also out-gunning Britain, with half a dozen government employees seconded to push their country’s case compared to just a single one for the UK.
Other Brexit side-effects impact the country’s diplomatic pull. The UK is winding down its involvement in European External Action Service, the EU’s equivalent of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service.
Recently the EU’s second most senior official at the United Nations and the communications chief of the Washington delegation were Britons, but no longer.
Nor will Britain’s ambassador, deputy ambassador, and trade councilors take part in the often weekly meeting with EU counterparts in the American capital to pool together their influence.
The changes do not guarantee lost influence, yet the French appear to be trying to capitalise.
One anecdote passed round Britain’s Washington Embassy recalls how a French defence official went into the Pentagon during a recent strategic review and drew a circle on a map round a huge chunk of Africa. France, the official claimed, was the leading military player in the region.
The story – however apocryphal – has fuelled a rethink in Britain’s strategy of positioning itself as the second military force behind America in key parts of the world, rather than carving out an independent sphere of dominance.
One former UK official who spent time in Washington said the DC rivalry with France had been going on for years. “The UK was always trying to be the closet and best defence partner and was slightly nervous whenever the French were positioning themselves in that way,” the source said.
But Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the former UK national security adviser who also once served as the country’s permanent representatives at the UN, dismissed such concerns.
“I have heard several times during my diplomatic career that France will supplant UK’s special relationship with the US, including in the defence sector.,” Sir Mark saiUd.
“It has never happened and I do not think that it will happen. To use a marital analogy, there might be occasional American flirtation with the French, but they always return to the familiarity of the US-UK relationship.”
A spokesman for the French embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Source: The Telegraph