Chirac: Beyond Gaullism?

Chirac: Beyond Gaullism?

Mini Teaser: The annual G-7 economic summits have been justly described as photoopportunities in which anything except economics may be discussed.

by Author(s): Harvey Sicherman

France also faces a decision on its regular forces: national service
versus a professional army. Bosnia and Rwanda have taught the French
government that its "rapid reaction" force is too small and
ill-equipped to provide the flexibility to deal effectively with such
crises. The Foreign Legion only fields 8,500, and the entire Rapid
Reaction Force 42,500. French forces are scattered about the
globe--excluding the Eurocorps in Germany, the French have roughly
40,000 deployed abroad. The French navy with two medium-sized
carriers and a total of forty-two principal surface combatants cannot
be described as overendowed. It seems inevitable that a major
investment in a professional force must come at the expense of the
"big battalion" conscript army, which still constitutes the heart of
the French military establishment, and of the French ideal of
national service.

Chirac and his advisors have sought a two-pronged solution to these
problems. Both prongs involve greater cooperation with other European
states. In September Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppé emphasized
the potential role of the French nuclear force as a component of
European deterrence, suggesting that France, Britain, and Germany sit
together to discuss the matter. This idea could be discounted as
merely an attempt to undercut opposition to nuclear testing. On
October 28-30, Chirac and British Prime Minister Major did meet for
such a discussion and declared their readiness to use nuclear weapons
in each other's defense, a pledge Paris had reserved previously only
for Germany. And as early as January 13, 1995, Juppé had outlined a
concept of dissuasion concertée--concerted deterrence. Chirac is
clearly giving an impetus here to a potentially radical idea: The
future of the force de frappe may depend upon it becoming such a
dissuasion concertée; that, in turn, will depend on the acceptability
of such a concept to other European governments, including that of

A second initiative concerns the French and European arms industry.
As Defense Minister Millon has put it, "France cannot be ignored, but
in many areas it cannot act alone." This acknowledgment, of course,
is not new. What is new is that, contrary to earlier French
assertions of a common European defense objective, the French now
speak of a form of cooperation to a renewal of the Atlantic Alliance.
As early as 1992, Chirac himself advocated in Politique
Internationale that Europe and the United States should collaborate
on anti-missile defenses and stronger measures to contain
proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. Today Paris also
advocates a two-tier military system for the West: NATO when the
Americans choose to become involved; European forces, based on the
Eurocorps but able to still draw on the units committed to NATO, that
would enable the Europeans to act on their own in lesser

It is well known that Chirac has been more sympathetic to America and
things American than any of his predecessors. He often speaks fondly
of his American summer as a Harvard student, a soda jerk at a Howard
Johnson's, and a fork lift operator at a beer factory. And he
astonished both American observers and his own countrymen by giving a
lengthy interview on American television in English during his
October trip to New York to attend the festivities marking the
fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. But Chirac's interest in
a strengthened Franco-American connection is neither whimsical nor
sentimental. It is guided by strategic logic.

It is still not clear yet whether any of this is workable, but it
surely presages a closer relationship between France and the alliance
than anything de Gaulle would have tolerated. Behind the classic
Gaullism of the nuclear tests, then, seem to lurk several
post-Gaullist initiatives intended to bring about greater French
military cooperation with its neighbors, and with the United States.

Whose Europe?

It is all well and good for French leaders to assert, as Prime
Minister Juppé did on May 23 to the National Assembly, that "France
can and must assert its vocation as a world power [applause]", but
French foreign policy is rooted in Western Europe. The Franco-German
partnership that produced the European Common Market and now the
European Union is the foundation of French security. General de
Gaulle, while consciously loosening the bonds with the United States,
tightened them with Germany, and his successors have done the same.
The European Union has thus grown up as an economic directorate
driven primarily by Germany, but with a political superstructure
dominated by France.

