The Recent Skirmishes Between the United Kingdom and France Go Beyond Just Fishing and Submarines

The United Kingdom and France, two of the United States’ closest allies, have been at odds lately, more so than usual. In May, the two countries sparred over fishing rights in the English Channel, setting off a short-lived naval clash. Then, in August, relations between the two countries took another hit when the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia announced the establishment of a trilateral security partnership to support Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines, leaving France blindsided by the announcement. Then, in late October – just before the G-20 meeting in Rome – tempers flared over fishing rights once again. The recent rows between France and the United Kingdom are not over fishing rights and AUKUS. The fight goes much deeper than these skirmishes with roots in hurt feelings on both sides over Brexit.

To Fish or Not to Fish?

Over the last six months or so, the French and British governments have disagreed vehemently over fishing rights in the English Channel. The latest tiff centers on French boats fishing in waters in the English coast, something French fisherman have done for hundreds of years. When the United Kingdom officially left the European Union, the two parties hammered out a deal which governed fishing in the disputed waters, stating that European fishers may continue to fish in some British waters if they are able to prove that they were already fishing there prior to Brexit.

Yet, both sides interpret the agreement differently. The French believe, as the agreement states, that there fishman are allowed to continue fishing in the English Channel as long as they can prove that they fished there before Brexit. The British contend that the French fisherman must provide positional data to show their fishing activity as well as a record of the catches. France has threatened to escalate the agreement further unless the United Kingdom issues the necessary licenses to operate in British waters. While France and the United Kingdom may be tussling over fishing, the root of the disagreement goes much deeper than fishing.

The Blindside

Relations between the United Kingdom and France soured over the past few months, especially after the September announcement. The AUKUS announcement, causing Australia to cancel a $37 billion contract with France to provide diesel submarines, left France outraged. France felt blindsided by the AUKUS alliance announcement. For one, some of its closest allies excluded France from a lucrative deal that further cemented the bonds of the Anglo alliance. France also viewed the announcement as a rebuff of its aspirations in the Asia-Pacific.

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, viewed the deal as way to strengthen its ties in the Indo-Pacific region as a part of its Global Britain strategic vision. Publicly, the United Kingdom has tried to smooth over the tensions that arose with France as a result of AUKUS. Privately, however, it has been a different story as British officials have largely dismissed French complaints. Once again, the two countries find themselves in a squabble, but the roots of the disagreement go much deeper than submarines.

A Power Imbalance

The recent skirmishes between the United Kingdom and France – fishing rights and AUKUS – go much deeper than the surface level disagreements. At its heart, these scuffles are fundamentally about Brexit. France, for its part, wants to prove that Brexit has not worked. The United Kingdom’s official departure from the European Union in 2020 – with the United Kingdom and European Union still arguing over what the post-Brexit relationship would look like – left France in a precarious position. It upset the delicate balance of power that existed between the union’s three most powerful states: the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron is now struggling to “assert France’s leadership in a Europe dominated by Germany.” In short, France saw the United Kingdom as a favorable counterbalance to Germany’s continued dominance in European affairs. Beyond the power imbalance, France perceived Brexit as the United Kingdom’s confirmation that its special relationship with the United States outweighed the importance of the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe. The AUKUS announcement further compounded this insecurity.

The Restoration of Sovereignty, or Not?

Moreover, the United Kingdom is trying to prove that Brexit did work. The fight over fishing rights and AUKUS represent a much larger battle, one over its damaged relationship with the European Union. The United Kingdom has had a rocky relationship with the European Union since it first entered the union in 1973. In an effort to convince voters to vote to leave the European Union, Brexiteers often provided contradictory messaging on Brexit, promising voters before the referendum in 2016 that the United Kingdom would restore the sovereignty lost to the European Union. For example, without the regulations of the single market, the United Kingdom is free to set its own rules. Without participation in the customs union, the United Kingdom is free to pursue trade deals with any country it chooses without needing EU buy in.

Now, Brexit supporters are trying to prove, through its Global Britain strategy, that the United Kingdom can indeed flourish outside of the European Union. However, the British are now finding that life outside the European Union is not as great as originally advertised by those in favor of Brexit.

A U.S.-Brokered Peace Deal is the Only Way to Stop Ethiopia’s Civil War

Ethiopia’s civil war has reached a turning point. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is making inroads to Addis Ababa, the capital, ready to face off against the federal military forces. The United States fears that the ethnic violence enveloping Ethiopia will plunge the country into civil war, a possibility that is more and more likely every day.

