The remarkable developments in Europe since late 1989—German unification, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the expectation of large-scale withdrawals of Soviet and American forces—have upset long-standing assumptions of French security policy. Stable reference points have been displaced by new risks and uncertainties. Past preoccupations about the future of Russia, Germany and Europe's political order and institutions have become more pressing and more acute.

Despite internal political problems, French officials are attempting to devise policies that would reconcile competing national aims. But the international developments of the past year may make it increasingly difficult for French politicians to maintain the national consensus on defense that has coalesced since the late 1970s. Official assertions of confidence in the complementarity and coherence of France's policies appear to mask important unresolved dilemmas and underlying anxieties.

Since the 1960s, French security policy has been based on the following premises:

-a large U.S. nuclear and conventional force presence in West Germany, as part of an extensive integrated alliance structure, providing a de facto forward glacis for France's protection;

-a West Germany anchored in NATO, dependent on allied security commitments and particularly interested in obtaining French cooperation regarding West European economic integration, and within and outside other multilateral political, economic and military institutions; and

-a stable and predictable framework of East-West relations in which France could maintain a special status with respect to NATO's integrated military structure, emphasizing its independence, autonomy and freedom of action.

On the basis of these premises, General Charles de Gaulle pursued during his presidency (1958-69) policy objectives that were already discernible during the Fourth Republic (1946-58) and established what has remained France's basic security posture since its withdrawal in 1966 from NATO's integrated military structure. De Gaulle's legacy has provided the touchstone for consensus on French security policy since the late 1970s, when the Socialists endorsed the maintenance of an independent nuclear deterrent posture.

De Gaulle's design ultimately amounted to France having two policies for security in Europe: one of cooperation with NATO allies; the other of independence, based on national assets, including nuclear forces and a robust military-industrial establishment. It has become customary in France to speak of "three circles." The first circle consists of the national "sanctuary" protected by France's nuclear forces; the second is comprised of France's defense responsibilities in Europe; and the third extends overseas, to French commitments in Africa and other distant territories and interests. The three circles, along with France's duty to uphold its rank ("the third military power" in the world, in President François Mitterrand's words) and independence through its own nuclear deterrent forces, have constituted the bedrock of the nation's defense consensus.

This Gaullist approach to security policy and the consensus behind it have been so successful in domestic and international politics that French leaders have been inclined to try to maintain as much of it as possible. Never has it been so clear, however, that France's policies of independence have been largely dependent on advantageous international circumstances. Now, given the prospect of a diminished U.S. military and nuclear presence in Western Europe, a less stable and predictable situation throughout east-central and south-east Europe and the U.S.S.R., and uncertainty concerning the internal political dynamics and policies of a unified Germany, a number of factors supporting France's privileged and unique security position may disappear. As Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement put it in June 1990, the "decolonization of the last empire"—that of the Soviet Union—represents "a leap into the unknown for all Europeans, who have to organize their security relations on a radically new basis." [1]


It is now commonplace in France, as it is elsewhere in the West, to consider the Soviet Union incapable of recapturing its past position of dominance in Eastern Europe without large-scale military interventions of a kind that seem most improbable, if not inconceivable, at the present juncture. It is also assumed that the Warsaw Pact is no longer a plausible or reliable alliance; that the Soviets will honor commitments to withdraw their forces from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany; that all Soviet forces will be out of Eastern Europe by the mid-1990s; and that communist movements will remain thoroughly discredited throughout the region, even if the road to democracy is an arduous one.

Several French officials continue to point out, however, that even if the Warsaw Pact should completely disintegrate—it only exists now for some, perhaps transient, political consultation purposes—and even if the Soviet Union should break apart, the Russian republic alone would still remain the single greatest military power in Europe; it does not need an empire to be the first power on the continent. (Russia's population is more than 150 million and its territory thirty times that of France.) Even if Soviet armed forces were cut in half, they would still be by far the greatest in Europe. In Defense Minister Chevènement's view, moreover, the geostrategic situation of several countries—Poland, Bulgaria and Romania—is such that "they will not leave the Russian sphere of influence as quickly as some imagine."

