How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
Seven years ago, the election of a Socialist as president of France caused anxiety among France’s allies. The inclusion of Communist ministers into the French government, radical domestic changes and strong pro-Third World commitments initially aroused anxious suspicions, only gradually dissipated by President François Mitterrand’s hard-line approach toward the Soviet Union and his firmness during the Euromissile crisis.
In 1988 by contrast, the reelection of Mitterrand and the installation of a Socialist-led governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Michel Rocard has been greeted with relief. To the outside world as well as to a majority of Frenchmen, Mitterrand appears as a more statesmanlike and reassuring leader than his conservative former prime minister, Jacques Chirac. After all, during the week prior to the election on May 8, Chirac’s government had managed to reawaken all the old international prejudices about France’s national arrogance and selfishness. As seen from Western capitals, Chirac was simultaneously negotiating with terrorists in the Middle East to obtain the release of French hostages, paving the way for a neocolonial war in New Caledonia and betraying his international promises by prematurely allowing Dominique Prieur, one of the secret agents who in 1985 had sabotaged an antinuclear protest ship, to return from punitive exile.
But even the feeling of domestic and international relief at Mitterrand’s reelection cannot completely assuage the combination of perplexity and uncertainty with which the world regards France’s international role. As France enters the second half of what will probably be described by historians as the "Mitterrand era," can she confront the political and economic challenge of joining a united Europe? Is France’s desire to be a global mini-superpower compatible with her desire to cooperate in the European Community?
In 1981, foreign policy matters, though far from predominant, had been present in the election campaign; President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing had suffered from his unfortunate and untimely meeting with Leonid Brezhnev following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1988 foreign policy debates were conspicuously absent from the campaign, as if to shield the ambiguous consensus among the political elite and express the general public’s lack of interest.
In 1981, there was some disagreement on aims; in 1988 the unvoiced questions centered mainly around issues of means. Does France have the means to achieve her ambitions? It seems that, precisely at the moment when France most needs a strong and unified executive backed by a stable majority in Parliament, and a firm and confident economy with which to confront the growing challenge of international trade competition, she may be the least able to adapt herself successfully to a changing and more arduous world environment.
During the Euromissile crisis, with its superpower confrontation, France’s steadfast loyalty to NATO policy played a major role in the West’s successful deployment of the missiles. Today a combination of East-West rapprochement on arms control, Middle East terrorist activities, and pacifist and anticolonial opposition to a French presence in the South Pacific have exposed France’s inherent vulnerabilities. These changes have underscored the political and diplomatic costs of conducting a highly visible foreign policy at a time of growing discrepancy between means and aims, speeches and reality, the nation’s ambition and the nation’s wealth.
The key question for France is whether she can realistically pretend to maintain her independent search for "grandeur" and security. As Pierre Hassner put it in a recent essay: "From Napoléon III to Mitterrand via de Gaulle, French policy can be interpreted as an attempt to resurrect past grandeur in the absence of the means that had once made it possible." The time may have come when this contradiction will finally explode, forcing upon the French a redefinition of their goals. This reconsideration may force France’s ambition to become truly European.
Nowhere more than in East-West security matters will the challenge of reality prove more compelling. Following the resolution of the Euromissile question, France’s return to a discreet but clearly special position among her European partners may have seemed initially to correspond to a traditional pattern. France’s more reserved stance toward the prospective agreement on intermediate-range nuclear (INF) missiles had therefore a reassuring and familiar quality for those who were used to France’s declarations of difference and specificity. Whenever a major East-West crisis breaks, France behaves as a faithful and reliable ally within the alliance. Such was the case, for example, during the various Berlin crises or during the Cuban missile crisis. But whenever these emergencies recede, to be replaced by more "normal" East-West tensions, a dissenting French voice is heard above her allies’, a perfect illustration of France’s balancing act between her two loyalties, to herself and to the alliance.
From 1981 to the end of 1983, from Mitterrand’s election to the high point of the Euromissile crisis, France’s hard line toward the Soviet Union constituted a divine surprise for the United States, which found in Socialist France her most steadfast and reliable partner and an island of stability amid mounting pacifist waves, especially those in the Federal Republic of Germany.