Yet, beyond a few nominal efforts, the United States has not taken any decisive actions to deter fighting or encourage negotiations. The threat of economic sanctions and withdrawal of security aid are not enough; the United States needs to bring the warring parties and their allies to the negotiating table to hammer out a peace deal to end the civil war for good.

A Year into the Conflict and No End in Sight

Just over a year ago, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, deployed federal forces against the TPLF, the ruling party of the Tigray region in the north of the country after alleging that the rebel forces attacked a military base where federal forces were stationed. Fighting alongside Ethiopian forces are paramilitary fighters from the Amhara region south of Tigray. Eritrea – who fought a border war against Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 when the TPLF governed Ethiopia– sent troops shortly after the war started to fight on the side of the Ethiopian forces. In less than a month, Ethiopian forces and its allies captured a majority of Tigray. Abiy declared victory.

However, in recent months, the fight shifted heavily in favor of the TPLF. The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) joined forces with the Tigrayan forces, and these two groups scored a strategic victory by driving federal forces out of Tigray in June. As the rebel fighters make their way to the capital, Mr. Abiy declared a state of emergency and called for ordinary citizens to take up arms should Addis Ababa fall under attack. The ethnic tensions bubbling over have left Ethiopia on the precipice of a potentially ruinous civil war, causing the State Department to urge all Americans to leave the country while also scaling back embassy staff.

The United States Needs More than Rhetoric and Threats

The United States is becoming increasingly alarmed over the prospect of Ethiopia devolving into a civil war. The unrest in Ethiopia – once thought of as a close U.S. strategic and counterterrorism partner – is a central theme, as well as the recent coup in Sudan, in Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Africa, where he is making stops in Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal. Speaking from Narobi, Kenay’s capital, on November 17, Blinken noted that the United States is “deeply concerned about escalating violence, the expansion of fighting throughout the country and what we see as a growing risk to the unity of and integrity of the state.” The Biden administration maintains a position of opposing any action by the TPLF on Addis Ababa and imploring Prime Minister Abiy to halt violence against civilians that have been likened to ethnic cleansing.

Yet, the United States has done little more than take minor against Ethiopia and apply rhetoric to the situation. Blinken has imposed sanctions against some Ethiopian officials. In May, the State Department announced visas bans on specific individuals believed to be involved in the crisis. Yet, these efforts have had little to no impact on the Ethiopian government to end the conflict. Over the summer, the administration imposed economic sanctions on an Eritrean military official for his role in the conflict. In September, President Biden took a more concrete step in issuing an executive order that authorized an array of economic sanctions; however, the United States haven’t imposed any sanction under that order that in the hopes that the threats alone would be enough.

In early November, Biden suspended Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a program that gives African nations duty-free access to the United States in return for meeting certain conditions. State Department officials are also pushing for the accounts of ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia to be recognized as genocide, while no final determination has been made as the United States is still reportedly reviewing the matter. On top of sanctions, the United States announced in March its decision not to lift the pause in assistance imposed by the last administration, another critical step. While the actions already taken are moving in the right direction to defusing the civil war, the United States needs to step up its diplomatic pressure if it is serious about ending this conflict and ensuring the stability of the fragile Horn of Africa region.

A Deal to Bring Peace

The Biden administration is reportedly calling for peace talks. Despite reports that both sides, according to the U.S. special envoy to the Hortn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, that a “ceasefire doesn’t seem anywhere near,” the United States needs to take matters into its own hands and to start pressing the warring parties harder through diplomatic channels, and this encouragement should start at the top. The United States should leverage its once close ties with Ethiopia to encourage the government to come to the negotiating table. The United Nations is noticeably absent from any true effort to forge peace talks, and the United States should work closely through its U.N. Security Council allies.

A regional approach could also garner some success by getting the African Union – which maintains its headquarters in Addis Ababa – involved in securing a peace deal. Beyond the African Union, appealing to Ethiopia’s neighbors that share close partnerships with the United States, including Kenya and Uganda, to help solve the crisis. Only an enduring peace deal that keeps the players accountable will truly end the threat of civil war in Ethiopia. And it is too important for the United States to not try to bring all parties to the negotiating table.

