Feature Article

Tamils need to add Macron’s France to geopolitical watchlist on genocide-abetting regional powers

[TamilNet, Sunday, 16 February 2020, 22:18 GMT]
The Republic of France, one of the five nuclear-weapon states distinguished by the non-proliferation treaty, is asserting itself as a sovereign regional power in the Indo-Pacific with a dedicated strategy. With a robust military presence and 93% of its exclusive economic zone located in the Indo-Pacific, France has started to compete and cooperate with the US. A comparatively weak global power, vying for regional influence, complicates the already complex matrix in the region, especially when it seeks to woo rogue, autocratic and genocidal state actors. The stateless nations and people facing suppression from the occupying state actors are already at the receiving end due to lopsided geopolitics curtailing their collective rights and international justice. Wrong symptoms were showing up in the recent message coming from French President Emmanuel Macron to SL President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

On the “Independence Day” of the unitary state of genocidal Sri Lanka, Mr Macron sent a message of greetings to SL President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“Through the synergies which already exist between our two countries, I hope that the coming months will be an opportunity to deepen our cooperation within the framework of our vision for the Indopacific as a multipolar, open and inclusive area which respects international law. We could focus especially on regional security, the promotion of responsible and sustainable development and increasing our trade, human and cultural exchanges.”

“In the light of this, I offer you once more my sincerest wishes. Please be assured, President, of my highest consideration,” Mr Macron wrote.

The French President was either ill-advised or ill-informed to take for granted the posture of SL President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as if the latter was committed to “multi-polar” world order, Tamil political observers in Jaffna said.

Rajapaksa was also stating that Colombo would be pursuing an “independent” foreign policy in the region.

French forces activities in the Indo-Pacific, 2016-2019
French forces activities in the Indo-Pacific, 2016-2019 [Map courtesy: France and Security in the Indo-Pacific, Directorate General for International Relations and Strategy, French Ministry for the Armed Forces, 2018 Edition - updated in May 2019]

The operationalisation of France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy doesn't seek to explicitly confront China as the US Indo-Pacific Strategy gets implemented in the region.

“Multilateralism is increasingly challenged, especially in the Indo-Pacific. Some major powers are choosing postures that overtly favour power-based relations, generating anxiety and unpredictability worldwide. The growing polarisation of the region threatens the upholding of the multilateral order that enabled the economic prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” states French Ministry for the Armed Forces in a strategy document, titled “France and Security in the Indo-Pacific”.

Françoise Nicolas, a Director and Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Asian Studies at Paris-based French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), argues from a French perspective that the objective of France's Indo-Pacific strategy is “neither to antagonise nor contain China,” although the strategy also bases itself in defence of freedom of navigation. The French Indo-Pacific strategy is a “comprehensive one based on multilateralism and on military, economic and diplomatic cooperation with various countries and institutions in the region,” she writes in an article that appeared in the East Asia Forum in December 2019 with the title “France’s Indo-Pacific strategy: inclusive and principled”.

“France’s Indo-Pacific strategy departs substantially from the US strategy, which tends to be both confrontational and over-militarised. As in the case of the recent trade conflict, France may agree with the United States on the reality of the threat coming from China, but certainly not on the responses that the United States has given,” she notes.

French military presence
French military presence [Source: French Strategy in the Indo-Pacific, published by Directorate for Asia and Oceania: For an Inclusive Indo-Pacific, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Archives Directorate (Geography Unit), 07 August 2019]

“Spanning from the Indian to the Pacific Oceans, these territories account for 9 out of 11 million square kilometers of France’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which make it the second-largest in the world,” observes France’s Defence Strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

French overseas territories include seven Regions, Departments and Communities, which are home to 1.6 million French citizens: Mayotte, La Reunion, the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna, and French Polynesia, notes the document issued in 2019.

“For the French Ministry for the Armed Forces, the Indo-Pacific is an area of operational responsibilities, which encompasses three military commands and two presence forces, and covers five maritime areas, of which two are ocean areas,” it says.

French military presence in both Djibouti (FFDj) and in the United Arab Emirates (FFEAU) guarantees a permanent deployment in the northern indian ocean.

French military presence in the Indo-Pacific
French military presence in the Indo-Pacific [Map courtesy: France and Security in the Indo-Pacific, Directorate General for International Relations and Strategy, French Ministry for the Armed Forces, 2018 Edition - updated in May 2019]

The French Armed Forces in South-western Indian Ocean (FAZSOI), deployed in La Réunion and Mayotte, ensure the protection and safety of these French territories, their exclusive economic zones and immediate neighbourhoods.

