If Voltaire were among us today, and if Candide, his hero, were traveling successively through the various nations of Western Europe, reporting on the deep social and political controversies which surround the question of intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), no doubt France would appear to him as a nuclear El Dorado-a Panglossian wonderland where, apparently at least, everyone is/or the French nuclear force, against the Soviet SS-20 missiles, and for the impending NATO deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe. Everyone, that is, except for a small but divided minority composed of Communists, some right-wing politicians and analysts, a few left-wing Socialists and a tiny group of die-hard "ecologists." All in all, Candide would draw the conclusion that all is well in Socialist France-at least insofar as nuclear weapons are concerned-and that it must be depressing indeed to be an anti-nuclear "peace" activist in such a bizarre country.

To be sure, this judgment would carry some elements of truth: It is a fact that France is reacting quite differently from the rest of the Western world to the nuclear debate provoked by the INF affair. With the exception of a few large demonstrations-mostly orchestrated and dominated by the French Communist Party-there is simply no such thing as a genuine and powerful French "peace movement" analogous to those existing in West Germany, Holland or the United States. In fact, French public opinion reveals a high degree of passivity and indifference vis-à-vis Pershings and the nuclear debate as a whole. Government officials readily interpret this as a "consensus" in support of French security policy, and there again, their assessment is correct-at least in part.

After all, President François Mitterrand's staunch support for NATO's 1979 decision to deploy the Pershing II and cruise missiles did not create much of a political stir at home. And when defense is debated in France (as was the case recently with the adoption of the 1984-88 Military Program Law), this is done in an atmosphere of near-total indifference, as long as the sacrosanct national deterrent force is preserved and modernized. Similarly, the decision to build a seventh nuclear-missile submarine (taken immediately after Mitterrand's election) was unanimously acclaimed by both right-wing and left-wing parties. To the extent that politicians argue about defense today, it is about the general economic policy of the government, which may or may not permit the implementation of the latest five-year Program Law.

To a foreign observer (and at times, even to a French analyst) the nature of the current French debate (or lack of same) is indeed stunning when compared to what is happening throughout the rest of the West. While this peculiar French attitude has come as a divine surprise to the Reagan Administration and as a growing source of irritation to both Moscow and the various West European left-wing parties and peace organizations, little attempt has been made so far to understand the roots of France's debate.1 After all, France has always been, since the days of Charles de Gaulle, a highly eccentric and unpredictable member of the NATO family. Why look beyond this? Even European peace activists have given up hope of seeing the French masses rally behind their movement.

Yet things are obviously much more complex. Those in charge of defense policy in France, as well as knowledgeable observers throughout the political spectrum, sense that the famous French "consensus" may in fact hide some nasty weaknesses and that the INF quagmire could very well spill over into the country, creating serious political difficulties at home as well as in the conduct of a stable foreign policy. Already, visible cracks have begun to appear in the walls of the French nuclear citadel, and it is by no means clear that the country's apparent cohesion on a whole range of sensitive defense matters will be able to survive an increasingly powerful combination of domestic and diplomatic pressures stemming from the INF issue.

As will be shown below, the outcome of these conflicting trends is uncertain at present. For France, however, the issue at stake is of fundamental importance: it is whether, in East-West relations today, the country can continue to exercise a margin of absolute independence in the conduct of her security policy-particularly when this involves French nuclear weapons; or, to phrase it differently, whether France must clarify in one way or another the basic ambiguity of her security policy with respect to her precise contribution to NATO and European security.


When asked why their country is apparently immune to the peace campaign that has overwhelmed all of Western Europe-and even Reagan's America-the standard answer given by French officials (and generally by most of the French defense establishment) is that France has had her own nuclear weapons for some 25 years, that she left NATO's integrated military command in 1966, and that, because they are used to relying on themselves for their own defense, the French-unlike their European neighbors-are less vulnerable to the neutralist or pacifist temptation.2

This argument, while not unfounded, is by no means the only explanation for the French attitude. Before analyzing it in some detail, then, let us briefly review several other relevant factors:

1) The influence of the French Communist Party (PCF) and its domination of the French peace campaign. The rhetoric of the PCF since the adoption of the 1979 NATO decision (and the fact that the PCF has faithfully echoed the Kremlin's arguments on the issue) and the PCF's dominance of the major French peace organization ("Le Mouvement de la Paix") have undoubtedly worked to discredit the whole peace campaign in the eyes of a large majority of the French public. This has been all the more damaging as French intellectual elites and public opinion as a whole have grown increasingly hostile to the U.S.S.R. in recent years, a point discussed in more detail below. Sensing this, the PCF has tried in recent months to create or utilize less visible "fronts" in the peace campaign (such as "l'Appel des Cent" for instance). Even then, however, efforts to mobilize mass support outside the Party itself have remained largely unsuccessful.

