Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 18:19 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 | 18:19 | SYDNEY

France all but ignored in Defence White Paper

28 May 2009 12:36

Having scrutinized France’s 2008 Defence White Paper and noted the curious paucity of mentions of the South Pacific by this sovereign power resident in that region, it was interesting to look at our own Defence White Paper for its references to France in the South Pacific.

Given that Australia’s second-stated most important strategic interest (after defending itself against armed attack) is the security, stability and cohesion of our immediate neighbourhood, including the South Pacific, and that the Paper underlines the importance of working in coalitions (on which Geoff Miller has made some useful comments), it is interesting to see how France has been treated.

France is specifically mentioned four times. It appears three times under 'Working with Europe and NATO': twice alongside other European partners we work with in various cooperative programs and in Afghanistan, and one general reference to Australia’s practical cooperation with France in 'the Pacific and Southern Oceans'. The fourth reference to France is in a list of donors (US, Japan, China and New Zealand) we need to work with to build governance and economic capacity in the South Pacific (ie. not a hardcore defence activity).

So France is seen as a helpful European power, not as a regional neighbour with responsibilities flowing from its sovereign presence.

Where France is not mentioned is equally revealing. There is no mention of France under discussions of interoperability, defence intelligence, or science and technology, even when other countries are specifically listed. This despite regular annual exercises with France’s forces based in New Caledonia and France’s leading role in science and technology (with regional centres in Noumea and Papeete, and our joint hydrocarbons research cooperation in waters off New Caledonia). 

Nor is there any mention of France in the section on disaster relief and humanitarian crises in the South Pacific, a surprising omission since France participates along with New Zealand in the FRANZ arrangements specifically to provide such assistance there. 

From both Defence Papers, it seems that neither France nor Australia value enough the real and potential strategic benefits in France’s presence in the South Pacific. In a world where at least one new strategic competitor is appearing in our common immediate neighbourhood, regional security might benefit from France and Australia each publicly defining their strategic perspectives in better synch with the realities on the ground.

Photo by Flickr user digitalFRANCE, used under a Creative Commons license.