Reconcilable Differences: U.S.-French Relations in the New Era

Article excerpt

EUROPE

Michael Brenner and Guillaume Parmentier.

Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2002, [Symbol Not Transcribed] [times], 154pp, US$42.95 cloth (ISBN 0-8157-1254-5), US$17.95 paper (ISBN 0-8157-1253-7)

France's most recent rentree (that is, resumption of normal life after the summer holiday season) saw the publication of two books that garnered a great deal of attention. One was Jean-Francois Revel's L'Obsession anti-americaine, and the other was Philippe Roger's L'Ennemi americain. Each in its own way served to remind readers of the enduring claim America has on French minds, if not exactly on French hearts, and together the books triggered a renewed debate over whether the country was fundamentally 'anti-American,' and, if so, why?

Reconcilable Differences takes another tack, and, while not at all assuming a complete identity of interests between France and America, Michael Brenner and Guillaume Parmentier do insist that too much can be made of recent (and not so recent) spats between the United States and its first ally, France. Indeed, as is indicated by the book's title, they believe that many (maybe most) of the differences that do exist can be reconciled, for it is their thesis that the challenges of this new century are such as to facilitate a Franco-American rapprochement. Such a reconciliation is by no means guaranteed, but to Brenner, who teaches international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, and Parmentier, who directs the French Center on the United States at the Paris-based Institut francais des relations internationales, there is good reason to expect an improvement in what they and everyone else recognize has been 'the most unsteady... [o]f all the long-standing connections between allies in the Western world' (p 2).

This short book, admirably bold, offers an introduction and four thematic chapters: the unipolarity-multipolarity dichotomy, the stalled French return to NATO's integrated military structure, the impact of economic disputes (especially those related to the defence industrial base) upon the bilateral relationship, and the prospects for a revitalized transatlantic alliance.

Along the way, the authors provide an elegantly stated case for meliorism; the Cassandras, whose ranks are legion, are likely to be proved wrong, they tell us, because Paris and Washington are coming to understand that their own best interests predispose them to closer co-operation. Part of the reason inheres in the growing importance of the European Union, and therefore of the EU's moving spirit, France. Partly it has to do with a changing French assessment of self-interest, as the country gradually modifies its 'realism' of yore in favour of 'liberal institutionalist' dispensations dear to at least one, perhaps both, of the authors. …