The high degree of communist influence in the peace campaign has had another damaging result: that of splitting the various peace organizations along ideological lines (in particular with the emergence of non-communist structures, like the CODENE).3 So far, however, the latter have been unable to correct the communist-image problem despite their attempt to join forces with the other European non-communist organizations, particularly in France and in Britain.4

2) The dramatic change of perception of the U.S.S.R. (and, conversely, of the United States), in the eyes of French elites and French public opinion as a whole. In contrast to their neighbors (who ironically have traveled precisely the opposite way), the French have gone from virulent anti-Americanism in the 1950s and 1960s to an equally strong anti-Sovietism today.5 In the French intellectual world, this can be summarized by the final victory of Raymond Aron over Jean-Paul Sartre-even among "les intellectuels de gauche"-after nearly four decades of ideological warfare. The U.S.S.R., which used to be the "model" of justice and socialism, is viewed today as the living symbol of totalitarianism. The works of Solzhenitsyn and the events of the past few years (Afghanistan, Poland, the deployment of the SS-20, the Korean Airlines incident) have played a key role in this radical change of image, as evidenced, for instance, in public opinion polls.6 As a corollary, the image of the United States has changed in an equally significant way: While the French remain-by tradition, one could say-basically critical of the United States and the way Washington handles world affairs, they no longer view it as the dominant military power, but rather as a needed ally in the face of an increasingly threatening Soviet Union.7

The significance of this evolution is fundamental: not only does it explain many of France's security decisions in recent years (from the Ottawa Declaration of 1974 onwards), but it also underlines the contrasts between the French experience and what is happening in countries like West Germany and Holland. In those nations, not only does the peace movement deliberately ignore or take a benign view of the U.S.S.R., but it also reflects an overall rejection of the U.S. model to which these countries had wholeheartedly adhered after World War II. The French, on the other hand, no longer need the United States to resolve their identity problem.

3) The characteristics of French nuclear policy itself, and the centralization of responsibility for national security decisions under the French system. The fact that French nuclear strategy is still based on massive counterpopulation retaliation ("la dissuasion du faible au fort") has allowed France to escape the difficult dilemmas created in the United States and in the European deployment countries by the emergence of highly accurate counterforce weapons such as the MX and Pershing II missiles. Whereas the United States and NATO as a whole are struggling with the extremely difficult problem of reconciling the "operational" and "societal" elements of deterrence,8 French leaders have had no such problem.

Indeed, the Mitterrand government has repeatedly stressed the fundamental difference in kind between French strategic nuclear weapons, on the one hand, and U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range forces on the other. That distinction has, on the whole, proved to be quite convincing to the French population. While a growing section of French public opinion and even a few French politicians9 show increasing doubt about the actual value of the force de frappe in case of war, it is a fact that the French are not experiencing the kind of "reassurance" problem (to quote Michael Howard) typical of the NATO scene today. The "limited nuclear war" and "nuclear-war-fighting" arguments are simply not a part of the French debate. It is, of course, another question as to whether France will continue to enjoy this luxury as the planned modernization of the French nuclear forces goes forward and as French strategists begin to break away from the taboo of absolute, massive retaliation as the key to deterrence and "la non-bataille."

Another factor in shaping current French attitudes has been the weight of French institutions of the Fifth Republic, and particularly the extraordinary power of the President in the conduct of French security policy. In sharp contrast with other democratic constitutions, and in particular with federal systems (such as those in West Germany and the United States), the French President enjoys an almost limitless power when it comes to defense and foreign policy. That power is part of his "domaine reservé" and implies: (a) that parliamentary debate is virtually non-existent and in any case irrelevant to defense decisions (this is in turn reinforced by the lack of expertise on defense issues in both Houses); and (b) that defense decisions will be reinforced by party discipline. The latter consequence is particularly important in the case of the Mitterrand regime, given the deep divisions inside the Socialist Party (PS) on nuclear and defense issues. Were it not for the institutions of the Fifth Republic, a major split on defense might have already taken place inside the PS. Similarly, the inclusion in the government of Communist ministers, with a foreign policy of their own, so to speak, would have been equally impossible.


With these considerations in mind, it is possible to return to the central argument generally put forward to explain the peculiar nature of the French security debate, namely France's possession of a national nuclear deterrent.