France’s hard line was the product of peculiar strategic, domestic and even cultural considerations. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the two superpowers were engaged in a major test of political will and diplomacy over Euromissiles. Mitterrand was worried about the evolution of the balance of power in the world and in particular in Europe, at a time when the Soviet Union appeared to some to have a strategic edge and West Germany, in its continuing identity crisis, seemed to be flirting with both nationalism and pacifism. For Mitterrand, the realist, France had to be aware of her new responsibilities.
At that time also, America during the first term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency expressed the regained assertiveness and nationalism of a country whose president looked and often acted young despite his age, compared to the gerontocratic Soviet leadership. Furthermore, Socialist France had to prove her reliability as a Western ally, to counteract anxieties about the Communist presence in her government. At a deeper cultural level, largely because the French intelligentsia had to make up for its long infatuation with the "motherland of socialism," the French were more negative toward the Soviet Union than were most of their European partners. In this context and for a few exceptional years, French-American relations could only thrive.
France’s return to a more distinctive, some would say Gaullist, position on East-West matters—one not to be confused with her mid-1960s equidistance between the superpowers—developed as a result of many self-reinforcing factors. The West’s diplomatic victory led to a transition from the Euromissile quarrel to a debate over America’s infatuation with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and, later, to the arms control dialogue between the superpowers.
No longer worried by the balance of forces in Europe, and reassured by the January 1987 conservative victory in the Federal Republic of Germany, the French saw in the American desire to transcend the nuclear world a threat to their own security and mini-superpower status. SDI reawakened in them the specter of an isolationist "Fortress America" willing to decouple its security from that of Europe. For the French, the idea that space weapons could successfully fight a war above the heads of man reflected the inherent optimism of the American character, which clashes with the more cynical and tragic worldview of the Europeans. Conservative by necessity, in spite of their attachment to arms control, the French could only view with growing discomfort America’s revisionist stance, seeing it as based on a disregard for nuclear realities.
After March 1986, when the neo-Gaullists won a parliamentary majority, the "cohabitation" phase between Prime Minister Chirac and President Mitterrand added an element of confusion to France’s attitude toward SDI, even though Mitterrand’s and Chirac’s differences over the scheme were largely exaggerated for domestic political purposes. In their respective comments both men had largely concentrated on different aspects of SDI: the president’s reservations stemmed from the strategic implications for France, whereas Chirac’s more favorable comments were aimed at securing some of the technological spinoffs from the U.S. project. (In fact, French firms such as Matra had not waited for the official green light to join in the bid for SDI-derived contracts.)
These frictions, and their negative effect on French-American relations, reinforced gradually shifting images of the United States and the Soviet Union in the French psyche. Many Europeans were unsettled by what they saw as the Reagan Administration’s irresponsibility at the 1986 Reykjavik summit. For the French, as for their European partners, Reykjavik constituted a daring, premature diplomatic venture, confirming the impression that the Administration, acting out of a mixture of amateurism, moralism and quest for immediate domestic political gain, was trying to define a new world beyond nuclear deterrence, and thus destabilizing a global order based on the balance of terror. Beyond the fear that the superpowers would once again try to manage the world jointly, there was an apprehension that the benefits of the Euromissile victory would be lost, resulting in a growing military imbalance in Europe. This fear was especially real for the French, who were concerned that sooner or later, in one way or another, their own nuclear forces would be included in future negotiations.
Reykjavik and its aftershocks revived in France an old, and rather negative, image of the United States. The Iran-contra scandal only confirmed French apprehensions. Not only were the Americans unpredictable and adventurist, their diplomacy was unreliable and probably incompetent. This return to a more traditional French view of the United States, characterized by a measure of condescension and irritation, occurred precisely at a time when the Soviet image was improving.
The Soviet Union, under the new and energetic leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, was able to project an improved image, even though French reservations concerning the Soviet Union and skepticism about glasnost were still more pronounced than those of any other West European country. The 1970s and early 1980s had been marked by the discovery of the "evil" nature of the Soviet Union; this gave way slowly in 1985-86 to a growing hope that the evil could be reformed. Public opinion surveys suggested that the French were not impervious to the winning ways of Mikhail Gorbachev; in fact, "Gorbomania" had reached France. Was the Soviet Union going to improve significantly its record on human rights, moderate its world ambitions and reform its economy and society? Questions that had been unthinkable in the past were now being raised, though with a large dose of historical skepticism. Nevertheless, without waiting for final answers, Paris felt ready to resume a dialogue with the Soviets and a normalization of relations that were more in tune with a traditional French vision of its role and interests. What if at long last changes were occurring, glasnost meant something and the new treatment of artists and dissidents was more than a propaganda trick? At a time when the dark side of American democracy dominated the headlines, it was tempting to welcome Soviet liberal reforms.
