Saturday, December 19, 2009


The Cable has an interesting piece about growing US opposition to a potential French arms sale to Russia. The item in question is the Mistral, an assault ship and currently the second largest in the French Navy. If completed, the transaction would be the first major deal between a NATO country and Russia.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee) has introduced a bill to oppose the sale and has called on US leaders to oppose the deal until Russia withdraws entirely from Georgiam territory and implements human rights and rule of law reforms. Some US critics argue that this proposed sale would trigger a chain reaction of sales to Russia in order to bolster Europe's industry, protect its domestic defense jobs, and compensate for its sagging defense budgets. Russia has already been in talks with Spain and the Netherlands for helicopter carriers.

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have all expressed worry, especially noting the symbolic implications a potentially-threatening sale originating from a fellow NATO member. While the Baltic States are assured NATO security guarantees, Georgia is not. The concern that the sale would render Georgia vulnerable to Russian military force, this time with implicit NATO consent, was made more real after a Russian Naval Commander remarked that a Mistral would allow Russia to take Georgia in minutes rather than weeks.

Paris insists that no sale is imminent, that a request made by Moscow is being considered, and that any Mistral sold would be a stripped down model. The Cable quotes Prime Minister François Fillon saying that arms deals with Russia are key to peace and stability and an important part of a strategic partnership: "It would be impossible to call for continental stability in partnership with Russia if we refuse to sell armaments to Russia. A refusal would amount to contradicting our own discourse."

Besides the payment of a hefty sum and the guarantee of jobs, what does Paris expect from this deal in the middle- and long-term? Is it prepared to hand over significant sea power to the Russians, quite possibly at Georgia's expense, all while depending on Georgia's contributions to key NATO missions? And symbolically, does Paris want to reward a Russia that has publicly vowed to use this technology against Georgia in what could be a reprise to the 2008 crisis which France's own Sarkozy helped to halt? And more, where lies the pragmatic, new realist balance between normalizing relations, exercising diplomatic short-sightedness, and stoking old Cold War-era fears?

- Amy Greene