It should be noted at the outset that the mere fact of possessing a national deterrent is not, for a Western democracy, an absolute insurance against self-doubt, or against pacifist criticism. It is enough to look at the situation in Britain (and, in a different context, in the United States) to understand that the existence of the force de frappe per se does not suffice as an explanation for a national "consensus" on security policy and nuclear deterrence in France.

Interestingly enough, while France clearly enjoys what Dominique Moïsi has called an "agreement on fundamentals" on security policy, this consensus rests much less on the actual military value of French weapons in case of war than on a set of rather abstract and highly ambiguous principles which the French have been taught to see as deriving from the possession of a national deterrent. Very much like the Americans or the British, the French do not like to think of the possible use of their nuclear weapons. Opinion polls reveal some serious doubt as to the usability of these weapons even as a last resort,10 and even if France herself is invaded (let alone to defend Germany).11 Yet, a vast majority of French citizens (including, since 1977-78, members of the PCF and the PS) find it "normal" for France to have independent nuclear weapons12 and no one-even in the most Atlanticist circles-would ever envisage a return to the NATO fold. In truth then, the French "consensus" centers primarily on the symbolic value of nuclear weapons-on the notion of "independence," and on France's partial membership in NATO (which most French citizens understand as no membership at all, since that is what they have been told for years by their media).

As a result, as soon as one starts digging a little deeper into that "consensus," and starts asking questions about what French weapons are really for in case of war, deep differences begin to appear. And here, interestingly enough, the differences do not follow France's right-left ideological polarization. Instead one finds a fundamental cleavage in each political family (except for the Communist Party which is, as usual, monolithic) between those who interpret "independence" and "deterrence" as, in effect, a status of de facto armed neutrality, and those who remain profoundly committed to the rest of Europe and the Alliance.

Even more fascinating perhaps is the composition of each of these two camps. In the first group, which I call the "nationalist-neutralist" group, one finds of course the Communists, but also the left-wing of the Socialist Party (the CERES) as well as some parts of the right-wing establishment who interpret de Gaulle's foreign policy as one of strict neutrality and equidistance between the "blocs." Here, the force de frappe is acclaimed to be both the symbol and key instrument of national independence, and France's main adversary remains the United States and/or Germany, not the Soviet Union.

In the other, "European-Atlanticist," group, one finds the major part of the PS (behind Mitterrand himself), the centrist and center-right parties, and more recently, the Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) under Jacques Chirac. For this group, current political and strategic realities exclude any neutralist temptations on the part of France: the adversary is the Soviet Union, and France's forces, though independent, are also to be committed to the security of her neighbors and of Germany in particular. This commitment, it is felt, should in the long run take the form of a genuine European defense cooperation linked (in varying degrees) to a continued U.S. involvement in Europe.

Until now, no major confrontation has taken place between these two rather strange coalitions. The reason for this is twofold: First, sensing the divisions in their own parties, French politicians have carefully avoided any serious debate on defense each time the opportunity for such a discussion has arisen.13 Second, the strategic doctrine defined more than 20 years ago by de Gaulle (and put on paper only once, in the 1972 Defense White Paper) is a masterpiece of ambiguity. Officially, the ambiguity was aimed at keeping the Soviets guessing as to what France would do in case of war; in practice, however, it satisfied everybody in France herself. In his theory of the "three circles," one of the 1972 White Paper's chief authors, General Poirier, defined nuclear weapons as protecting the "national sanctuary" (namely France herself-the "first" circle), but also stated that France's security was directly linked to developments on her immediate periphery (namely Germany, the "second" circle).14

It is on this comfortable ambiguity that the "consensus" was built, and through it that France was able to capitalize politically on her nuclear forces in the conduct of her foreign policy throughout the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. If it was best for French interests, however, such a doctrine-and therefore, the consensus itself-could only last so long as three conditions were met:

-that the U.S. nuclear guarantee (which the French had declared worthless for themselves since 1959) still worked to protect all of non-nuclear Europe (which meant that the overall and regional East-West balances of forces were to be maintained);

-that Germany remained secure and stable within NATO, thereby securing a European geostrategic status quo which, for the first time in their history, put the French in the "second line" from their likely adversary; and

-that France was able to keep modernizing her deterrent, unconstrained by arms control or diplomatic pressure.

The central argument of this paper is that, as a result of the evolution of the overall correlation of forces between East and West since the late 1960s, and of the parallel transformation of both East-West and West-West relations during that period, each of these conditions has been-and is still-profoundly called into question. That fact, in turn, is bound to alter in a fundamental way the basic structure of French security policy. In this environment, the INF affair, which in reality cuts across each one of the three elements just listed, may well act as the catalyst for a major period of reassessment and redefinition of French security policy.