Yet this return to a more equidistant attitude could not, in political terms, be equated to that of the 1960s or early 1970s. For in the current arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, France fears that Europe would be left to face, on its own, Soviet conventional superiority, and that French nuclear forces would most likely be included in any future arms negotiation. It is the process of the negotiations, more than their content, that the French fear.
In fact, in the debate on the double-zero option for INF, the very reasons that spared France from the pacifist movement in the early 1980s and made her more steadfast than any other European country in her resistance to Soviet ambitions in the Euromissile crisis account for why she was initially the most reserved country in the climate of a blossoming arms control. In the Euromissile debate, France had the least to fear and the most to gain from a firm stance. Because of France’s special status within NATO, Euromissiles were not going to be deployed on French territory. Because of the existing consensus on nuclear deterrence and the quasi monopoly of the French Communist Party on the nation’s pacifist movement, popular opposition was the least significant in Europe. Because of her somewhat inflated international ego France was not threatened by any kind of cultural identity crisis, unlike many of her European neighbors. The INF negotiations reversed this proposition and France rightly or wrongly felt she had the least to gain and the most to lose from the agreement and its "dangerous logic."
Yet the public comments of French officials have not reflected the depth of French worries. Even President Mitterrand became increasingly favorable to the INF process. As the presidential elections approached, Mitterrand was espousing arms control and disarmament in Europe, as if returning to his late 1970s Socialist stance. His partisans argued that it was unrealistic for a middle-sized power to express reservations or apprehension regarding the irresistible coming together of the two superpowers on arms control—especially if such expressions would likely be without effect. Out of concern for European unity and given the state of West German public opinion, Mitterrand also deemed it necessary that France’s position not be divorced from that of the Federal Republic. How, furthermore, could a country that had so actively favored disarmament in the 1970s appear so negative toward the first agreement ever on arms reductions? Such an attitude was, according to some French conservative critics, reinforced by electoral considerations, Mitterrand’s need for the support of the left—Socialists and Communists alike—to be elected: he could not afford to alienate himself from an electorate favoring arms control and East-West dialogue.
In the debate on the value and risks of the INF agreement for France and Europe, one dimension has been omnipresent: the European one. The INF negotiation has accelerated an awareness of, and a greater openness to, the issue of a common European defense, but this has not yet translated itself into dramatic breakthroughs. In spite of symbolic gestures such as the recent joint French-German military maneuvers and the creation of a Council of Defense between the two countries, there is a contrast between the urgency and novelty of idea behind these measures and the modest scope of the measures actually undertaken. It would be unfair to single out France’s responsibility for this state of affairs. Yet the nature of government by "cohabitation" slowed down the European initiatives of France between 1986 and 1988, whereas the crisis of the French economy and its decreasing competitiveness within Europe limited the nation’s international and European clout.
French-German relations in their complexity and intensity are a perfect illustration of this state of affairs. Never has the dialogue been more frequent between the French and the Germans, but this frequency has not fostered qualitatively deeper relations. In fact, as the very bases of European postwar stability—U.S. protection of Europe and reliance on nuclear deterrence—are being questioned, France and West Germany’s visions of the world appear increasingly divergent.
De Gaulle’s France of the mid-1960s was a revisionist power, intent on modifying the existing European security system. Today France is, at heart, a status-quo power, whereas Germany’s deepest hope must be to transcend the division of Europe between East and West. The long-term prospect of a denuclearized world cannot be seen in the same light in Paris and Bonn. As long as Germany’s hope remains France’s fear, as long as the French want to preserve, above all, a policy of independence, as long as France’s defense posture remains purposely ambiguous vis-à-vis a West German state whose demands are equally unclear, as long as a mixture of structural differences—France a nuclear power outside of NATO, the Federal Republic, the reverse—and as long as emotions dominate, the French-German nucleus of Europe will be bound to remain central but inadequate.