The overseas territories provide safe platforms for France’s power projection in the whole region, including in areas where its allies and partners “do not possess either capabilities or facilities,” the strategy document says.

“In an international context marked by uncertainties and rising unilateralism, our priority is to propose an alternative aimed at promoting a stable, law-based and multipolar order in the Indo-Pacific,” states another document published by the French Directorate for Asia and Oceania in 2019. The document was titled “French Strategy in the Indo-Pacific: For an Inclusive Indo-Pacific”.

Overview of main and other Defense Partners of France in the Indo-Pacific
Overview of main and other Defense Partners of France in the Indo-Pacific [Map courtesy: France and Security in the Indo-Pacific, Directorate General for International Relations and Strategy, French Ministry for the Armed Forces, 2018 Edition - updated in May 2019]

* * *

Although France has been mulling for a return to its “historic maritime role” in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans for several years, there were no concrete steps in that direction between 2009 and 2018.

The former French Defence Minister Sylvie Goulard, attending the 2017 June Shangri-La dialogue was talking about rules-based international order. She was referring to the region as “Asia-Pacific” and “Indo-Pacific” while listing the actions of the French Navy. Goulard was highlighting three significant threats for the Asia-Pacific region: North Korea, the South China Sea and the threats emanating from climate change.

[Video courtesy: The IISS, 02 June 2017]

The Defence and National Security Strategic Review 2017 was very vague as it didn’t speak of France’s priority to the Indo-Pacific as a strategic terrain. The Review said: “France maintains a relative proximity to these regions, which are distant from its mainland, by way of a sovereign presence in its overseas territories in the Pacific and Indian oceans.” 

However, as the Trump Administration and the Pentagon shaped the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and accelerated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) between 2017 and 2019, Macron’s France, struggling with a competing and collaborating mindset with the US (global partner) got awaken to certain realities.

France started to project itself as an Indo-Pacific power, a stakeholder with own territories and Exclusive Economic Zones spanning from the western coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of Pacific.

* * *

The French President signed a military agreement, “Provision of Reciprocal Logistics Support”, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while visiting New Delhi in March 2018. The deal enabled the countries to access each other’s military facilities and provides for maritime naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean.

Both the leaders also agreed on a “Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region”.

[Video courtesy: Mint, March 2018]

“India occupies a central position in the Indo-Pacific, given its coastline of 7,500 kms, more than 1380 islands and two million sq. km of Exclusive Economic Zone. It plays a pivotal role for the peace, security and prosperity of the region. France, a State of the Indian Ocean rim, is an important player in this region. This is borne out by its overseas territories, where 1.6 million of its citizens reside, and its exclusive economic zone, spanning 9.1 million sq. km in the Indo-Pacific,” the joint vision says.

New Delhi welcomed the “prospect of France’s enhanced participation at the Indian Ocean Rim Association (lORA)”.

Macron and Modi recalled the “close relations uniting India and the French department of Réunion Island (La Réunion), the fruit of a long-standing common history. They desire to develop them in economy, tourism, research, innovation, education, culture, defence and security,” the vision stated.

On naval exercises, the vision said: “In order to widen and deepen strategic naval cooperation, India and France will be open to inviting strategic partner countries in the region to participate in Indo-French exercises.”

In the following year, the French President announced that the Indian Navy was scheduled to deploy a patrol aircraft in Réunion Island during the first quarter of 2020. The Indian aircraft would be participating in surveillance missions, Macron revealed in October 2019, during his first presidential visit to the island.

* * *

Also, in May 2018, Macron articulated France’s plan towards an Indo-Pacific strategy during his visit to Australia.

Macron was speaking about a “Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis” at the naval base at Garden Island, explaining the French approach towards the Indo-Pacific region on 02 May 2018.

“We’re not naive: if we want to be seen and respected by China as an equal partner, we must organise ourselves,” Macron claimed.

[Video courtesy: dailymotion.com/elysee, 02 May 2018]

“This new Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis is absolutely key for the region and our joint objectives in the Indian-Pacific region,” he said.

* * *

At a plenary session conducted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies during the Shangri-La Dialogue in May 2019, Florence Parly, the incumbent French Defence Minister (Minister of the Armed Forces) said France had just completed its Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Identifying five priority areas of action in the strategy and reiterating that India and Australia were partners of choice forming France's “indopacific axis,” she said: “We will organize our presence, our pre-positioned forces, our temporary deployments, to ensure a robust defence of our interests. It will rest on 5 military commands, 3 sovereign bases, and more than 7000 military personnel in the area”.

[Video courtesy: The IISS, 31 May 2019]

Florence Parly noted that the assessment of the dynamics in the region was “not particularly uplifting”.