Many French policymakers believe therefore that Russia's power must still be balanced with vigilance by the West. Paris agrees with other Western governments that movements in the U.S.S.R. toward democratization, economic liberalization and a peaceful settlement of nationalities issues should be encouraged. Some French officials have been unusually explicit, however, in warning that dangerous internal upheavals and policy reversals in the Soviet Union cannot be excluded, perhaps including an attempt at revanchism. Because Soviet military power is still viewed as "very considerable," and Mikhail Gorbachev's future is seen as unpredictable, Mitterrand has warned that "nothing can guarantee that a new Soviet power—which might not be communist—wouldn't still be military and totalitarian. And that would be a great danger."

The outcome of the internal turmoil in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe remains so unpredictable that Paris feels it must maintain and modernize the key elements of its military posture, resist any hasty and unwarranted weakening of the Atlantic alliance, and continue to press for a deepening of economic and political integration in the European Community, as well as closer and more substantive security cooperation in Western Europe.

These prescriptions are consistent with the thrust of French security policy during the 1980s and underscore a certain undercurrent of mutual suspicion in Franco-Soviet relations. A number of French analysts have noted that France could become Russia's principal adversary in Europe; France has taken a leading role in resisting the denuclearization of Europe and in organizing West European defense and security cooperation.[2] Some French observers hypothesize that the Soviets are trying to capitalize on their own political and economic weakness, including their prospective withdrawal from Eastern Europe, by depressing public and parliamentary perceptions of the U.S.S.R.'s military potential, thereby discouraging the maintenance of Western security structures.

The "preparing for the worst" theme regarding Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has nonetheless been far less prominent in French policy articulations and initiatives than that of "encouraging the best." The French agree with their NATO allies and EC partners that Western security could be strengthened in the long term through a successful program for democratization and economic prosperity in the nations of Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R.

Toward this end, President Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl have joined in urging their Western partners to provide immediate economic aid to the Soviet Union. Mitterrand has insisted that Gorbachev deserves support and dismissed the "reform first" position of Britain, the United States and other countries as another version of the chicken-and-egg riddle. But the French government's motives in this regard appear to include considerations beyond simply promoting economic and political reform in the Soviet Union. Above all, France is profoundly interested in having a common policy with Germany and, somewhat paradoxically, in competing with the Germans for privileged relations with Moscow.


France's determination to compete for influence in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe reflects but one of the many French preoccupations and anxieties regarding Germany in the new Europe. Before 1989 the French had implicitly assumed, like almost everyone else, that German unification would remain a remote possibility, due to seemingly permanent Soviet policy imperatives. Although for over thirty years France had officially supported German unification—many French leaders had called for "overcoming Yalta"—throughout the same period its security policy assumed the stability of the East-West division of Germany and of Europe. Even after the Berlin Wall was opened in November 1989, Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and Defense Minister Chevènement initially insisted that German unification was "not a current issue."

As it became evident that this judgment was mistaken, French politicians and analysts began to recognize that the postwar political and security arrangements, by postponing any resolution of the German question, had elevated France's status and influence in Europe. The likely consequences of German unity and Soviet retreat could then include, in Pierre Lellouche's pungent words, "an economically superpowerful Germany, politically dominant in central Europe, and a France reduced to a secondary role; an end to Gaullist dreams of a Europe directed politically by a nuclear France." [3]

These anxieties are apparent not only in the remarkably explicit expressions of concern made by French commentators and high-level officials, but also in their many efforts to reassure the French public and to dismiss "absurd fears." Dumas and others have offered reasons why France should not have an "inferiority complex" in relation to Germany, and have called attention to the democratic history of the Federal Republic of Germany and its commitment to NATO and the EC. Some have discerned risks in French public perceptions of a France with diminished status and influence in Europe. In conjunction with an impression of "too confident" or "arrogant" an attitude on Germany's part, such perceptions could lead to less friendly bilateral relations than those of recent years.

French anxieties about Germany have been unfortunately aggravated by a series of irritations in the Paris-Bonn relationship. Some French politicians and commentators have expressed consternation over various decisions made by West Germany without—from the French perspective—adequate consultation with Paris or Bonn's other partners. Among these are Kohl's announcement in November 1989 of a 10-point plan for German unity, of which Paris was not even informed in advance; the granting of economic and monetary union to East Germany; the announcement of a special military status for East German territory and a ceiling on the Bundeswehr, the latter determined directly between Kohl and Gorbachev in their July 1990 summit; to say nothing of Kohl's protracted and awkward hedging over Germany's officially recognizing the Oder-Neisse border with Poland.