In a sense, that process of reassessment has already begun, since the first two conditions (the credibility of the extended U.S. deterrent over Western Europe, and the stability of Germany) have been perceived in France as dangerously slipping away ever since the mid-1970s. It is this new situation which has prompted a major rapprochement with NATO since 1974 (with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration),15 and a new debate in the French defense community (since 1975-76) as to what concrete contribution France can provide to the Alliance and to Germany in particular.16 The objective then, as is still the case under the present Socialist government, was to compensate at least in part for the declining credibility of the U.S. security guarantee in order to help reassure and stabilize Germany. This produced, in 1976, a new concept called "enlarged sanctuarization" and "forward battle," which in turn triggered the first serious political clash over defense policy since 1958. The vehemence of Gaullist and Communist opposition to the new concept (which they saw as a betrayal of national independence and strict nuclear deterrence) led President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to quickly retreat back into ambiguity. . .and silence. Thereafter, Giscard carefully avoided any departure from the standard "Gaullist" strategic discourse. When the INF decision came along, Giscard treated it as "NATO business," and refused to take sides publicly on the issue.

Ironically, it was during that same period and for the same set of reasons that a much more fundamental evolution began to take place within the left, and particularly within the Socialist Party. By 1977-78, both the PCF and the PS had gone from total opposition to a French deterrent to a position of "recognition" of the nuclear force. They did so, however, for different reasons. The Communists changed their position because they saw the French nuclear force as the key to a policy of genuine armed neutrality and as a bargaining chip for a future French disarmament policy. The Socialists, however, were divided between a strong left-wing minority (CERES), which was staunchly nationalist and neo-Gaullist (in the neutralist sense), and the dominant Mitterrand line, which was both more Atlanticist and more European in its orientation. When the INF issue came along, Mitterrand seized it immediately, sensing not only its importance in the upcoming electoral debate,17 but also the fundamental political and strategic stakes of the issue for the future of Europe. Even before the May 1981 election, it was clear that Mitterrand had made up his mind: France had to intervene in the European and German debate in order to stop the risk of neutralist drift in non-nuclear Europe, and to help restore a balance of forces "broken by the introduction of the SS-20."18 Underlying this position was a clearer understanding on the part of Mitterrand than was the case with Giscard of the gravity of the internal evolution in Germany and of the magnitude of Soviet goals-namely a Europe decoupled from America in terms of nuclear deterrence, and gradually sliding from détente to appeasement in the face of the U.S.S.R.'s conventional and nuclear superiority in the region.

Although many in the French bureaucracy had reached the same conclusion by 1980-81, Giscard himself still refused to take sides publicly in the INF controversy. According to Giscard's own recounting,19 a key consideration in his reluctance to become involved was that by taking sides with NATO he would leave France open to Soviet demands that French nuclear forces should be counted in the INF talks in Geneva. (This argument, however, is hardly convincing 20 since the Soviets have constantly pressed for "compensation" against French and British systems, ever since the opening of the SALT talks in 1969.)21

What has happened since the May 1981 elections is well known: The Mitterrand government has openly taken sides in favor of the implementation of the NATO decision, going so far as to intervene directly in the German electoral debate (with Mitterrand's Bundestag speech in January 1983) at the cost of antagonizing both the Soviet Union and most of the West European Socialist parties (including in particular the German Social Democratic Party and its new leadership).

This new diplomatic orientation was reinforced on the defense side by two major new developments. First, an intensification of French-German security cooperation was undertaken, symbolized by the revival of the defense provisions of the French-German Treaty of Paris of 1963. The importance of this new process should be particularly stressed given its potential implications for future construction of a genuine European security structure. Second, an ambitious program of modernization of French forces was adopted in the context of the next five-year "Loi de Programmation Militaire" (1984-1988), with a projected budget of 830 billion francs.

In addition to confirming the modernization of French nuclear forces (with the introduction of the M-4 Hades and ASMP missiles), the new legislation also deals with the modernization of conventional forces with a view toward making them rapidly operational in the context of a war in central Europe. In particular, the law provides-in addition to the reinforcement of the First French Army-for the creation of a highly mobile 47,000-man "rapid action force" (FAR) entrusted with the mission of stopping Soviet Operational Maneuver Groups (OMG) deep inside German territory.22 Initially, the employment of such forces is to be decoupled from the "strategic maneuver" of France, involving the use of French nuclear weapons, thereby increasing the usability of these French conventional assets in the context of a war in the center of Europe. This was not previously the case, since the employment of the First French Army was so closely tied to the nuclear maneuver that the role of these conventional forces amounted in fact to little more than a final tripwire preceding the use of French nuclear weapons.


