France and the Euromissiles

Courtesy Reuters

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

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