Saturday, December 5, 2020

S.W. Pacific – the French Connection

Written by: (Contributed) on 6 December 2020 

Serious studies of the sensitive Pacific part of the wider Indo-Pacific region focus upon the rising US-led diplomatic hostilities toward China.

They tend, however, to overlook other, smaller regional players, which also have influence.

Such is the case with France, which has three colonies in the Pacific together with other important interests across the wider region.

France would also appear to be intent on using the three colonies as strategically-placed assets in conjunction with US-led diplomatic positions, with far-reaching implications for Australia as the southern regional hub for 'US interests'.

France is a major diplomatic player in the Pacific: its three colonies, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Fortuna, provide France with direct access into regional organisations including the Pacific Islands Forum.

French colonialism in the Pacific, despite emphasis on military and security considerations, is, however, primarily based upon economic factors.

New Caledonia, for example, has about ten per cent of the world's nickel reserves which are dominated by private French-based companies. France also has direct control of a vast seven million square kilometres exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Pacific, providing crucial access to sensitive shipping-lanes and oil and gas reserves.

France has developed neighbourly relations with Australia as a dominant southern regional hub for 'US interests'. While France has continually pushed 'Francophone cultural influence wherever that is possible', the balance of power in the Pacific remains based on strong Australian-French diplomacy. (1)

Military agreements

In 2016 Australia and France signed a defence agreement, which was subsequently updated in 2018 in conjunction with support from the Trump administration. It included intelligence co-operation in what had become a potential theatre of war for US-led military planning against China. French overseas intelligence, the notorious SDECE/DGSE, has a long history of regional operations. Military exercises now take place with Australian and French personnel in a variety of official capacities on the regular basis.

The defence agreements, however, rested upon earlier military co-operation with the 2012 Defence Co-operation Agreement and later involvement, by France, with the Quadrilateral Defence Co-ordination Group which evolved into the so-called 'Quad'.

French military presence, in the Pacific, has the following provision:

                                 New Caledonia         1,400 troops
                                 French Polynesia       900 troops
                                 Wallis and Fortuna    defence responsibility of France.

French military presence in its three colonies is supported by a civilian, settler population: in the Kanaky area of New Caledonia, 27 per cent of the population are French residents. These French public servants, often with strong links to the official military apparatus and tentacles of their vast, sprawling intelligence services, are paid high wages. They contribute toward an economic and social imbalance in the country: an estimated ten per cent of the capital city, Noumea, for example, live in shanty-towns; they form part of an under-class of nationals for French interests to exploit.

The timing of the military agreements between Australia and France also coincided with moves by the Pentagon to revamp Island Chain Theory (ICT), a relic of the previous Cold War. Present-day US-led military planning has continually pushed ICT agendas. They include the significance of Taiwan and the third and final part three of Oceania, where France has a significant stake with its three colonies. (see diagram)

The French regional military position has, therefore, tended to fit comfortably into the bigger US-led defence and security provision, resting on a vast network of facilities hosted by various governments across the wider region. (2)

We remember….

French regional foreign policy, also has a murky side.

In the mid-1980s, France was developing a nuclear capacity which they tested in the Pacific; their intelligence services were noted as possessing the Cold War mind-set that 'France's nuclear independence … was … under threat from a co-ordinated and implausibly diverse conspiracy of jealous Anglo-Saxons, long-haired environmentalists, island nationalist groups financed by communists, and the Soviets, whose submarines lurked in the azure waters off the atoll' and therefore sought to deal with those concerned in a covert operation, which began with agents infiltrating Greenpeace in Auckland, New Zealand. (3)   

The subsequent attempt by the SDECE/DGSE to destroy the Rainbow Warrior monitoring ship owned by Greenpeace, however, was as fundamentally flawed as the disposition of the conspirators, and botched; while continuing to reside behind plausible denial, it was noted 'the agents might as well have left a beret, a baguette and a bottle of Beaujolais at the scene of the crime', which included two bombs and a Greenpeace photographer dead. (4)

Australia has, nevertheless, continued to rely upon France and their gung-ho intelligence services for regional military and security provision.

Australian foreign policy, for example, with its emphasis upon the South Pacific as a buffer for military incursions from the north, has had to include New Caledonia as part of the same defence and security provision.


Recent moves in New Caledonia to push an independence referendum have, therefore, had serious implications for Australian defence and security provision. While the recent vote was lost to French loyalists, a third and final referendum will take place in 2022. Australia, as a matter of course, has opposed the independence movement, although played-down its specific role in strengthening French colonialism for obvious reasons. Any publicity about Australian connivance inside the murky world of French foreign policy and the Pacific has serious implications; the position Australia has entered into with its support for French colonialism runs counter to its position held in the United Nations and other regional representative bodies which support independence movements.

As the stakes become ever higher for US-led regional military and security provision, Australia, however, is likely to be drawn toward the position of openly defending French colonialism in the Pacific, as a matter of course; the three French colonies will be increasingly regarded as vital strategic assets for the Pentagon. Their military facilities, likewise, will have increased significance for regional deployments of troops.

Moves to establish a third Australian space-port at Bowen in Queensland, similarly, may have some considerable bearing upon Australian-French regional diplomacy and military co-operation. Bowen is geographically close to New Caledonia. It has been noted that 'the Bowen space-port … is … a key location to support Defence's space requirements in coming years', which will, 'launch rockets across the Coral Sea', in conjunction with satellite systems. (5)

With these developments taking place: We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Australia and France in the Pacific Ocean, New Eastern Outlook, 24 November 2020.
2.     See: US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014; and,
        US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012.
3.     The French Secret Services, Douglas Porch, (London, 1996), page 456, page 460.
4.     Ibid., page 460.
5.     Blast off from Bowen, Queensland Defence, Australian, 25 September 2020.


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