Bonn, too, has had a number of reasons for annoyance with Paris. Mitterrand's December 1989 trip to East Berlin, made at the invitation of East German leader Erich Honecker, seemed intended to lend legitimacy and staying power to the East German state. Earlier that month Mitterrand went to Kiev and, perhaps unintentionally, conveyed the impression that he wished to encourage the Soviets to block or delay German unification. As it became increasingly apparent that unification was inevitable, French officials then began compiling lists of "conditions" that would make the fact acceptable: above all, the process of unification would have to be "democratic and peaceful"; Germany would have to remain committed to NATO and further EC economic and political integration; it would have to renounce permanently nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; and it would have to make clear its permanent acceptance of existing frontiers, including the Oder-Neisse line. Although the uncertainties surrounding the frontiers issue initially derived from Kohl's politically and legalistically inspired temporizing about the difficulties of definitively settling the question prior to formal unification, opinion polls showed that most Germans had no interest in changing these frontiers. For many Germans, then, emphatic French statements of solidarity with Poland appeared to amount to gratuitous posturing at Germany's expense.


French ambivalence about German unification has included several vaguely defined and, in some cases, contradictory anxieties regarding security implications. A primary concern for some is the possible political devaluation of French military assets. French military contributions to German security may become less important in an era of détente, arms control, diminished threat perceptions and large-scale Soviet force withdrawals from Eastern Europe. Additionally, the intrinsic potential of a united Germany to provide for its own defense, and thus its enhanced capacity for military autonomy, would seem to diminish France's security role in the new Europe. The lessened significance of France's nuclear and military posture could in turn reinforce Germany's political primacy, in that Germany's economic superiority and influence would no longer be balanced by a high level of dependence on an alliance security framework.

A more substantive concern is the fear of a "strategic vacuum" in central Europe. In July 1990, Chevènement put it this way:

A strategic vacuum is going to open up in a few years at the heart of Europe, both conventional and nuclear. . . . The Soviet Union will remain, by force of circumstances, a military superpower. . . . But, to the West, the conjunction of the American withdrawal and the spiral of disarmament started unilaterally by the countries of Western Europe will inevitably create an imbalance. Germany, entirely preoccupied with bringing about its unity and taking the necessary steps for that, has not only just accepted a self-imposed limit on its forces, but Chancellor Kohl has officially announced . . . his support for a double-zero option [that is, neither nuclear artillery nor missiles on German soil]. . . . Is this a stable situation for the long term? To raise the question is to answer it. [4]

Some French observers judge that, even if Kohl and his coalition partners remain in office after all-German elections in December 1990, German leaders are likely to insist that full sovereignty and the "normalization'' of Germany's status require the elimination of most, if not all, foreign military forces and nuclear weapons, including nuclear weapons based on aircraft.

A related risk perceived by some in France is the prospect of German unification leading to a demilitarization and neutralization of central Europe. Such a development would place France on the front line of a potentially dangerous power vacuum—an "empty" zone of military weakness and possible instability—that could invite Russian attempts at the coercion of Germany and other countries. These "strategic vacuum" fears imply, in other words, that many or all of the main military elements of the NATO glacis between France and Russia could vanish relatively quickly.

The unpredictability of future German security policy is also a major concern. Some French analysts have noted that the internal political dynamics of the new Germany may be rather incalculable, because the variables include the addition of 16 million East Germans to the Federal Republic and a prolonged, absorbing and, paradoxically, potentially divisive process of economic and social unification. This is to say nothing of the rapidly shifting international political context surrounding the German metamorphosis. As a result, some French observers fear that no one can guarantee Germany's continued or unchanged participation in NATO, or the sort of alliance policies the new nation will pursue. It is then a short step from the possibility of German neutrality to other scenarios: an assertive and distinctively nationalistic military policy; an attempt to organize a Mitteleuropa security zone under German hegemony; and/or a decision by Germany in the middle or late 1990s to develop its own nuclear weapons.

