A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and the Gaullist Legacy

A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and the Gaullist Legacy

A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and the Gaullist Legacy

A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and the Gaullist Legacy

Synopsis

As France begins to confront the new challenges of the post-Cold War era, the time has come to examine how French security policy has evolved since Charles de Gaulle set it on an independent course in the 1960s. Philip Gordon shows that the Gaullist model, contrary to widely held beliefs, has lived on--but that its inherent inconsistencies have grown more acute with increasing European unification, the diminishing American military role in Europe, and related strains on French military budgets. The question today is whether the Gaullist legacy will enable a strong and confident France to play a full role in Europe's new security arrangements or whether France, because of its will to independence, is destined to play an isolated, national role. Gordon analyzes military doctrines, strategies, and budgets from the 1960s to the 1990s, and also the evolution of French policy from the early debates about NATO and the European Community to the Persian Gulf War. He reveals how and why Gaullist ideas have for so long influenced French security policy and examines possible new directions for France in an increasingly united but potentially unstable Europe.

Excerpt

The aim in this book is much more than to analyze French national security policies in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, although it is an attempt to do that. Rather, my primary objective has been to try to place French security policies in the overall philosophical and political framework—the Gaullist framework—that has guided them for more than thirty years. I have sought to understand how, why, and to what extent Gaullist thinking influenced French policy since General de Gaulle left power in 1969, and I have attempted to assess the positive and negative consequences of that influence for France, for Europe, and for the United States. With the Cold War now over and with France at a crossroads where its foreign and security policies are concerned, it seems more important than ever to understand the roots of those policies and, thereby, the prospects for their continuity or change.

When I completed my initial research and a first draft of this study in late 1989, a number of conclusions about Gaullist influences on French security policy had emerged. De Gaulle's ideas, it seemed clear, had heavily influenced French national security decisions, and despite some fundamental changes—including multiple army reorganizations, an Atlantic rapprochement, changes in military doctrine, and the development of a more autonomous European defense—French security policy at the end of the 1980s could still fairly be described as “Gaullist.” French leaders throughout the 1970s and the 1980s continued to maintain the ideal of autonomy of decision, defend the theoretical independence of the force de frappe, avoid any new or explicit commitments to third-country security, refuse participation in any sort of integrated military command structure, manufacture and procure the vast majority of French weapons in France, and claim for France an exceptional status and special global role. The “Gaullist model, ” initially questioned by military experts and berated by the political opposition, had become accepted across the entire political spectrum, was being implemented by de Gaulle's former opponents on the Left, and had become the basis for a relative “national defense consensus” in France. One need only compare the main elements of French security policy in the late 1980s to those of France's neighbors to see just how particular, indeed just how “Gaullist, ” French policy had remained.

It was also clear by the end of the 1980s, however, that Gaullist policies were becoming increasingly difficult for France to maintain. Not only did Gaullist ambitions leave France with a wide range of security commitments, including an expensive nuclear force, the most diversified armed forces in Europe, and military bases around the world, but a changing . . .

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