“Multilateralism is receding, and its core values, like sovereign equality, non-interference, respect of borders, are on the wane. Speed, tech, and reach, are reducing the geostrategic space,” she said and added: “Djibouti illustrates this: with its balcony on the Indian Ocean, it has become a sort of Babylon-on-the-Horn, a place of French, Chinese, American, Japanese, German, and even Italian accents,. A reduced space is a space where frictions will happen faster and more often. But the Indopacific is also an area of harder military capabilities, of unpredictability, where coercion can take place without drawn swords.”

* * *

In his speech on the Defense and Deterrence Strategy, delivered on 07 February 2020, Mr Macron said the following on Indo-Pacific:

“As an Indo-Pacific rim power, France maintains special ties with Australia, India and Japan to preserve the sovereignties and the freedom of navigation in this geographic space. It is conducting its defence cooperation projects daily and exercising its solidarity with its partners in the Arab-Persian Gulf, Mediterranean or Southeast Asia.”

[Video courtesy: Élysée, 07 February 2020]

“This Indo-Pacific axis that we have, over the last two years, set up, explained, developed, stems from our geography, the reality of multiple military commitments that we have taken for several years, unprecedented exercises that we are conducting in the region, but also a reading of the world - that we must have. We are also an Indo-Pacific power, with nationals, bases, interests. Our ability to foster this freedom in the region, to defend our interests, to protect the major energy and technological routes also depends on this new axis and these new cooperations.”

* * *

Macron has been increasingly talking about evolving a European “strategic culture” in his latest speeches, as witnessed in his an hour-long Q&A session at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on Saturday, 15 February 2020.

[Video courtesy: DW News (Deutsche Welle), 15 February 2020]

Macron was appreciating the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democratic Party, SPD), who criticised the US, China and Russia as being engaged in a “great power” competition and nuclear race at the opening of the MSC on Friday. “Under its current Administration, our closest ally, the United States of America, rejects the very concept of an international community,” Steinmeier said in his opening speech of this year's security conference.

The theme of this year’s MSC is the phenomenon of “Westlessness”.

Macron, who has been demonstrating France’s strategic focus in the Indo-Pacific, also wants a European parallel to the NATO. If China wants to take Europe seriously, Europe needs to have a native Indo-Pacific Strategy and to deal with Russia, Europe needs to act on its own creating its own strategic culture, seems to be the thinking of Macron. In 2019, he came with the remark that the NATO was “brain dead” and stood by the claim.

[Video courtesy: Al Jazeera, 28 November 2019]

As a people subjected to genocide due to geopolitical injustices during and after the European colonisation, the occupied nation of Eezham Tamils cannot remain “brain dead” post-2009 and they need to operationalise their struggle considering all actors engaged in strategic power projection in the Indian Ocean.

All the powers that uphold the unitary state of genocidal Sri Lanka and the regional actors that sustain the Colombo-centric system through “development” or “human rights” bereft of systemic international guarantee for asserting their right of self-determination are abettors of protracted genocide.

France and Germany would not be different from the Pax Americana approaches of the past and the present unless Eezham Tamils and the forces of solidarity rise up to the emerging challenge and course correct the new actors at an early stage.

[Video courtesy: Ihr Programm, 15 February 2020]

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External Links:
French Embassy in Latvia: 2019 Ambassadors’ conference – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron
DGRIS: La Stratégie de défense française en Indopacifique
DW: Munich Security Conference: France's Macron envisions new era of European strength
Foreign Policy: France Is Looking for New Allies in Asia
East Asia Forum: France’s Indo-Pacific strategy: inclusive and principled
Ministre des Armées: Asia's evolving security order and its challenges
Ministre des Armées: 2019 speech by French Defence Ministry at Shangri-La Dialogue
Euractiv: In Munich, Macron presents EU reform as answer to ‘weakening West’
France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives: Message from Macron to Rajapaksa on 04 February 2020
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Indo-Pacific region: a priority for France
CNBC: German president says Trump’s ‘America First’ policy creates unstable world
Deccan Herald: India joins France, US to counter China in Indo-Pacific Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/national/india-joins-france-us-to-counter-china-in-indo-pacific-756526.html
France in NATO: 2017 Strategic Review of Defence and National Security
French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs: 2020 February speech of Macron on the Defense and Deterrence Strategy
Federal President of Germany: 2020 Opening of the Munich Security Conference
Reuters: Macron wants strategic Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis amid Pacific tension
UN Mission of France: 2018 Ambassadors’ conference – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron
Élysée Palace: Speech of the President of the Republic on the Defense and Deterrence Strategy



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