Is American Really Back? That’s What America’s European Allies Would Like to Know

America is back,” claimed U.S. President Joe Biden in his first foreign policy speech after taking office after four tumultuous years of a Trump presidency. “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again,” he pledged in his inaugural address in January. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed these promises in a speech in March, noting that the United States was working tirelessly to “reconnect with our friends and allies, and to reinvent partnerships.” Based on rhetoric alone, the Biden administration’s intentions to repair the damaged relationships with its allies, particularly those in Europe, were unmistakable.

While the United States reasserts its return to diplomacy and reiterates the importance of its alliances, it is unclear whether these laudable yet ambitious pieces of rhetoric are actionable or only a pipe dream. In Europe’s eyes, the Biden administration got a lot right at the beginning of his presidency. Yet, in a year that seems to involve crisis after crisis in trans-Atlantic relations – including the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the inept handling of the AUKUS announcement –America’s European allies are questioning the United States’ sincerity. In the eyes of its European allies, is America indeed back? That still remains to be seen.

Is Europe Getting Left Behind?

The United States’ messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban in August is one example of why Europe is questioning whether America is actually back. With little consultation or communication, the United States “dragged its NATO allies into an embarrassing mess that they had warned against,” one that likely could have been avoided. The withdrawal triggered an age-old insecurity for Europe – wondering whether the United States was leaving Europe behind. This has led Europe to ponder whether it should invoke a strategic autonomy tactic most often championed by France. Mr. Biden, who promised to reset relations with American allies, came close to squandering the excitement and relief felt by European allies after he won the 2020 election as Europe is now coming to terms with the fact that they may never truly be able to rely on the United States for its security.

Is Washington Retreating from Europe?

The United States blindsided its European allies with the announcement of a formal alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia in September. To the United States, this was simply about deepening relationships with allies in its effort to counter China, a lynchpin of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. The announcement of the nuclear submarine pact caused confusion and disappointment in Europe. This is particularly true for France, the one European nation most directly impacted by the pact as Australia cancelled a $66 million submarine deal with France. France, naturally, reacted in anger, temporarily withdrawing its ambassadors from both Washington and Canberra, and cancelling a gala in Washington to celebrate the friendship between the U.S. and France. While France and the United States have largely reconciled, the abrupt nature of the AUKUS deal – which President Biden acknowledged was “clumsy” – caused some concern for America’s European allies since the root of Europe’s disappointment about the AUKUS deal is the fear that the United States is retreating from Europe – the central focus of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War – in favor for the Indo-Pacific region.

Great Power Rivalry Rears Its Ugly Head

The United States and its allies in Europe perceive the threats posed by China and Russia differently. President Biden has labeled China as the world’s “greatest geopolitical threat” of this century. As a result, he has re-shifted U.S. foreign policy toward the Indo-Pacific with the aim of countering China. The United States would prefer its European partners be part of its. Yet, Europe does not view China with the same level of alarm. Europe, as the French Finance Minister recently noted, wants to engage China as Europe is weary about of damaging the continent’s economic ties to the growing economic giant, though European sentiment may be changing.

Similarly, the United States and its European allies maintain disparate views on the threat posed by Russia as some in Europe – especially those in Central and Eastern Europe –believe the U.S. will not support its allies in the region in favor of improved relations with Russia. The United States’ decision not to sanction the German company overseeing the Russian-built Nord Stream 2 pipeline in favor of maintaining good relations with Germany only reinforced this fear. Just this week, Belarus, a Russian ally, weaponized migration by luring desperate Middle Eastern migrants to the Poland-Belarus border in an effort to force the EU to lift sanctions imposed against Belarus. Moreover, the recent buildup of Russian forces along its border with Ukraine has also alarmed the U.S. and its allies in Europe. To Europe, the United States’ myopic view to the threat posed by Russia is quite frustrating, though it seems that the United States may becoming more attuned to the threat.

Europe Is Right to Be Wary of the United States’ Reliability

The Biden administration came into office in January with promises to repair America’s relationships with its allies. However, several events as well as different threat perspectives are causing Europe to question the United States’ sincerity. Whether the U.S. is back remains to be seen, but the time has come for the Biden administration to review its policies toward Europe and assess whether the United States is doing what it can to reassure its European allies that the United States is back after four years of the turbulent Trump administration and an inconsistent first year in office.

Africa Matters to U.S. Foreign Policy…and Deserves More Attention

On November 15, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken set off for Africa on his first trip to the continent as the United States’ top diplomat, with stops in Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal. This summer, Blinken postponed his visit, originally planned for August, as the United States became engrossed in its messy withdrawal from Afghanistan. Now, Blinken is making the trip this week to convey the Biden administration’s overplayed message that “America is back” as two crises critical to U.S. interests in the strategically important Horn of Africa region rage on.  