The joint effort of these two countries stands as a major postwar achievement, living proof that Europeans can transcend their divisive past. But such bilateralism is no longer enough. A multilateral approach is needed to transcend the French-German structural deadlock and accommodate British sensitivity to what London tends to see as an excessive flirtation between Bonn and Paris.
There are two prerequisites for a new multilateral policy in Europe: the goodwill of the United States and a redefinition of NATO that would give the European pillar more weight.
The United States must be convinced of its duty to encourage European security efforts by deeds, not just by words. America should, for example, persuade Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that there is no contradiction between Britain’s duties to the alliance and its responsibilities to Europe. Equally crucial, Washington should make sure that the flow in NATO arms procurement goes both ways across the Atlantic. Europeans and Americans alike must understand that the best way to ensure Europe’s future is to strengthen the alliance today—and to have Europeans play a greater role in the work of the alliance.
France must show greater pragmatism and flexibility if this process is to work. France could, for example, return to the NATO planning group—a symbolic gesture that would show a new French concern for the sensitivities of other Europeans, who have never fully accepted France’s self-proclaimed "specificity."
France has also found herself the tragic hostage of her involvement and ambitions in the Middle East.
In May 1978, in the aftermath of the French paratrooper rescue of Europeans from the rebel-held town of Kolwezi in Shaba Province, Zaïre, The Times of London could write with a mixture of bewilderment and envy that "we used to behave as the French." Eight years later it was with both sorrow for France and fear for their own countries that the rest of the Western world contemplated a France that had become the main target of terrorist activities in Europe. A highly visible policy of intervention in the world, once a source of pride and satisfaction, had led to a situation that showed up France’s vulnerability in a strictly physical sense.
In the early 1970s France’s rapprochement with Iraq was intended to secure oil supplies and profitable markets. It had also the political advantage of fostering a Western presence in a country that had become overly dependent on the Soviet Union. The elegant Kissingerian division of influence between the French in Baghdad and the Americans in Tehran did not survive the fall of the shah in 1978 and the ensuing military ambitions of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. A policy originally designed to provide energy security led eventually to a situation of physical insecurity, first for French forces in Lebanon, then for French nationals taken hostage there and finally for French citizens on their own soil, as terrorists tried to punish France for her entire Middle East policy, from Lebanon to the Gulf, and impose a new policy on the country.
France became a symbol of hated Western presence in a region of turmoil. France unhappily combined high visibility and high vulnerability. A policy of ambiguous leniency under President Giscard d’Estaing had encouraged the impression that France would prove less resolute than other Western nations in fighting terrorism. Such a policy was followed by a confusing reorganization of the secret services under Mitterrand. The French became highly exposed in the Middle East just when their secret services were the least prepared to handle the challenge. Bound by her hostages in Lebanon and at the mercy of terrorists in Paris, prisoner of her history in a region that was a former sphere of influence, France tried to limit the cost of her ambitions.
There was an attempt to restore a more balanced position between Iran and Iraq. Normalization with Iran, long overdue and attempted during the mid-1980s with dynamism if not clarity by Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, was deemed to be diplomatically essential. Jacques Chirac, once he arrived in the prime minister’s Matignon Palace in 1986, was initially convinced that to get the hostages back would constitute a gain in public opinion. But the cost proved to be extremely high. France wanted to normalize her relations with Iran without ending her delivery of weapons to Iraq. The revelations of the Iran-contra scandal, linked to the growing awareness of the French authorities that public opinion favored a policy of firmness, led to a de facto abandonment of the attempt at rapprochement with Iran. During the summer of 1987 relations worsened and an escalating series of provocations resulted in a police blockade of the Iranian embassy in Paris, an Iranian siege of the French embassy in Tehran and the breaking of diplomatic ties. Iran’s growing isolation and the multiplicity of its diplomatic and military setbacks later created the grounds for a restored normalization process with Tehran, which was sealed in November 1987 with the mutual freeing of diplomats. What was the exact price paid by France for the release of her hostages? Only history will tell.
But France’s problems in the Middle East go well beyond her difficulty in adopting a balanced stance in the Iran-Iraq War. They stem from a lack of modesty and firmness and from the fact that the Middle East, unlike Francophone Africa, cannot truly be called a French sphere of influence. The stakes are much higher, and the military means involved incomparable. How could France not seem bogged down in the Middle East when the superpowers themselves are increasingly aware of their limited capabilities?