Another widely voiced fear is that France and other Atlantic alliance countries might fail in their efforts to keep Germany fully in the West. The concern is that Germany might follow an increasingly independent course in its relations with the Soviet Union, or even agree to a German-Russian entente or condominium based on Russian military power and German economic strength and technical expertise. French politicians and commentators on both the left and right have pointed to this possibility, with references to Rapallo, the Hitler-Stalin pact and other historical precedents.

Chevènement recently alluded to such precedents as characteristic of a historical pattern in German-Russian relations, declaring "the rebalancing between these two powers, readily expansionist, one to the detriment of the other when their respective weight is too unequal, can lead in the following period to a sort of entente; there is between these two peoples an old connivance, which has known many forms." In the present context, Chevènement added, one cannot exclude a German-Russian "competition for influence in central Europe, perhaps accompanied by a sharing of roles." The outcome, in Chevènement's view, depends largely on Soviet efforts at economic modernization and the evolution of German public opinion. [5]

If central Europe were to be organized under German or joint German-Russian direction, some French observers have concluded, France would soon become politically isolated, marginalized and subject to pressures for cooperation with the new leadership of Europe. Such commentaries convey an impression of France's relative vulnerability; both Germany and Russia are greater powers than France, and new alliances or rivalries involving these two countries and their neighbors could be highly dangerous, especially in a period of substantial U.S. military disengagement from Europe. French observers note that Kohl negotiated the July 16, 1990, agreement on German membership in NATO directly with Gorbachev, making the "two plus four" negotiations seem like a pro forma framework of secondary importance.

France's official policy aims to make the fulfillment of any of these fears as remote and improbable as possible. Paris intends to cultivate relations of confidence with the new Germany, to champion Germany's membership in the Atlantic alliance and to accelerate the economic, monetary and political union of the EC. There exists nonetheless a certain feeling of vulnerability and, in some quarters, even helplessness among those who judge that France will be subject to unpredictable German choices, choices that will determine the future of NATO, the EC and other institutions, and over which France may have rather limited influence. This sentiment of uncertainty and vulnerability currently conditions France's approach to the future of European political and security institutions.


French officials usually describe their aims for Europe's future political and security order in tactful abstract formulations. Dumas, for example, has suggested that it is imperative "to organize Europe so that it escapes the two perils of hegemony or explosion . . . [with] a better-assured security, a will to solidarity." In institutional terms, he adds, the movement of the EC toward political union should include a "European identity in the domain of security," but within the Atlantic alliance, a goal approved at the July 1990 NATO summit. The foundation for such an order would consist of the EC, supplemented by Mitterrand's proposed European Confederation—the EC, East European countries unable to qualify for EC membership, and others—and finally the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which includes Canada and the United States, both termed "indispensable for the maintenance of the balance of forces in Europe." [6]

The French purposes behind these institutional arrangements appear to include the following:

-to maintain as much as possible of France's established security posture, including autonomy and freedom of action;

-to sustain France's leadership role in Western Europe, particularly in the EC;

-to keep Germany fully committed to the EC, the Atlantic alliance and other Western institutions;

-to maintain U.S. commitments to the Atlantic alliance, even as the U.S. force presence in Europe is reduced;

-to encourage a stable process of democratic political reform and economic liberalization in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union;

-to maintain a balance of power while preserving means of dialogue and negotiation, in order to prevent Moscow from feeling isolated; and finally,

-to protect the EC from the dilution and loss of momentum that enlargement would cause at the present juncture.

The French have discreetly revealed profound skepticism regarding the enthusiasm of some Germans, including Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and many Social Democrats, for "transcending" or "absorbing" the Atlantic alliance and the Warsaw Pact and replacing them with a "collective security" arrangement based on the CSCE. According to proponents of this design, alliances and other "balance of power" dispositions tend to divide countries, to promote "enemy images" and arms competitions, and to prolong international misunderstandings and antagonisms. The 35 members of the CSCE should, it is argued, guarantee each other's security in a comprehensive system in which all are committed to unite against any aggressor.

