The Endless Fantasy of American Power
Neither Trump Nor Biden Aims to Demilitarize Foreign Policy
On August 2, 1914, a young officer burst into the office of General Lyautey in Rabat to inform him that hostilities had just broken out between France and Germany. Lyautey, who had spent the greater part of his career in Asia and in Africa and had acquired the habit of looking at problems not on the scale of a general staff map but on the scale of a world map, stopped to think, then lifted his eyes and said slowly: "They are crazy; it is a civil war." The young officer closed the door behind him without understanding. For him, as for most men of his time, the history of the twentieth century, like that of the nineteenth, could only be written by the European peoples; their strife, however tragic the consequences, was thus in the nature of things.
Only one well-known Frenchman looked upon this great tragedy in the same light as Lyautey-the pacifist writer Romain Rolland, an admirer of Tolstoy. After taking refuge in Switzerland in order to avoid having to choose sides, he published as early as September 1914 a pamphlet entitled "Au- dessus de la mêlée," in which this passage appears: "Thus the three great peoples of the West, the guardians of civilization, are rushing headlong toward their ruin and are calling to their rescue Cossacks, Turks, Japanese, Singhalese, Sudanese, Senegalese, Moroccans, Egyptians, Sikhs and sepoys, barbaric peoples from the pole and from the equator, peoples and races of all colors! It looks like the Roman Empire at the time of the tetrarchy appealing to the hordes of the whole universe in order that they might devour one another. Is our civilization so firmly rooted then that you do not fear to weaken its pillars? Do you not see that, if one single column is destroyed, everything will come crashing down about you?" Lyautey and Romain Rolland were two men with ideas and beliefs as different as could possibly be. But they had one thing in common: they had both taken the trouble to observe the masses of Asia and Africa. They needed to do no more in order to be 40 years ahead of their time.
For the great majority of Frenchmen today feel that another French-German war would be "a civil war" and many of them would freely admit that, as far back as 1914, Lyautey had seen the truth. It was above all in order to test the survivors of Verdun and of the Resistance that General de Gaulle, a veteran of Verdun and bearer of the title of "First Resistance Fighter of France," in July of this year invited Chancellor Adenauer, not to meet him personally (as he had done previously) but to come into contact directly with the French people. The towns that were visited had not been chosen haphazardly. Bordeaux, the capital of southwestern France, and Reims, the capital of Champagne, are associated with two of the most humiliating incidents, one for the French, the other for the Germans. It was from Bordeaux that, on June 17, 1940, came the demand for an armistice against which de Gaulle, a member of the last government of the Third Republic before the fight was abandoned, instantly rose up in protest. It was at Reims that, four years and eleven months later, Field Marshal von Keitel signed the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich, after having greeted the arrival of General de Lattre de Tassigny with this exclamation: "What! The French too . . ." The scene took place a few hundred yards away from one of the world's most famous cathedrals, which-after having served as a target for the German artillery in 1916-was restored during the period between the two wars, in large part through American generosity. If I had not resigned from the government on May 15 of this year, I would no doubt have been present, as one of General de Gaulle's ministers, less than 18 years later, at the first French-German military parade in history, which, as it happens, took place some 12 miles from Reims. I would, of course, have felt that I was witnessing an event of capital importance. But I would not have been any more surprised than most of my countrymen, including those who-like myself-answered General de Gaulle's call as early as June 1940. For Chancellor Adenauer was welcomed wherever he went, not with enthusiasm, but with understanding; not with joyful cries, which would have been considered out of place by everyone, and first of all by our guest, but with deference and dignity.
Everyone who witnessed the event had three similar observations to make. First of all, the only manifestations of hostility were those that had been organized by the Communist Party. Thus it was that, when the Chancellor arrived at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, the Communist municipal councillors staged a spectacular walkout accompanied by shouts. Their Socialist colleagues were the first to publish a communiqué protesting this attitude. Second of all, the Communist militants themselves, while they executed the orders that had been given to them, did not seem to be carried away by enthusiasm; they were much more numerous and violent some ten years ago, when their target was someone like General Ridgway. Lastly, the average Frenchman-in Paris and in Bordeaux, in Reims and in Rouen-had the impression that he was witnessing not the beginning of a new era, but the crowning of a policy undertaken and accepted long ago.