It is in Africa that France has found one of her most visible foreign policy successes—the defeat of Libyan forces in Chad. For the French, intervention against Muammar al-Qaddafi addressed issues beyond Chadian independence. It served to demonstrate French credibility throughout Francophone Africa. Chad was not to become the African counterpart to what Iran had become for the United States in the Gulf region.
The French always refused to follow the American line and wage an anti-Qaddafi crusade. After France sent aircraft, weapons and military advisers in 1983 to assist Chadian President Hissene Habré against a Libyan-supported revolt, the agreement between France and Libya announced in September 1984, and France’s acceptance of a de facto partition of Chad was welcomed by a consensus in France. But these steps did not dispel criticism of France’s strategy of military containment on the ground, the Manta Operation; the strategy was criticized by those, numerous in the conservative parties, who would have preferred French air offensives against Libyan military columns in August 1983. Mitterrand’s meeting with Qaddafi in Crete in November 1984 illustrated the sensitivities of the matter; Mitterrand was criticized for meeting with the wrong person at the wrong time, with a man who had not respected their earlier agreement and had failed to withdraw all Libyan troops from Chad. The subsequent military successes of Habré’s troops have dissipated the resentment and accusation, proving, perhaps, that the president was either right in his "prudent" strategy, or simply lucky, or maybe wise in his conviction that ultimately Qaddafi "would shoot himself in the foot," given the gap between his political ambitions and military means. Habré’s troops, with their combination of French weapons, Japanese jeeps and human bravery, proved more than a match for a Libya, economically weakened, politically isolated and demoralized since the U.S. raid on Tripoli in April 1986.
French interests in Africa, however, go well beyond Chad. They were manifested on the eve of the June 1988 Toronto summit of the leaders of the major Western nations and Japan by a generous approach to the Third World debt problem: a proposal to cancel one-third of the reimbursement owed by the poorest countries, specifically African countries. Outside of Europe, Africa may remain the most effective field for French influence.
In her claim to be a middle-sized world power, France presents two major justifications: an independent nuclear force and a presence throughout the world, from Francophone Africa to the Pacific. The South Pacific combines propitiously these two cards, because since 1966 it has been the testing ground for French nuclear experiments. But charges of neocolonialism in New Caledonia are combined with resentment against France’s nuclear tests to create trouble for France in the South Pacific.
New Caledonia is a small South Pacific island and French territory located 14,250 miles from Paris. Its political status has been the source of mounting passions, both in France and in New Caledonia, exacerbated by France’s recent presidential elections.
New Caledonia is a case unique unto itself. The 150,000 inhabitants are divided between Europeans and native Melanesians (Kanaks), who compose approximately 40 percent and 45 percent of the population respectively, with the remainder composed of Asian and Polynesian immigrants. Democratic principles and the view of the majority of the population—as expressed in the referendum of September 1987—point to a French future for New Caledonia. But the trend of decolonization, a militant Kanak nationalist movement and the huge distance between the island and France suggest some form of independence as the long-term solution. The New Caledonian quagmire is further complicated by a mixture of domestic, strategic and economic factors (New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest producers of nickel). The conservative parties in France seized the New Caledonian crisis with delight, only too happy to criticize the contradictions and hesitations of the previous Socialist government, which was haunted by retrospective guilt over the Algerian war and had supported the indigenous population’s call for immediate independence.
The weight of the past, hanging over the political debate, encourages an unhealthy dialectic of passion. But the stakes of the future are on everyone’s mind. Can France give up New Caledonia without losing her global stature, precisely when history appears to be moving toward the Pacific? What would happen if French Polynesia and French Guiana were to be lost next, jeopardizing French nuclear experiments and the European space program? The Mururoa atoll is seen as an indispensable nuclear testing ground in the South Pacific. With her claim to South Pacific Islands and their territorial waters, France can control access to undersea wealth and a surface that is equivalent to 14 times her own national territory. Worse still, what if New Caledonia were to fall under Soviet influence, becoming a base for regional destabilization? As pacifist and antinuclear political currents have reached the South Pacific, threatening the stability of the ANZUS military alliance, such worries are not altogether frivolous.