What’s on the Agenda?

While not making stops in either country, the crises – Ethiopia and Sudan – will likely top the list when Blinken meets with the Kenyan president. In Nigeria, Blinken will deliver a speech outlining the Biden administration’s Africa strategy and discuss health, energy, and security issues with the Nigerian president. Blinken will close out his trip in Senegal, where he will reiterate the close partnership between the two countries.

In the first ten months of his tenure, Secretary Blinken has traveled to every other region of the world, except Africa, which is often eclipsed by urgent crises in regions considered to be more strategically important to the U.S. In fact, Blinken’s visits to three of the United States’ closest partners in Africa highlights the lack of attention that this region receives in U.S. foreign policy. It took two major crises – a coup and a potential civil war – to entice America’s top diplomat to Africa when there are myriad issues in which the U.S. has interests. Now, it is time for the United States to pay closer attention to Africa.

Multiple Coups and A Civil War

Over the past year, coups and civil wars have shaken the African continent. For one, the Horn of Africa has been a hotbed of activity. Ethiopia, arguably the United States’ closest ally in Africa, is on the precipice of civil war. Ethiopia’s western neighbor, Sudan, suffered a military coup in October when the coup leader reappointed himself as the chairman of the new sovereign council, sparking a political crisis in the country’s nascent and fragile democratic transition. To the east, Somalia has been experiencing its own political crisis for decades. These crises promise to be topics of conversation when Blinken visits Kenya, another member of the volatile neighborhood.

Military takeovers in Africa seem to be in vogue over the past twelve months The coup in Sudan was the fourth this year. Similarly, three countries in West Africa – Mali, Guinea, and Chad – also experienced coups. Moreover, coup attempts occurred in the Central African Republic, Niger, and Madagascar. Yet, those countries were able to fight off the unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the sitting governments. One of the objectives of Blinken’s three-country trip to Africa will focus on defending democracy This is coming at a particularly challenging time given the democratic backsliding in many countries across Africa. The military takeovers and potential civil war have the potential to upset U.S. interests in of the most some strategically important regions in Africa. Encouraging democratic governance across Africa is in the United States’ interest.  

The Terrorist Threat in Africa is Real

Many countries across all regions of sub-Saharan Africa suffer from terrorist groups operating in the vast and often lawless areas. After the end of the Cold War, counterterrorism became central to U.S. policy toward the continent as a result of the rise of international terrorism. Many of the terrorist groups located in Africa maintain ties with U.S. adversaries like al Qaeda and the Islamic State. In in the Sahel region, terrorist groups such as the Group of the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) plague the vast, instability-ridden region. Boko Haram, a dangerous group in Nigeria, is allied with the Islamic State and is infamous for kidnapping young, school-aged girls.   

In East Africa, al Shabab, once labeled as “the world’s largest, best financed, most kinetically active arm of al-Qaida” by the U.S. commander of U.S. forces in Africa, is based in Somalia with approximately 10,000 fighters and aims of overthrowing the virtually non-existent government. In Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army – a fundamentalist Christian group – wages war against the government. Moreover, the Islamic State reaches further south into Africa in the form of an insurgency group in Mozambique, responsible for vicious attacks. These terrorist groups around Africa, many of which espouse anti-American ideology and often target Western citizens, are dangerous and directly pose threats to the United States and its allies.

The Other Global Power

China’s influence in Africa has long agitated the United States. In fact, China has surpassed the United States’ diplomatic, political, and economic influence on the continent. As the second largest economy in the world, China has ample resources to fund development projects in several African countries. Beyond that, Chinese foreign direct investment increased significantly and exceeded the United States’ in 2014. Moreover, China is now Africa’s largest trade partner and largest bilateral lender to many African nations. China’s influence on the African continent cannot be overstated.

As President Biden noted early in his administration, China is the “biggest geopolitical test” of this century. For this reason, Africa is becoming an increasingly important battleground in the growing tensions between the two competitors. China is an attractive option to African nations desperate for economic and development assistance because China, unlike the United States and its Western allies, does not “condition its assistance on political agendas,” including democracy promotion and human rights. Still, this is the primary manner in which China has gained more influence across Africa compared to the United States. As the Biden administration shifts U.S. foreign policy focus toward the Indo-Pacific region, with its eye primarily on China, the United States must step up its engagement with Africa so as not to lose any further ground to China.