In 1871 the King of Prussia, Wilhelm I, was crowned Emperor of Germany in the Galerie des Glaces of the Versailles Palace, after having taken away Alsace and a part of Lorraine from France. On June 28, 1919, the treaty ending the First World War was signed at Versailles by France, her allies and Germany. The first event occurred barely four years before the birth of Konrad Adenauer, the second when the mayor of Cologne was nearly 45 years old. When the 87-year-old Chancellor was the official guest of the town of Louis XIV, he recalled these two historic facts without any constraint. Somebody then remarked, "You would think he is talking of a civil war." It was an English journalist who said it. After 48 years, ten of which were filled with slaughter, he was, without knowing it, using the same expression as Lyautey.
Does this mean that the French-German reconciliation is today considered to be irrevocable by all Frenchmen except the Communists? If we were to give a purely affirmative answer, we would run the risk of overlooking something essential. Behind the French-German reconciliation, as behind all the seemingly theoretical debates arising out of the problem of supranationality, there is, in reality, a fundamental fear-that of a new German-Soviet pact.
The aversion of a large section of the French Right to the transformation of "the hereditary enemy" into a partner and an ally has not disappeared overnight. To be sure, the champions of traditional nationalism who joined with the Communists (their worst enemies) to combat the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, or the Common Market in 1957, and to bring about the failure of the European Defense Community in 1954, were not all guided by distrust toward Germany. Many of them-probably most of them-were responding rather to the desire not to get involved in a system of which England was not a member; to the fear of upheavals that might bring about the disappearance of old economic structures; or to the almost instinctive will to preserve national sovereignty. The proof of this lies in the fact that the same National Assembly which in August 1954 had rejected the idea of a European army several months later approved the Paris accords, which authorized the rebuilding of a German national army.
The fact remains, however, that until 1955 the Communists were not the only ones to speak of the "German peril;" the E.D.C. was turned down on the joint motion of the old Radical leader Edouard Herriot (who had been, during the Weimar Republic, the great advocate of French-German rapprochement and was scarred forever by the collapse of his efforts) and General Aumeran, deputy from Algiers, who sat on the extreme Right. The latter even went so far as to warn his colleagues against "the eternal Germany." If this kind of language has almost disappeared during the last seven years, it is because the French spirit has become accustomed to reasoning in terms of the following alternative: Either Germany will be linked to the West, or else it will be tempted sooner or later either to play a seesaw game between the East and the West or even to come to a direct agreement with the Soviet Union, which holds the key to German unity. All Frenchmen over 40 years of age recall the German-Soviet pact signed in the Kremlin on August 23, 1939, by Stalin and Ribbentrop. None of them forgets that this sudden reversal was the direct cause of the war. In this regard, the violent campaign conducted by the Communist Party against Chancellor Adenauer and the Federal Republic has greatly helped the reconciliation venture.
No one understood this better than the Chancellor himself. Summing up his French trip for the German press, he made this key statement: "The goal of German and French policy should now be to bring the two peoples together in such a way that neither of the two governments could think of concluding a treaty with Moscow at the expense of the other." Are there many Germans who fear that a French government might decide to conclude a treaty with Moscow at the expense of the Federal Republic? At any rate, such a fear never entered the mind of the old Chancellor. He knows that a bilateral agreement is sought by the Soviet Union in so far as it can help disrupt the Atlantic Alliance, and thereby alienate the United States from Europe; he also knows that no European government can take such a risk without at least having the illusion of gaining thereby a major advantage. Now the only major advantage that this could hold for France would be to ward off a new German menace. General de Gaulle thus settled the question for the moment when he declared publicly that Germany "did not at present represent any kind of danger for France."
On the other hand, there are many Frenchmen who fear that a German government may some day decide to conclude a treaty with Moscow at the expense not only of France but of the whole West. In such a case, there might indeed appear to be a major advantage if the Soviet Union offered to barter the reunification of Germany for its neutralization. Of course, the great majority of West Germans think that such a bargain would result not in the liberation of 17,000,000 Germans who are behind the Iron Curtain, but in the transformation of West Germany itself into a satellite. But would a Germany that had recovered its attributes of power without being solidly tied to the West go on thinking this way indefinitely? When Mr. Khrushchev proposed, in an official note to Chancellor Adenauer last December, a new type of German-Soviet pact, he must have been aware of the fact that his scheme was doomed to failure in the immediate future. But the very choice of the arguments invoked demonstrates that he was addressing himself, over the heads of the government and its very old leader, to two categories of Germans. On one hand, by stressing that "the German and Russian economies are complementary," he was baiting the industrialists, flattering their atavistic tendency toward continuous expansion and suggesting by implication a new "Drang nach Osten" in the form of a sharing of markets. On the other hand, by asserting that NATO's goals were inconsistent with the fundamental interests of the German nation, he was inviting the young people to question the means by which it was proposed to reëstablish the country's unity and was reminding them that unification does not depend on the good will of the West, but on his-Khrushchev's-good will.