This, however, is far from being the end of the story. The various steps taken so far, and particularly Mitterrand's decision to take sides openly in favor of the INF decision, are not politically cost-free for France. As realism forces France to move away from the comfortable ambiguity of the past, France is also beginning to pay the political price of her more "European" security policy, both diplomatically (in the arms control area, in particular) as well as perhaps domestically (in terms of her own internal "consensus" on defense).

On the defense side, however, the situation is still "under control," and despite mounting criticism from the PCF, the government has so far been able to prevent a major disruption of the domestic consensus on security. The government's success on this score has derived from two principal factors. First, in moving toward greater European (and NATO) solidarity, the government has been able to count on the support of the Gaullist party. This is a new situation to the extent that until 1980-81, the Gaullists (and Jacques Chirac himself) vehemently opposed any departure from a strictly national deterrence posture.23 Second, the government has been extremely careful indeed in redefining its posture vis-à-vis an eventual participation of French forces in the battle in central Europe. In the discussion of the recent five-year program, Defense Minister Charles Hernu and other top officials emphasized that in the event of war the employment of the FAR (as well as of the First French Army) would be decoupled from the use of any nuclear weapons, including French battlefield nuclear arms. As mentioned earlier, this does free these forces from their traditional mission of acting as a tripwire for nuclear escalation, and thus makes them more "usable" in Germany. At the same time, however, it may also signal to the Soviets-indirectly at least-that France's participation in the battle is limited to the non-nuclear level only-which Moscow could well interpret as a de facto and unilateral no-first-use pledge on the part of France.

The pressure is much greater, and the risks for France much more considerable, in the arms control area, as a result of the Soviet demand to include French and British nuclear forces in the INF talks. This pressure is all the more serious now that an increasing body of West European opinion-particularly in the left-wing parties-is now openly supporting the Soviet position.24 This in turn has triggered a potentially important political debate in France focusing on Mitterrand's 1981 decision to support the NATO decision. Former President Giscard d'Estaing, his former prime minister, Raymond Barre, as well as his diplomatic adviser, Gabriel Robin, have all strongly criticized Mitterrand's action on the grounds that, by supporting the 1979 decision, the new president made it inevitable for the Soviets to demand the inclusion of the French nuclear deterrent at the INF negotiating table.

This controversy, however, focuses on the wrong issue, and rests in fact on two fundamentally wrong assumptions, namely that: (a) France had the choice of neutrality in this instance, and (b) the Soviets would have exchanged this French "neutrality" for non-inclusion of French forces in INF. In reality, France never had the option of neutrality in this instance, given the centrality of the issue for the future military and political order of Europe as a whole, as well as its impact on the domestic fabric of West Germany. Indeed, it was Giscard himself who convened the four-power Guadeloupe Summit in January 1979 (with Great Britain, the United States, and West Germany), during which the INF decision, with its two-track approach, was actually drawn up. Although he refrained from making official statements on this issue, Giscard did maintain toward the Allies a policy of discreet diplomatic support. Thus France was never "neutral" toward INF in any but the most formal sense.

Whatever position France might have taken, the Soviets would in any case have insisted upon the inclusion of French and British systems in the Geneva talks. Including these systems was their best negotiating position given their underlying goal, which was from the very beginning to prevent any American deployment. This inclusion also provided them with a handle to prevent (or control) future modernization of French and British deterrent forces (a central Soviet objective dating back to the beginning of the SALT process in 1969). Far from being a tactical negotiating gimmick, moreover, the effort to include French and British forces was aimed at achieving what the Soviets view as a fundamental component of their long-term strategic relationship with the West-namely an overall intercontinental balance with the United States (in which they will of course be entitled to "parity") and a separate "European balance," decoupled from the United States and increasingly free of all U.S. nuclear weapons, in which the Soviets would also be entitled to a separate "parity," this time with France and Britain. This Soviet insistence on both global and regional "parity" actually amounts to giving the U.S.S.R. the right to own as many nuclear weapons as all other non-Soviet nations on the face of the earth, that is to say absolute superiority over each of these nations. Finally, by including French and British systems the Soviets could also hope to drive a wedge, not just between Americans and Europeans, but also between the Europeans themselves-i.e., between the two nuclear powers and the rest of non-nuclear Europe.

The real dilemma for France, therefore, was not whether she could support the decision; in either case, this was (and is) a no-win situation. By keeping silent, France would have projected an image of neutrality and would have only encouraged the neutralist drift at work among her neighbors, without even obtaining the non-inclusion she was seeking from Moscow. But by taking sides on the issue in favor of NATO, the French not only seem to justify the Soviet demand for inclusion, but they are also putting themselves in a position where they are increasingly perceived (thanks to Soviet propaganda and to the political blindness of many European opinion-makers) as the selfish nuclear power which constitutes the sole obstacle to a rapid and "fair" deal in Geneva. Here again, the end result is deepening discord among the Europeans themselves.

