Charles de Gaulle and the Nuclear Revolution
PHILIP H. GORDON
CHARLES de GAULLE was among those post-war leaders whose views about the utility of military force changed with the advent of atomic weapons. De Gaulle concluded that nuclear weapons would tend to produce caution -- as well as collusion -- among nervous nuclear powers; that the bomb would dissuade an aggressive state from threatening a nuclear-capable state; that the existence of two nuclear superpowers exacerbated the fissiparous tendencies of a bipolar world; and, not least important, that France itself could derive manifold benefits from possessing the bomb. A case-study of de Gaulle's thinking about nuclear weapons, then, helps support the hypothesis that nuclear weapons have indeed changed the character of international relations, and that they have thereby had great significance in the post-war world.
In order to understand how nuclear weapons may have changed de Gaulle's thinking about the uses of military force, we must first briefly recall what his thinking was. And it should be made clear from the start that Charles de Gaulle -- much more than the average middle-ranking French officer of the interwar period -- already had well-developed conceptions of history, diplomacy, and statecraft by the time he was confronted with the nuclear age. The son of a history teacher, de Gaulle read voraciously as a boy and young man -- Jacques Bainville, Henri Bergson, Friederich Nietzsche, Maurice Barrés -- and was steeped in conservative French historical and philosophical traditions. He was chosen for his sense of history and leadership to lecture at the Ecole de Guerre in the 1920s, and in the following decade wrote several books on war,