Was this a casual man?uvre? On the contrary, the same approach is tried periodically. The French Communists, who were indignant because Chancellor Adenauer was greeted in Paris to the strains of "Deutschland über alles," forgot that the same anthem was played in Moscow on September 8, 1955, when the German head of government was received there with unaccustomed splendor. In February 1957, Marshal Bulganin, who had not as yet fallen from grace, addressed a memorandum to Chancellor Adenauer in which he outlined all the topics that were later taken up in Khrushchev's memorandum of December 27, 1961. On November 9 of last year, a "five-point plan," which did not have the same scope but stemmed from the same design, emerged out of a meeting between Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Kroll, the Federal Republic's ambassador to Moscow. In January 1962, the Soviet radio celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the first agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union by enumerating the advantages that the West Germans would derive from a "creative application of the spirit of Rapallo."
If the implications of these events do not catch the public's attention, we may be sure that General de Gaulle has carefully noted them. His turn of mind always leads him to light the paths of the future by the lantern of the past. He is, as has been said, "a man of the day before yesterday and day after tomorrow." If he had not been more than 30 years old at the time of Rapallo and almost 50 at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact, his attitude with regard to the Berlin problem would no doubt be different. When he was visited by Mr. K. in March 1961, he said to him: "You say you would like an easing of tension? We would like it too. But there can be no easing of tension without equilibrium. There can be no possible equilibrium if the Federal Republic does not belong to the West. The Federal Republic will no longer belong to the West from the moment that West Berlin is, directly or indirectly, abandoned. For this will be proof that the Atlantic guarantee is weak, precarious and revocable. What will happen then? The whole of Germany will tumble into neutrality and the safety of our Rhine frontier-which we have secured at the cost of two terrible wars-will be placed in question again. It is in order to avoid this fatal chain of events that France is urging the greatest firmness in the defense of Western rights in West Berlin."
Many Americans believe (it is true that many Frenchmen encourage them in this belief) that a certain bent for proud solitude was the one thing that prevented General de Gaulle from approving the famous Soviet-American "contacts," which would have turned into negotiations on the Berlin problem had they shown any possibility of an agreement. The basic reason is quite different. "There are two possibilities," the President of the French Republic would say; "as long as the U.S.S.R.-which has artificially created the Berlin problem-does not modify its basic positions, negotiations can only lead to failure or to gradual capitulation. In the first case, we would be aggravating international tension by trying to work toward a détente. In the second case, we would be clearing the way for a German- Soviet rapprochement. If some chance of avoiding a break between Germany and the West is to be preserved, it is essential that France, at least, shall have taken no part in the abandonment." This reasoning reflects perhaps an exaggerated idea of France's means or of her powers of attraction. But it is indicative of the obsession (the word is not too strong) that is driving General de Gaulle to want to make the French-German reconciliation spectacular and indestructible.
What do the "Europeans" make of this? Everything should lead them (it would seem at first glance) to be satisfied. But it is precisely at this point that their misgivings begin. With some of them, these misgivings arise perhaps out of an ingrained and, consequently, unwarranted suspicion. In the case of others, the misgivings are justified by two motives that are worth thinking about. On the one hand, they feel that General de Gaulle is not following his thinking through to the end; since he considers, with good reason, that if ever France's alliances were upset, the nation would be in mortal danger, he should deduce from this that the only way of shielding her from this threat is by withdrawing himself from the mechanism of traditional alliances between sovereign states. All the agreements of this kind with which history is punctuated have been precarious and destined sooner or later to be called into question; the only way of "creating the irreversible" (to use the expression employed by M. René Pleven, former President of the Council) is to bind Germany, and therefore France, to supranational institutions, which presuppose the relinquishment of sovereignty. If the 13 British colonies of North America had become sovereign states united by a treaty, instead of forming a federation, the heirs of George Washington would today be quarreling over a divided territory instead of governing the leading power of the world. On the other hand, although it is true that the end of French-German antagonism is the necessary and vital condition for European unity, the end of this antagonism cannot take the place of European unity. The part of the Continent that has remained free is not so large that it can afford to be divided against itself. At a time when Britain is asking to join the Common Market, it would be absurd and dangerous to give Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands the impression that we want, if not to do without them, at least to submit the Europe of the Six to a sort of French-German directorate, with which Germany itself, moreover, does not seem at all likely to be satisfied.
