Friday, February 1, 2008

Once a Liability to Exporters, French Foreign Policy Now an Asset

This week, France signed an agreement for civil nuclear cooperation with India similar to the one made between the United States and India in 2006. Progress on the deal has been stalled by opposition from the Communist Party in India, which has threatened to withdraw from Indian Prime Minister Singh's fragile ruling coalition over the contentious issue. The Communists oppose the deal because they believe that the agreement places too many restrictions on the Indian nuclear program and because they feel that it would align India too closely with the United States, which they view as imperialistic and dangerous.

The French-Indian nuclear agreement reached this week is designed to secure Indian access to global nuclear technology markets (despite their having never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) while circumventing Communist concerns about cooperation with the United States. As Agence France Presse reported,

[French] President Nicolas Sarkozy left India on Saturday night after sending a "clear message to the Indians," a presidential adviser said. "He told them, 'choose French civilian nuclear equipment to be independent of the Americans'." Dassault Aviation put forward the same argument to sell its Rafale fighters, which have yet to be exported outside France.
In other words, the French President and one his country's biggest weapons manufacturers acknowledged this week that they intend to increase their nuclear technology and conventional weapons exports by taking advantage of global anti-American sentiment. This is a truly ironic turn of events: In the aftermath of the Iraq war, the French government's very public opposition to the war compelled an irate US and UK to decrease their business with the French arms industry.

The French government's opposition to the now massively unpopular war means their defense and nuclear industry is aptly situated to meet the weapons and energy needs of "countries which want to be independent from the United States," as Dassault CEO Charles Edelstenne put it. The French government's distance from the United States on Iraq, which was a liability to its weapons exporters in 2004, therefore seems to have become an asset. As the United States and France vie for contracts in the highly competitive global weapons market, we may see further instances of French companies benefiting from their country's foreign policy stance.


Anya Loukianova said...

Max, great post, but you need to point out that the agreement between the French and the Indians is really just for the sake of symbolism. The French have committed not to export nuclear technology until India works out the safeguards and is cleared by the NSG -- this is not exactly the language the Indians were hoping for. Hence, the French have to spice up the rhetoric to make the agreement seem more significant than it is.

Furthermore, I don't think they are consciously "taking advantage of global anti-American sentiment." (And if they are, this is hardly news) I don't quite get what you find ironic here. This rhetoric on their part is hardly a policy change -- the French never looked at the U.S. as a serious outlet for defense cooperation. However, they have always been second or third on the Indian defense market (Russia and Israel being first and second) and the second favorite for nuclear cooperation (Russia being the first). All of this is just smoke. The Rafale is one of the weaker contenders for India's 126 fighter tender and the French are desperate to sell it to just about anyone using any kind of words they can. In sum, I think you are overanalyzing the meaning of what the French are saying to the Indians.

Max Postman said...

Anya--Thanks for the comment. I wouldn't be so sure that the French agreement is merely symbolic. You cite the French commitment to wait on nuclear trade until India has negotiated IAEA safeguards and secured NSG approval, but the US-India nuclear agreement contains the exact same restrictions, and that agreement is certainly not symbolic.

The France-India nuclear agreement will be subject to the same international obstacles as the US deal, but it is more likely to surmount the domestic obstacles on the Indian side. The Communist Party of India has publicly declared its support for nuclear cooperation with the French (and Russians), and, as I say in the post, their opposition to the US deal is one of the biggest reasons why that agreement has not been implemented (yet). Thus, I think the prospect of French-India nuclear cooperation is nothing to scoff at.

As for the issue of weapons exports, France's distance from the United States on foreign policy is, in a post-Iraq environment, serving as a valuable marketing tool for French weapons exporters. The irony is that, in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war, the opposite was true: France's opposition to US and UK foreign policy cost its companies international contracts. India may or may not end up buying Rafales from Dassault, but what I find interesting here is the rhetoric they're using to try to make the sale.

Anya said...

Max, if you look carefully, both the French and the Russians have had nuclear agreements with India that predate the U.S.-India deal. These most recent public agreements with both the Russians and the French were intended for leverage (both domestic and international) of the negotiations of the safeguards agreement and establishing future re-negotiating positions for the agreement with the U.S. (among them issues like prohibitions on testing, etc). But they don't seem to really have influenced any of this. I am not scoffing at the prospects of French nuclear sales to the Indians, but these agreements are more tactical than strategic, so to speak. That was my only point. :)