Given this no-win situation, Mitterrand did take the right-and courageous-decision. And to some extent, the entry of France into the debate since May 1981 has helped things a great deal in some of the deployment countries-namely Germany and Italy, where the results of the recent elections have turned out to be favorable developments in the context of INF deployment.

Unfortunately, however, if the decision itself was sound, the follow-up explanations and positions of the French government were often marred by some regrettable mistakes. A first error was the way in which France justified her support of the NATO decision. In this respect the French government has been as confused and contradictory in its public explanations as the rest of its allies. To cite only two examples, President Mitterrand stressed repeatedly that the deployment of "the SS-20 has broken the balance in Europe," although French officials have repeatedly insisted that "there is no such thing as a European strategic balance." Similarly one cannot argue that the Pershing II "recouples" Western Europe to the U.S. deterrent and claim simultaneously that "flexible response does not make sense."

To make things worse, French diplomacy has found it necessary to intervene publicly on the "negotiating track" of the decision, with the result that France has espoused every twist and turn of the NATO negotiating posture, even though France is not involved in the drafting of those positions and the latter are not particularly coherent-to say the least. How could the French government support, for example, the "zero option" and at the same time argue that the Pershing II is necessary for "coupling"? How could France sign the Williamsburg communiqué without being bound by the INF negotiating terms it contained?

These weaknesses of course facilitate the task of Soviet propaganda. But they are also being exploited domestically, as the more active PCF tries to steal the theme of "peace" away from the Socialist Party, thereby creating the risk of a breakdown of the French defense consensus. (Not without a certain Gallic logic, the Communists argue that French systems should be counted in Geneva and that France herself should take part directly in the talks.)

These problems, however, may only be the beginning of more serious difficulties awaiting France in the months ahead. For it is obvious that the dilemmas for France will not end with the first deployment of INF in Britain, Italy and West Germany by the turn of the year. The dilemma, of course, is that France cannot choose any of the alternatives put before her by the INF issue, that is to say, declare either nuclear neutrality or reintegration into NATO. For obvious reasons having to do with the very deterrent value of her arsenal as well as with the balance of her internal and foreign policies, France is condemned to preserve the ambiguity of her strategic posture. Here again, any clarification in either direction also amounts to a no-win situation. Announcing that French nuclear forces contribute to the protection of France's neighbors, while certainly good for Alliance cohesion, also facilitates the task of Soviet propaganda in demanding the inclusion of the French arsenal in Geneva. But claiming that French nuclear forces only defend France, and not her allies, can only reinforce the centrifugal and neutralist forces at work in Europe, while contradicting everything that has been accomplished so far in the redefinition of French security policy toward a greater role in European security.

One consequence of this dilemma is that in order to counter Soviet arguments on the inclusion of the French deterrent in Geneva, Paris has recently been led to revert to a strict Gaullist strategic line emphasizing the purely national role of the French nuclear deterrent.25 This has come in sharp contrast to the "European" concepts floated earlier in Mitterrand's presidency, and may in fact curtail some of the key developments envisaged for the recently revived French-German security cooperation. Here, the Soviets may have already won a major victory in their effort to divide, not just the Alliance, but the Europeans among themselves. Increasingly, France appears not only as a stubborn obstacle to a settlement in Geneva, but also as a selfish, strictly nationalist power, unconcerned by the fate of other Europeans. Ironically, Mitterrand, who courageously fought to promote the image of a France committed to the security of her neighbors, appears to have been gradually pushed back in the retrenchment of nuclear isolationism.

The second element of the French dilemma is disarmament. While France is on solid ground in opposing any inclusion of her forces in a phony "Eurostrategic balance" (which is in fact an alibi for a Soviet monopoly in INF), she will be much less convincing if she continues to oppose any participation whatsoever, even in the context of negotiations on strategic systems. Trying to hide this "no" by a vague and often empty rhetoric on non-nuclear disarmament measures26 is in no way enough to relieve the political pressures brought to bear on France. To a certain extent, this difficulty has been resolved by President Mitterrand's recent speech at the United Nations27 in which he outlined the idea of a global negotiation among the five nuclear powers as a follow-up to current superpower negotiations. But, by the very size and nature of her forces, France is obliged to attach strong qualifications to her willingness to take part in such an enterprise-qualifications which in turn may not be easy to sell to West European publics eager for quick arms control results. The conditions, which were set out forcefully in Mitterrand's U.N. speech, include:

-Prior and significant reduction of Soviet and American strategic systems;

-A freeze on strategic defensive systems by both superpowers (particularly in the areas of anti-ballistic missile systems, anti-submarine warfare, and space warfare); and

-Linkage with parallel progress in conventional disarmament (including chemical weaponry).