Many in France and elsewhere suspect, however, that in practice a collective security system based on the CSCE would not reliably guarantee anyone's security. Given the CSCE's unwieldy size, its unanimity rule in decision making and its other shortcomings, such an arrangement could prove as unsatisfactory a basis for security as did the League of Nations in the 1920s and 1930s. It is not surprising that official French statements have expressed caution about any near-term "institutionalization" of the CSCE beyond a small secretariat, regularly scheduled high-level meetings and other measures to promote confidence, transparency and crisis-prevention.


While France has been clear on the need to carefully calibrate security cooperation measures in the CSCE framework, inconsistencies and uncertainties have been apparent in its efforts to maintain its own special status in NATO's integrated military structure, to retain U.S. commitments and forces in Europe, and to promote closer West European security cooperation.

Without much specificity as to concrete arrangements, the French continue to hold that it would be, in Mitterrand's words, "wise and useful for the Europeans in the future to prepare themselves to play an increased role in the alliance for their own defense." The essential vision has been of a stronger and more autonomous West European defense posture centered around close Franco-German relations. European dependence on the United States would be diminished, not eliminated, and the Atlantic alliance framework maintained. Chevènement indicated in London in June 1990 that the U.S. commitment to European security "remains indispensable . . . [to serve as] the counter-weight to the military power, nuclear and conventional, of the U.S.S.R." But it is necessary, he argues, to think about "new modalities for the American presence in Europe. . . . It is clear that notions of reinforcement, C3 [command, control and communications], and air defense will take on increased importance in a context in which U.S. ground forces stationed in Europe are reduced."

French officials have made it clear, however, that these "new modalities" cannot include American installations in France. The basing of any foreign forces on French soil is likely to remain politically problematic. The absence of foreign forces, except for some West German logistic sites and during certain military exercises, has been established since 1966-67 as an indication of France's special status and independence in NATO. Fears of more far-reaching U.S. force withdrawals may eventually prompt France to pursue deeper bilateral security cooperation and to encourage its allies to continue to welcome U.S. forces. An American military presence in France, however, would represent a profound change in established policies and attitudes.

Some French commentators argue that it would be unwise for France to express a willingness to host any U.S. military presence, however small, as this would encourage certain political forces in Germany to seek an exit from such responsibilities. The net effect would thus be a weakening of the Atlantic alliance. By the same token, French officials contend that any neutralization of Germany must be avoided and that France and its NATO partners must retain as much influence as possible in German affairs. The announced intention to withdraw all French forces from Germany could contradict this aim, however, and undermine prospects for retaining a substantial U.S. military presence in the new Germany.

A significant foreign military presence consisting of European troops—say, German, Dutch or British—might be more acceptable to the French than U.S. forces. But even speculation about an increased German military presence—e.g., a brigade or Luftwaffe wing—has been very tentative because of concerns about possibly arousing domestic sensitivities. Such a deployment, however, could demonstrate West European unity or Franco-German solidarity. It might also make possible a continued French military presence in Germany. Indeed, some observers speculate that Mitterrand's July 1990 announcement that "logic" will require French forces in Germany to return home, once Four Power roles are terminated and Soviet forces withdrawn, may have been intended to anticipate and politically preempt any German demands that French forces leave, or to prepare the ground for discussion of a possible Franco-German cross-stationing accord.

Various proposals since early 1990, mostly from commentators in Britain, Germany and the United States, that France return to NATO's integrated military structure have been met with the standard French responses. Mitterrand, for example, reaffirmed in July that France has "no intention of changing" its "particular position with regard to NATO's integrated command and its strategy." Some French commentators add that NATO's integrated military structure is destined to atrophy, if not disappear entirely, in Europe's new circumstances. Others contend that NATO's elaborate structure is now unnecessary anyway, given the increase in warning time before any Soviet aggression.

French reservations about the integrated military structure extend to NATO's July 1990 decision to "rely increasingly on multinational corps made up of national units." Britain, Germany, the United States and other allies see multinational corps as politically useful because they may make a continued foreign military presence more acceptable to the public in Germany and other host countries. In contrast, French officials see multinational units under the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe as not only operationally problematic but also politically undesirable. Such a structure, they fear, could perpetuate and perhaps even deepen integration under U.S. authority, postponing what many French officials see as a necessary and overdue adjustment in European-American leadership responsibilities. In their view, NATO's integrated command is anachronistic and tends to exclude France and to undermine West European defense cooperation efforts. At the same time, whenever the "French model"—withdrawal from NATO's integrated structure in order to pursue a more independent course—is advanced as a possible option for Germany, the French typically react with annoyance.