Such are the objections. In order to appraise their significance, we must examine the thoughts and motives that govern General de Gaulle's foreign policy.
First, can we consider that it was only when General de Gaulle returned to power in June 1958, twelve years and five months after having left office, that he discovered the necessity for a French-German entente and a European regrouping? The speeches he had made back in 1945, as President of the Provisional Government, prove the contrary. "All of us here come from the same race," he declared in Mainz in October 1945, less than five months after the end of the war. "And here we are today, between Europeans and Westerners. What good reasons for us to stay close together from now on!" Several days later, he exclaimed in Strasbourg: "The Rhine can resume the role laid out for it by nature and history. It can become a Western bond once again." Admittedly French policy was at that time wedded to three propositions: the end of the centralized Reich, autonomy for the left bank of the Rhine, internationalization of the Ruhr. But, when General de Gaulle presented these proposals to President Truman at the end of 1945, he was careful to point out: "It is not our intention to drive the German people to despair. On the contrary, we mean for them to live, to prosper and even to draw closer to us. But we must have guarantees. If it turns out later that our neighbors have changed their proclivities, we can reconsider these initial precautions." He also added that his basic purpose was to prevent the Soviet Union from using the fear of Germany to strengthen its subjugation of the countries of Central Europe and the Balkans. "If these states," he said, "find that a German threat no longer exists, their national interests will not fail to rise up within the Soviet camp."
Yet even then this outline of the French-German rapprochement aroused suspicion. Was General de Gaulle not thinking more of France than of the West? Was he not trying to reëstablish a concert of Western Europe around his country and his person, and thus to transform the Old Continent into a "third force," capable of intervening and maintaining a balance between the Communist world and the Anglo-Saxon world while remaining at an equal distance from both? It would be futile to deny that these questions remain unanswered. We shall get the answers not from systematic argumentation nor from criticism of alleged intentions, but from the joint conclusions reached by the President of the French Republic and the Chancellor of the German Federal Republic after the last and most important of their meetings.
The first of these conclusions is that the need for a politically united Europe is directly linked with the continuance of the Soviet danger. There can be no misunderstanding on this fundamental issue. Chancellor Adenauer and General de Gaulle feel that it is urgent-at a time when all the Western powers are faced with serious problems, and the Soviet Union is exerting pressure on them wherever it can-to give organic political structure to the coöperation of the Six. To achieve this, doctrinal quarrels must be forgotten and a "realistic and concrete" line of action must be defined. The two adjectives have a very special meaning. They mean that the two partners meet each other halfway. On the one hand, General de Gaulle agrees to let the existing communities remain, with the more or less supranational powers that they possess. On the other, Chancellor Adenauer admits that the political institutions in course of creation should, at least in the initial stage, preserve national sovereignty-in other words, be governed by the principle of unanimity. But it is made clear that, from now on, their goal will be to draw together, coördinate and unify the policy of the member states in three domains-diplomacy, culture and defense.
The second conclusion reached by the President and the Chancellor is that equal care must be taken on two points: Great Britain must not be excluded from the joint enterprise; nor must the signing of a treaty establishing a political confederation of continental Europe be made to depend on the outcome of the negotiations undertaken in Brussels for the purpose of bringing her into the Common Market.
The two sides of this coin are equally important. First, British membership in the European communities is considered desirable, provided it does not destroy a delicate balance (in other words, on the sole condition that the preferential system enjoyed by the Commonwealth is to disappear by 1970- that is, at the end of the transitional period). Second, in order that Europe shall be able to make its voice heard and defend its interests in every domain, it must not sacrifice its cohesion merely for the sake of enlarging its scope. The economic Europe that Britain now wishes to join would never have come into existence if its creators had decided not to do anything without the participation of the British Cabinet. In the same way, we would now be condemning ourselves never to create a political Europe, or to create it too late, if we waited for Britain to lead instead of showing her the way.
A third conclusion reached is that it is neither legitimate nor possible for the United States-or rather, the two Anglo-Saxon powers together-to retain a monopoly of atomic weapons indefinitely; the corollary of which is that for Europe, and first of all France, to achieve nuclear power ought to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance and not weaken it. The problems involved here are both complex and controversial. Perhaps I can help the American reader to understand how Chancellor Adenauer and General de Gaulle could reach accord on them by explaining my own stand.