Reasonable and positive as it may be, this new position on disarmament cannot, however, be expected to contain the growing pressure which is brought to bear upon France as the INF situation continues to evolve. Clearly, Soviet pressure to "count" French and British forces will continue beyond December 1983, whatever happens in Geneva. Similarly, the German-and West European-pressure too is bound to increase, particularly if the INF and START talks are somehow merged in the course of the coming year. And finally, this issue is also bound to become a delicate problem for the United States itself if, as is probable, the inclusion problem is shifted (say in 1984) from INF to START (or to a combined START-INF negotiation). At that point the United States would have to contemplate a "compensation" for French and British forces in the ceiling of its global strategic arsenal. This would not only be legally difficult to do (given the Jackson Amendment of 1972 requiring equal ceilings for future strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviets), but also politically and strategically unacceptable. Given the modernization programs now envisaged in London and Paris, both countries taken together could have up to 1,500 warheads by the mid-1990s, which comes to about one-third of the 5,000-warhead-per-side limit put forward by the Reagan Administration in the current START talks. In this context, "compensation" in START would mean American strategic inferiority by about 30 percent in the total number of warheads-a solution which would be wholly unacceptable to the United States.

All this means, then, that the United States might soon be tempted to find other ways to deal with the "French and British problem," particularly as German pressure for some kind of inclusion continues to mount. And it is by no means clear that the formula which may be designed in Washington and/or Bonn will be in the best French-or British-interest. One can therefore easily foresee some difficult times ahead with respect to this issue, and potentially some extremely divisive trends gaining force among the Allies as the INF-START quagmire thickens. The intensity of reactions in France to a recent statement by Vice President Bush on the inclusion issue is a fair indication of these trends.28

One can also safely predict what will happen in France, if pressures continue to be brought to bear on the country. All those who now support what Mitterrand has done thus far in respect to European security will begin to feel as if they have been trapped. Instead of showing their gratitude for French support on the INF issue, the Allies' insistence on arms control limitations on her nuclear forces would be tantamount to robbing France of her independence and to "selling out" her sole means of defense.29 The logical trend then-and the most palatable one in terms of salvaging the French domestic consensus on defense-will then be for the government and the country as a whole to return to the nuclear citadel-saying "no" both to any kind of nuclear arms control and to an ungrateful Alliance.

1 See, however, the three chapters devoted to France by Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, Dominique Moïsi and Nicole Gnesotto in Pacifisme et Dissuasion, ed. Pierre Lellouche, Paris: IFRI/ECONOMICA, 1983.

2 In addition, of course, France, not being a party to the NATO decision of December 1979, is not involved in the deployment of any new American INF on her soil-a situation which simplifies matters greatly.

3 For a detailed discussion of French peace organizations see Nicole Gnesotto, "La France, fille ainée de l'Alliance," in Lellouche, op. cit.

4 This was clearly evident during last October's anti-Pershing II demonstrations, where in France two separate demonstrations had to be organized (one Communist and one non-Communist), and even then the number of French demonstrators (30,000-40,000) was far below the hundreds of thousands of people who rallied in Germany and Holland.

5 See Dominique Moïsi, "Les Limites du consensus," op. cit., and Pierre Hassner, "Western European Perceptions of the U.S.S.R.," Daedalus, Winter 1979.

6 A recent survey of public opinion polls reveals that while 58% of the French saw the U.S.S.R. as "genuinely committed to peace" in 1975, that percentage dropped by 34 points five years later to only 24%. See Renata Fritsch-Bournazel, "Opinion publique et defense en France," Paris: Atlantic Institute for International Affairs, June 1983.

7 Ibid.

8 See my discussion of the issue in Pacifisme et Dissuasion, op. cit. To put it simply: the greater the operational credibility of one's deterrence posture to an adversary (due to the multiplication of war-fighting options), the lower the acceptability of that posture to one's own public opinion. Conversely, the more one relies on a massive retaliation strategy, the more abstract it will be-and therefore the more acceptable too-to one's electorate.

9 See Michel Pinton's articles criticizing the lack of credibility of the French strategy of massive retaliation in Le Monde, 16 June 1983.

