A few weeks back, Natalie Nougayrède wrote about the disappearance of human rights from Nicolas Sarkozy's foreign policy agenda since last December. That got me thinking about the disappearance of foreign policy from Nicolas Sarkozy's foreign policy agenda since last December. After a very active first two years in office, culminating in France's EU presidency from July-December 2008, Sarkozy has been almost nonexistent in the international arena -- outside of a brief supporting role in the runup to the London G-20 summit in April, and the opening of a minor French military base in Abu Dhabi in late-May.
Part of that has to do with being upstaged by a young upstart in Washington. Some of it has to do with the need to refocus, after the EU presidency, on a domestic agenda. And some of it has to do with the fact that the overriding global agenda these days -- the financial crisis -- is being handled in the broad multilateral format of the G-20. But in any case, there seems to have been an extended pause in the hyper-president's hyper-diplomacy.
Which means that the news that Sarkozy's paying a 21-hour lightning visit to Brazil to try to seal the first major purchase of Rafale fighter jets marks his "rentrée" (French for "back to school/work") into the foreign policy arena. Brazil's President Lula da Silva has strongly hinted that France has a step up on the competition (Boeing's F-18 and Saab's Gripen), on the basis of France's willingness to include technology transfers and domestic production in the deal. Add that $2.5 billion price tag to the $10 billion contract already inked between the two countries for 50 helicopters and five subs (one of which will be nuclear-powered), and you've got the makings of a pretty substantial military hardware partnership.