THE past several years have been difficult for France and the
United States. Beginning with the Gulf crisis, through the disputes
about NATO's future, and into a bitter conflict over a US-European
Community GATT agreement on agriculture, French and American
positions on important issues often have diverged.
Differences between Washington grew to the point that at the end
of last year, during discussions of French-German plans to create
an independent "Eurocorps," then-US Secretary of State James Baker
III reportedly asked his counterpart Roland Dumas, "Are you for us
or against us?"
The recent French election, following America's change of
course, presents an opportunity to create a more trusting
relationship between the US and its oldest ally. Doing so, however,
will require open minds, understanding, and compromise on both
sides, which are far from guaranteed.
The French vote was an even greater upset than had been
expected. The right's landslide, however, hardly means smooth
sailing for new Prime Minister Edouard Balladur of the neo-Gaullits
(RPR). Instead, the vote may lead to what might be called a "triple
cohabitation." Mr. Balladur will have to get along first with his
pro-European liberal (UDF) coalition partners, second with the
large anti-European faction in his own party, and finally with the
Socialist President, Francois Mitterrand. Mr. Mitterrand, despite
the repudiation of his party by voters and his own 26 percent
popularity rating, is planning to stay on to finish his seven-year
term, which runs until 1995.
For the US, the most promising facet of the new government is
its attitude toward NATO. Even the so-called "Gaullists" now
criticize the Socialists for their ongoing resistance to NATO's
adaptation. RPR leaders such as Jacques Chirac point out that
"integration with 70,000 American troops will not have the same
meaning as when the US contingent was 300,000." Party defense
expert Francois Fillon calls for a "recasting of the Gaullist model
for defense"; Gaullist deputy Jacques Baumel calls for "an end to
France's outmoded attitude toward NATO"; and Balladur has suggested
that NATO expand to include the states of Central Europe.
While a full return to NATO's integrated military structure is
unlikely - the French still believe it less necessary than ever
without a clear threat from the East - it is likely that the new
government will be prepared to rejoin many of NATO's other bodies,
including the Military Committee and the Defense Planning Committee.
If there is reason for optimism on the military front, however,
there is reason for pessimism on trade. Center-right leaders have
vowed to be "much more firm" than the socialists on agriculture and
the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks. The future
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe now speaks of a "growing consensus in
France that the rules of international trade need to be changed. …