10 According to a poll published in October 1982 ("Ça m'interesse"), 42% of the French declared that, even if the Red Army were entering France, they would prefer negotiating with the Soviets rather than using nuclear weapons. Thirty-nine percent would favor resisting by conventional means. In all, 44 % thought that the force de frappe was useless, since its use would entail wiping France off the map.

11 According to the same poll, only 3% of the French would favor resorting to nuclear weapons to defend West Germany (60% would want to remain neutral).

12 See Renata Fritsch-Bournazel, op. cit.

13 This was true, in particular, during the 1976 debate about the concept of "enlarged sanctuarization" put forward under Giscard.

14 The "third" circle being French interests in Africa and the Third World.

15 The Ottawa Declaration recognizes the particular contribution of French and British national deterrents to the Alliance's overall deterrence effort.

16 See Pierre Lellouche, "SALT and European Security: The French Dilemma," Survival, January/February 1980; "La France, les SALT et la securité de l'Europe," Politique Entrangère, 2/1979.

17 Giscard's May 1980 trip to Warsaw in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and his silence on the SS-20 issue became key elements in the Socialist critique of his "soft" foreign policy vis-à-vis Moscow in the spring 1981 electoral campaign.

18 See his interview in Le Monde, July 1980.

19 V. Giscard d'Estaing, "Une Occasion historique pour l'Europe," Le Monde, February 19, 1983.

20 The inclusion problem was officially raised by the Soviet side in bilateral French-Soviet consultations held in Moscow in January 1978-that is, one year before NATO took its "double-track" decision. According to a senior French diplomat who participated in these discussions, Giscard was duly informed of the Soviet demand (see letter of M. de la Ferrière published in Le Monde, 3-4 July 1983).

21 Two other considerations-as far as they can be reconstructed by this author-seem to have played an equally significant role. First, by keeping silent, Giscard was hoping to shield France from the risk of pacifist contagion from abroad and from a divisive debate about the national nuclear force. The second reason was of a more "electoral" nature. To the extent that France did not support NATO deployment-at least officially-Giscard could count on Moscow's support, and therefore on a Communist Party bent on dividing the left. And a divided left in turn would ensure Giscard's reelection in May 1981. Ironically, the division of the left did in fact take place, but it produced the exact opposite result: it is precisely because the Union of the Left was broken that Mitterrand suddenly appeared politically free from the Communists, and therefore a credible candidate for the presidency.

22 See the two articles devoted to the FAR by "critics" and Jacques Isnard, Le Monde, 25 October 1983.

23 Jacques Chirac is now not only in favor of the NATO decision, but he also supports the concept of a "European nuclear deterrent," basically through the extension of France's nuclear deterrent over Germany. (On the latter point, see his recent speech to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Bonn, Le Monde, 20 October 1983.)

24 Just recently the SPD formally joined those who demand the inclusion of French and British forces in INF (see Vogel's statement in Le Monde, 25-26 September 1983).

25 Particularly revealing is Pierre Mauroy's 1983 speech to the IHEDN, when compared to his previous two statements. See my analysis in Le Point, 27 September 1983.

26 See Jacques Soppelsa, "Euromissiles ou Surarmement: pour une grande negociation," Defense Nationale, July 1983.

27 29 September 1983.

28 On September 28, 1983, Vice President Bush hinted that French and British systems would have to be taken into account at one time or another in arms control negotiations. This rather ambiguous but noncommittal statement was interpreted in France (and in Britain) as a dangerous turnaround in the official American position, which in turn prompted the State Department to issue an equally ambiguous "clarification" (see Le Monde, 30 September 1983).

There are two approaches which might resolve the "inclusion" impasse. Under the first approach, each party would retain the "right" to numerical parity in each category of weapons, but the United States would in effect agree to a total number of deployed systems substantially inferior to that of the U.S.S.R. The problem of compensating for French and British forces would simply be left open, while being tacitly dealt with by unequal U.S. and Soviet deployment levels.

A second possible solution could involve the difficult question of throw-weight. The Soviets enjoy for the moment a considerable throw-weight superiority over the United States, and it is unlikely that the United States can remedy this situation either through arms control or through its current program of strategic modernization. Leaving the issue as it stands-that is, with no ceiling on throw-weight-but with an understanding that this represents "compensation" for French and British systems, may perhaps provide a sensible compromise acceptable to all sides.

29 Interestingly enough, voices in this direction are beginning to be heard in France, from personalities who in no way belong to the "nationalist-neutralist" camp described earlier. See in particular Thierry de Montbrial, "La fin d'un consensus," Le Monde, September 1983.



You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Pierre Lellouche is head of the European Security Program at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI), Paris.
  • More By Pierre Lellouche