This careful formula, with its ritual summit meetings and emotional
overtures of reconciled enemies, was shaken to its core by German
unification. Paris was as surprised as any other Western capital by
East Germany's rapid decline and the sudden dismantling of the Berlin
Wall on November 10, 1989. Surprise gave way to consternation when it
became clear that the two Germanys were becoming one. Thanks to Lady
Thatcher's memoirs (among other sources), we know now that after
Mitterrand's surprise visit to Moscow in early December 1989 he
shared her fears about the speed and scope of German unification. In
all of this there was an echo of the historic Franco-Russian and
Anglo-French alliances that were intended to constrain Germany before
World War I.

At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on
November 3, only a week before the Berlin Wall fell, Mitterrand had
declared, "Reunification poses so many problems that I shall make up
my mind as the events occur." Despite his expressions of concern to
Thatcher and Gorbachev, when Mitterrand "made up" his mind he decided
not to oppose a unification that in any case he could not prevent.
Instead he pressed Kohl for compensatory assurances that Germany
would support a further "deepening" of the European Community. But
even in this he proved variable, as he floated a proposal for an
all-European political structure that seemed to suggest the
dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw Pact alliances, without addressing
the critical issue of whether East Germany would survive. Such a
proposal might have been attractive to a Soviet leader with more time
at his disposal, but Gorbachev was not in that position. Faced with
the choice of using Soviet troops to uphold East Germany by force or
selling the wasting asset at the highest price, he decided to sell.
Using the two-plus-four mechanism provided by the Americans to
negotiate the terms, he eventually dealt directly with Kohl in July
of 1990. For some fifteen billion deutschmarks, a new treaty of
friendship, and various military arrangements that still allowed full
German membership in NATO, Gorbachev sold Stalin's forward position
in Europe that had been bought forty-five years earlier by the blood
of the Red Army. His subsequent bid to create a "special
relationship" with the new Germany created unease in NATO but turned
out to be so much wind when the Soviet Union itself disappeared in

The French had proved quite marginal to these astounding events.
Mitterrand had flirted and flitted with several different ideas,
never quite settling on any one for very long. Bonn got the
impression that France quietly agreed with Britain that unification
was not desirable except that Mitterrand took greater pains than
Thatcher to disguise it. But neither affected the outcome. The French
were now partners to a much larger, unified Germany, and they had not
proved helpful in the birthing process.

A long introspection then ensued in Paris. Could France continue to
"lead" the Germans politically? Would the European Union now become,
as some British Conservatives loudly claimed, a vehicle for German
domination of Europe? The Maastricht Treaty, heavily promoted by
Mitterrand as the key act to secure a united Western Europe with
Germany finally "integrated" into it, soon took on a different cast.
European Monetary Union now meant an iron linkage of the French
economy to that of Germany. As the cost of German unification led to
a tight money policy by the Bundesbank, the French economy suffered
under higher interest rates. Paris devalued the franc but held the
linkage. The country was then caught in a halfway house as its other
main competitors, particularly Britain, floated free of the European
Monetary System to avoid the German-generated constraints. These
"competitive devaluations"--the so-called multi-speed European
monetary system--were to be the main target of Chirac's abortive
"wise men's group" at the Cannes summit of June 1995.

At the Valencia Summit, near September's end, however, the EU finance
ministers reaffirmed that Germany, not France, would determine the
course on the EMU. By adopting strict criteria as specified by the
Maastricht Treaty, Italy was clearly excluded from among the early
participants. And while Chirac has proclaimed the French commitment
to join the EMU by the 1997 target date to be a "point of honor" this
will require serious cuts in public spending to meet the targets.
Prime Minister Juppé's initial budget notably failed to tackle the
problem of public employee salaries and benefits. His finance
minister, Alain Madelin, resigned in August over this issue, saying
later to the Washington Post, "There are two Frances--one the
merchant France that is subject to the laws of competition and of
excellence, and a Sleeping Beauty France that is administered and
lives in a cocoon."

Essay Types: Essay