Added to French concerns in the South Pacific is the continuing flap over the July 1985 bombing at Auckland, New Zealand, of the Rainbow Warrior, a boat belonging to the environmentalist group Greenpeace—a French intelligence flop that reads like a James Bond movie interpreted by Monty Python. The affair showed France’s willingness to defend her national interest against a movement that campaigned for a nuclear-free South Pacific. Abroad, French responsibility for the affair was attacked as proof of arrogance and selfish nationalism. But domestic criticism has been quite weak, focusing on the stupidity of the action, not its objectives.
If the Greenpeace affair has exploded well beyond Auckland Harbor, it is largely because global and regional disapproval is rapidly closing in on France’s nuclear presence in the South Pacific. It will prove increasingly costly for France to continue nuclear testing in Mururoa while keeping New Caledonia under French sovereignty. Prime Minister Rocard’s new government has concentrated on the New Caledonia problem with energy and speed reminiscent of Pierre Mendès-France’s approach to decolonization in the mid-1950s. Speed is essential to avoid further violence, but it is also in everyone’s interest to proceed cautiously. Under the new plan, Paris resumes direct control of the territory for a year as a decade of transition begins. A referendum in 1998 is to decide whether self-determination should proceed. It is too early to know what the reactions of the Kanaks and the European settlers will be to the Rocard plan, but if anything can work it will be this courageous initiative.
French decision-makers will have to confront some unpleasant choices if French foreign policy is to escape "schizophrenia" between discourse and reality, between a true European role and an increasingly unsustainable global one.
The time has come for France to adopt a fresh and critical view of her role in the world. In spite of a changing international environment, France is a prisoner of a successful rhetoric, keen on preserving that miraculous success—an apparent domestic consensus on foreign policy. The country has opted to defend its previous choices, fearing that adaptation would mean division and banalization. France is the inheritor of a glorious historical and cultural past. The French language, though fighting a rearguard battle in the world, is still spoken by more than 130 million people, thereby expanding France’s cultural presence among a population over twice the size of France’s own. France’s "mission to civilize" is far from over, and she is rightly proud of being a land of asylum and the bastion of human rights.
Yet France cannot remain prisoner of her great past and of the myths created by de Gaulle. The man who saved France more than once gave her a dubious gift. For it was not France that was great thanks to de Gaulle. It was de Gaulle who was great, sometimes even in spite of France.
A new international environment is threatening the pillars of French stability and comfort precisely at a time when France is least able, because of her concentration on internal politics, to confront the corrosive impact of these new realities. France is also less capable of being taken seriously by her European partners because of her declining economic competitiveness.
France’s adaptation to a changing world implies, first of all, concentrating more than ever on Europe. France will have to strengthen her conventional military forces and accept that, even for France, more security means less independence. Whatever the cracks in her grandeur, France is essential in constructing a politically unified Europe. West Germany remains essentially an economic power; Thatcher’s Britain is still torn between Atlanticist and European allegiances; Italy is an economic miracle in a political quagmire. Only France can play a leading political and security role.
A new consensus has been formed in France around the values of Europe. This new consensus is nevertheless ambiguous and far from being total. One-third of the Frenchmen, those who voted for the extreme right or the extreme left in the recent elections because they felt excluded from a process of modernity and openness to Europe, have rejected such a path. Europe is the source of their anxiety, but it is also ultimately the only answer to their fears.
How will Mitterrand’s France face this European challenge? Is France going to abandon herself to the dubious charms of intense but paralyzing debate, or will she adopt a positive role for Europe and herself and combine under Mitterrand II a mixture of openness and stability? What will prevail—a certainty of ultimate defeat in the anachronistic attempt to preserve a unique world role that transcends the nation’s means, or a positive symbiosis within the European framework?
In the eyes of future historians, the Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing presidencies may appear as brief interludes between the de Gaulle and Mitterrand eras. In his style, in his historical and literary approach to politics, in his duration in power, Mitterrand has proven to be the most Gaullist of de Gaulle’s successors. Only a man of his generation, who lived through World War II as a mature adult, can have the necessary full openness to the European ideal, beyond the often technocratic imperatives of younger politicians. It is now Mitterrand’s responsibility, by guiding France through the necessary foreign policy shifts, from Europe to New Caledonia, to prove that he embodies de Gaulle’s realism.