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Should France deliver the Mistral warships to Russia?

France has recently announced the official suspension of the delivery of the Mistral warships to Russia. Was it a mistake?

The real price of the Mistrals

15/04/2015 - 16:00
Russian aggression against the Ukraine has provoked a suspension of the delivery of two Mistral ships from France to Russia. France should go beyond the simple suspension and refuse once and for all to deliver the Mistrals, in order to demonstarte to Europe its solidarity, and to show Russia its ability to sanction the aggression.

The annexation of Crimea and the armed force used by Russia in Eastern Ukraine have been unanimously condemned by the member states of the European Union. However, none of the countries are willing to take a risk to go too far with their sanctions against Russia.

Ending hypocrisy

Behind the official declarations of the European leaders, are there any real measures are taken to support Ukraine? The European chancelleries have chosen the path of financial sanctions, but on the battlefield, the situation is still as serious, and has even been getting worse in the last months. However, despite its imperfections, the policy of sanctions against Russia has to continue.

The responsibility of a country such as France is to stay coherent in the policy of sanctions. To continue the military cooperation with Russia simultaneously with the economic sanctions, would not only be incoherent but also hypocritical.

A halt the sale of weapons to the aggressor state

The sanctions policy is contradictory since it is first and foremost aimed at the population, who will also suffer the most. A sanction in the domain of the military cooperation, however, has the benefit to not directly affect the wellbeing of the population.

In addition to that, even if in an acute need of money, France should think about the real price of these ships. According to Ukrainian authorities and military forces on the spot, Russia delivers  weapons and soldiers to the separatists every day, and in doing so violates also the Minsk Memorandum. The estimated number of military and civil deaths in Eastern Ukraine increases day by day.

The Mistrals cannot be put on the same footing as any other commercial good, like wine or cheese that France is proud to export. The Mistrals are weapons that we have to try to avoid giving to an aggressor at all costs.

European solidarity

This year, in spite of all the internal problems that the European Union's member states have to face, and in spite of the recurring difficulties of finding a consensus when it comes to common foreign policy, the European Union has been united in terms of the Ukrainian question. EU has been surprisingly fast and determined to take sanctions against Russia. The countries were united by a consensus on the threat that Russia meant for the peace and balance on the European continent by violating international law.

Solidarity is what Putin is the most afraid of. This shows in his manner to pursue his European policy: the Russian president handles each country separately, emphasizes that the sanctions cause harm to Europe, and that its a mere emanation of Brussels who gives orders to European countries.

Let’s not make a mistake here: the sanctions against Russia were not ordered by Brussels or by the United States. They were simply the product of a political will and consciousness, necessary to protect  democratic values, peace and freedom.

If France delivers the Mistrals, the other EU member states will have a reason to think that solidarity is only mask and in reality, each country is allowed to act according to its own commercial interest.

To respect the spirit of the Budapest Memorandum

With the Budapest Memorandum, signed the 5th December 1994, Ukraine has given up its nuclear weapons in exchange of keeping its sovereignty and the integrity of the State. According to this treaty, the countries that are supposed to guarantee the independence and the security of Ukraine are the United States, Great Britain and Russia. However, the latter has now violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, firstly through annexation of Crimea and then by starting a war in the Eastern part of the country.

In 1994, Ukraine has made an important sacrifice by giving up the supreme weapon. In doing so, it has proved its sensibility and willingness to relieve new tensions in Europe. Under these circumstances, shouldn't France abandon its profitable military contracts in order to give a chance of sovereignty to Ukraine, and in the long run, to whole Eastern Europe?

The Mistrals affair opens a wider discussion about pacifism and a generalized refusal to use weapons as means of international relations. This article argues that weapon delivery contracts such as this one are not acceptable: commercial advantages should never come before the need to maintain peace and to avoid war.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

The Mistrals have to be delivered to Russia

15/04/2015 - 16:00
Announcing that France suspends the delivery of the Mistrals until a new order, President François Holland is making a mistake.

The French decision creates a dilemma between an ethical action in terms of international relations and respect of contractual obligations, binding France to Russia. By choosing not to respect its contractual obligation, France makes an unconvincing statement about tensions between the Western countries and Russia, and makes a mistake by continuing the isolation of this important neighbor.

Difficult choice between ethics and legal obligations

It is clear that compliance with certain ethical obligations would keep France from delivering the Mistrals to Russia, as they would likely be used by M. Putin in his various actions of force to pressure its neighbors, like in Eastern Ukraine. However, France is contractually bound to Russia regarding the Mistrals because of a contract concluded in 2011, during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. Should France sacrifice its legal obligation on the altar of the respect of Human rights, because of its opinion of Russian politics?

Need to respect the law in international relations

It honorouble of the French government that it is considering the question. Still, it is a mistake not to respect the execution of its contract. Indeed, by refusing to deliver the Mistrals to Russia, France shows little consideration to law which is nevertheless the guiding principle ruling the relations between states. Even if it is poorly respected at times, law and obligations between states bring certain stability to their relations. From this point of view, whether it is contract or a treaty, making and breaking commitments is a harmful practice.

So according to this principle, suspending the delivery of Mistral warships should be avoided. But what makes things worse is that this affair reveals the incapability of France to conceive and apply the long-term vision of its foreign policy, especially when it comes to its important neighbor, Russia.

The lack of long-term vision in French foreign policy

Capacity to conclude a historical commercial contract with Russia, and then refuse its execution, within a period of 3 years, shows that French foreign policy reacts to one situation at the time, is fixed by the will of the political majority, and does not include a long term vision about France’s place among other powers. It is a telltale fact that this question came up in relation with Russia, this state being a dominant power with whom France maintains the centuries-old cultural and economic relations.

This lack of vision led France to lose of its influence with other major powers, such as Russia. It also lead to a faulty evaluation of the effectiveness of such a measure on the policy of force used by Russia in the east of Ukraine.

Indeed, the refusal to deliver the Mistrals represents only a small advancement regarding the goal. It would be naïve to think that M. Putin based his strategy on a delivery by a commercial partner that is known to be unreliable.

This undecisiveness also created a problem of coherence of French policy. We have to remember that beyond the official declarations of President Hollande, Russian soldiers have been trained on French soil, between June and December 2014, to use those ships. In fact, by adding one more sanction on the top of the already heavy load of economic measures, taken by the European Union and its member states against the Russia, France misses out on an occasion to present its self as an innovator in the relations with Russia.

France has nothing else to offer than the continuation of isolation and economic weakening of Russia. In acting like this, the risk is to push Putin, who is likely to maintain his popularity among Russians, towards radicalization, which would bring more nationalism, more anti-Western rhetoric and more aggressive actions foreign policy.

Now more than ever, it would be necessary for France to stick with a clear and defined vision of its own foreign policy. Agreeing to eluver to Russia what is contructually due would be a first step in this direction.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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