At the July 1990 NATO summit in London, Mitterrand made it clear that "France does not share the strategic conceptions of the alliance, neither those of yesterday, nor those of today: those of yesterday concerning flexible defense, the forward battle; those of today on nuclear weapons as a last resort. . . . We do not share any of that. . . . Deterrence is intended to prevent war, to forbid it, and not to win it." Chevènement also rejected the "last resort" approach to nuclear weapons employment as "poles apart from a well-understood strategy of deterrence, in the interests of Europeans." [7]

For political reasons French leaders remain interested in emphasizing that their nuclear strategy and employment policy are not in any way a subset of NATO strategy and policy. France's nuclear strategy, they say, is intended for deterrence and foresees only a limited and prompt "ultimate warning" employment of "prestrategic" nuclear weapons. This is contrasted with NATO's strategy of flexible response, which they define, rather misleadingly, as oriented toward large-scale nuclear employment in Europe in order to achieve victory on the battlefield. Current French criticisms of NATO's new "last resort" formula are reminiscent of France's reactions in the 1960s to flexible response: that is, America is accused of trying to postpone the use of nuclear weapons until Europe has already been devastated by conventional war; whereas the threat of an earlier nuclear response might prevent war altogether.

In fact, U.S. and NATO policy has always been oriented toward war-prevention, and for over two decades the key concepts have been crisis management and a prompt "restoration of deterrence" if selective and limited nuclear weapons employment ever became necessary to stop aggression and end the war. Neither the newness of the "last resort" approach nor its distance from the French strategic policy should be exaggerated. Noteworthy differences include the French insistence on threatening prompt nuclear employment and the French judgment that (as France's preferred term implies) "prestrategic" retaliation should be clearly linked to the prospect of imminent strategic nuclear strikes.

One of the central questions in building a West European defense identity is how to provide nuclear protection for Germany. Since the French consider nuclear deterrence the most reliable means of war-prevention, it seems imperative to preclude any situation that would make Germany vulnerable to Soviet nuclear coercion, or preoccupied with an apparent lack of nuclear protection. Partly to ensure against any future German interest in developing an autonomous nuclear weapons program, some French officials and commentators have suggested that a mechanism be found to reaffirm the strategic solidarity of Britain, France and Germany, perhaps a European nuclear consultation arrangement. Chevènement considers a West European defense partnership offering nuclear protection to Germany the only choice, given what he defines as the alternatives: "An American protection that risks seeming more and more uncertain? Or Germany's choice to assure her security by herself?"

France's reasoning behind the concern for Germany's nuclear protection was set forth most clearly in March 1990 by André Giraud, Minister of Defense during the French government's 1986-88 period of cohabitation. Giraud wrote:

To assure deterrence in Europe and protect Germany from a conventional attack, nuclear weapons must be stationed in Germany, which, by their mobility and range, assure its sanctuarization in satisfactory conditions. To be sure, these nuclear weapons cannot be German. They can be American and/or European. But it would be normal for the Germans to have a veto right regarding their employment, the threat of which must not be implemented unless vital interests are threatened. It is in the solution to this problem that there resides the decisive key to the construction of a European defense. [8]

Despite the uncertainties about the reliability of U.S. nuclear guarantees that French governments have underlined since the 1960s, Chevènement has also argued that Germany's "future security against aggression must be assured first of all by the joint and solemn commitment of the three nuclear powers": Britain, France and the United States. In the future, he sees the European nuclear forces making "a decisive contribution to the security of their partners and notably the F.R.G." But the implementation of this concept presents several problems.

First, there is France's continuing interest in delineating its nuclear strategy as separate from that of NATO and, particularly, the United States. Because France cannot "renounce the independence of our defense," as Chevènement has said, it is essential to "find, between Europeans, a framework flexible enough to provide for both the necessary consultation and the inevitable uniqueness of the nuclear decision."

