Vice-President Kamala Harris follows in the footsteps of President Biden as she plans to head over to Paris next week. This will be Harris’s third international trip and yet her first global summit. The two previous ones were bilateral, meetings with the individual head of state. In Paris, two conferences have been organized- the annual Paris Peace Forum on November 11th and a Paris Conference on Libya held the next day.
In addition to attending these conferences, she will be visiting the Institut Pasteur, a center for research and academic excellence. Vice-President Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, will be paying their respects at the World War Suresnes American Cemetery on Veterans Day (U.S.) also known as the Armistice Day in France.
Releasing the Tension
Perhaps the main purpose of Vice-President Harris’s trip is to rebuild the ties between the U.S. and France, which had become severed with the return of the French ambassador to the U.S back to France.
The tension had escalated after France’s cut off from a major deal, which the U.S. had brought about. Australia had signed an agreement way back in 2016 for buying Diesel-powered submarines from France at a hefty sum of $60 B+, but the offer of U.S.A’s nuclear-powered submarines turned the tables.
A trade agreement was signed between Australia, the UK, and the USA which angered France to the extent of tarnishing its ties with the U.S. Interestingly, before the virtual announcement of the latest deal, all three countries kept mum about the negotiations that must have taken place earlier.
Even Australia failed to inform France that it intended to cancel the older deal. France had to learn about it from the press- just like we did. The submarine deal with France had been its biggest defense deal in history, so it’s not surprising that France was miffed at the entire outlook. French Foreign Ministry stated that it considered this to be a “stab in the back.” France lashed back not only with the pulling of its ambassadors from the US and Australia, but it also canceled a Washington Gala and showed disinterest in the Australia-EU trade partnership.
Let’s not forget that France and the U.S. have been allies since World War, with France being an important founding member of NATO. The U.S. values its ties with the European country as France is a major stakeholder of the European Union, especially after Brexit. It is an integral part of America’s global security policy, amidst other geostrategic goals of the US. Climate Change Conventions are important to both countries.
On the other hand, the Biden administration has much to gain from selling its submarines to Australia. It will bring in big money for the US, plus it will strengthen America’s China policy, and aid Australia to combat economic and political coercion from China.
Vice-President Harris’s Crucial Responsibility
After Biden’s admission to Macron that the deal issue had been “clumsily” managed by the US and its allies, the US has been looking for ways to mend the ties. For the past one and a half months, US officials have been stopping in between tours at France, to show that France’s partnership with us matters. According to a US government representative, “The key message for this meeting is the importance of this relationship and the fact that the U.S.-French partnership matters to the world.”
Celia Belin, a fellow at the Brookings institution says, “The vice president’s visit is sort of the last straw of this procession of high-level American officials who are coming, passing by Paris or meeting with the French to remind everybody that they value the French-American relationship, that they value the bilateral relationship in the context of Europe”.
Harris must meet Macron, convince him of America’s friendship, and bridge the gap by making decisions that bring both countries together. Word has it that Paris wants to establish an EU-security force, which the US had been resisting for some time now. Maybe, in the light of new events that have unfolded, Washington may change its stance to favor France.