Although I had resigned as a minister in the present government on May 15, 1962, because of my disagreement with General de Gaulle on basic issues in the European problem, I did not vote, on July 18, against the government's request for funds to complete the construction of a French isotopic separation plant. My reasons were three:
1. The decision to provide France with atomic weapons was first taken by governments that firmly believed in the Atlantic Alliance and favored European integration. I remember clearly the arguments that carried weight at that time, notably in the ministerial councils of which I was a member in 1951, 1952 and 1953. First of all (we thought) the surest way in the long run of ruining the credit of the "Grand Alliance" in the minds of the French people would be to let them believe that from now on there were to be two categories of allies: those who were the sole possessors of deterrent weapons, and those who were entitled to possess only conventional weapons. Any French government would be particularly unlikely to accept this discrimination because it would not apply to Great Britain. In this connection Americans should recall remarks by two friendly Frenchmen. By Raymond Aron: "We shall never accept the fact of atomic secrets crossing the Atlantic but not the Channel." And by René Pleven, former President of the Council: "It would be the biggest error to believe that French atomic policy will change when General de Gaulle is no longer there."
2. Just as NATO's conventional forces are supposed to constitute a single army, so it would be desirable that all the atomic and nuclear resources of the "Grand Alliance" should also be integrated. This would mean specifically that the decision to em ploy them, if necessary, should be taken by majority vote, either by all the members of NATO, or by five of them-the United States, Great Britain, France, West Germany and Italy-to whom the others would have delegated authority. However, if I were American I would find it inconceivable that the use or non-use of my own nuclear weapons could depend on others-in other words, that the order "to push the button" could be given to the President of the United States by three votes against two (the United States itself figuring in the minority).
3. If, then, an "Atlantic" nuclear force is impossible, can we not substitute for a French force a "European" force? This solution is by far the best, since it would open the way to make good the relative weakness of France's technical and financial re sources. How might it be achieved?
There can be no "European" atomic and nuclear force without the participation of Great Britain and the German Federal Republic. But the United Kingdom is only just beginning to take the big step into Europe; months, perhaps years, will inevitably elapse between the time when it might join the Common Market and the time when it will agree to contribute its atomic and nuclear power to a European pool. In this matter, moreover, the British cabinet is not completely free to act, for it would have to receive Washington's permission to pass on to its continental allies the secrets which at present it alone shares. As for the German Federal Republic, when it regained its sovereignty and entered NATO in 1954, it committed itself not to build atomic weapons on its territory. It would be within the letter of this commitment if it participated in the construction of an isotopic separation plant on French territory. But clearly any move that associated the German Federal Republic with the creation of atomic power for Western Europe would produce international complications and tension, and the consequences must be taken fully into account. I am not thinking only of the possible reactions of the Soviet Union but also of those from America. Washington's main argument against the nuclear arming of France is the fear that this "spread" of nuclear weapons may extend to Germany. We may believe that this wariness will be untenable in the long run; nevertheless, we must take it into account and refrain from imposing additional burdens and difficulties on the United States-even with the excellent intention of substituting an atomic E.D.C. for our own "striking force."
For these reasons I believe the right course of action is the one which General de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer have formulated together-namely, to lose no time in developing political institutions for the Europe of the Six; to plan them in such a way that Britain could join as soon as possible; and to give a politically united Europe competence in defense matters. If unification is completed before France acquires an atomic force, or even if the two tasks are pursued simultaneously, we shall have reached the goal we were aiming at ten years ago; we shall have strengthened the over-all power of NATO while reëstablishing, within the "Grand Alliance," the balance between the Old World and the New.
French-German reconciliation was the chief condition of success in this great undertaking. But it was only a condition. At the end of the dinner at the Elysée Palace in Chancellor Adenauer's honor, General de Gaulle made a few bold and unexpected statements. "In reality," he said, "Germany and France, while each was seeking to impose its rule on the other in order to extend it subsequently over its neighbors, were pursuing the old dream of unity that for some twenty centuries has possessed people on the Continent. In the ambitions of Charles V, Louis XIV, Napoleon I, Bismarck, Wilhelm II, Clemenceau-and even, yes, even during the Second World War in the passions which an oppressive and criminal régime aroused for the purpose of seducing the German people-how much could be traced to the grandiose memories of the Caesars, of Christianity and of Charlemagne?" This historical myth is beautiful, if debatable. At all events, it has the merit of providing a clear connection between the entente which has now been firmly cemented and the "old dream of unity"-unity not only of a continent, but of a heritage and a civilization.