A second uncertainty is whether Britain would be interested in devising such an arrangement. Chevènement has sometimes expressed concern that Britain continues to "give greater importance to her role of influence within the American power system." Some French observers attribute the delays and apparent impasses in the dialogue about possible Franco-British development of an air-launched nuclear missile to Britain's desire to protect its special nuclear links with the United States.

The most significant uncertainty, however, is whether the new Germany will accept any nuclear weapons presence at all. Some French commentators have expressed concern that the July 16, 1990, Kohl-Gorbachev agreement could be interpreted to rule out German participation in a joint West European nuclear deterrence arrangement. But Dumas has insisted that the German-Soviet accord does not provide for Germany's denuclearization, in the sense of forbidding the presence of foreign nuclear weapons. Lack of German interest could nonetheless preclude the establishment of any joint nuclear arrangement. Although some question whether a nuclear weapons presence is necessary for credible nuclear protection, others deem it absolutely indispensable. Giraud has argued as follows: "If, as certain of her politicians desire, Germany is to be denuclearized, that means that she is not ready to take the risks inherent in her own defense, and no one can defend her if she will not do so [personne ne peut la défendre à sa place]. There will not be any [unified Western] Europe in this case."


Contradictions in French policy regarding the Atlantic alliance and the maintenance of a U.S. military presence in Europe are also evident. The French want a U.S. military and nuclear presence in Europe, but not on their soil. They want a united Germany to be in NATO—to avoid a "strategic vacuum" in central Europe, and to minimize the risk of Germany seeking neutrality, a special security relationship with Russia or security through its own means. Yet the French oppose the multinational corps approach that could be of great political utility in keeping American and allied troops in Germany, and they place greater emphasis on bilateral cooperation vehicles and exclusively European institutions than on renovating the Atlantic alliance.

It would seem, however, that undertaking more responsibilities on a bilateral basis or in European-only forums could weaken the NATO framework that legitimizes the U.S. presence that France wishes to retain—to anchor Germany in the West, to balance German political influence in Europe and to provide a military counter-weight to the Soviet Union. Some French policy articulations have failed to recognize that NATO enjoys considerable legitimacy among U.S. and allied political leaders, and that NATO remains, for the foreseeable future, the essential framework for the retention of U.S. forces in Europe and U.S. security commitments, including nuclear guarantees.

Related inconsistencies in French policy regarding West European defense cooperation are apparent as well. While French politicians champion the concept of such cooperation, it is not clear that they are really prepared to give up national decision-making autonomy and the nuclear sanctuary and stronghold (le donjon nucléaire, as it is sometimes called). They sometimes appear reluctant to work out operational defense plans and deployments on the basis of full equality and reciprocity with the Germans, without asserting that France is entitled to special status and freedom of decision. To many, France's attitude on a practical level seems to contradict its stated interest in deepening European political integration and, indeed, the EC's goal of political union.

France's fundamental ambivalence about Germany remains unresolved. Distrust of future German security choices coexists with a determination to align France with German economic strength and promote Franco-German leadership in European construction. While some French analysts worry that the Germans will lose interest in maintaining Franco-German relations as the motor of the EC, others are concerned about possible German dominance of the EC. Philippe Moreau Defarges judges that there is "hardly a chance" for the "constitution of a European defense" on the basis of the EC, owing to German unity. The Paris-Bonn team was the motor of European construction, he writes, because it rested on "a federal Germany 'less equal' than France, the first remaining under surveillance, the second constantly reaffirming its freedom of choice. With the unification of Germany, nothing will be as it was before." [9]

The unresolved inconsistencies and uncertainties about France's future role in Europe's political and security institutions reflect internal divisions. Some French analysts hold that the fundamental choice facing the nation is that between pursuing a narrowly national, essentially inward-looking policy based on France's traditional nuclear deterrence posture, or trying to take a leading role in recasting the European political and security order through deeper cooperation with allies in Europe and the Atlantic community as a whole. The latter course, particularly the idea of emphasizing Franco-German cooperation to deepen economic and political integration in the EC, is seen by most politicians and experts as the more far-sighted choice. It is sometimes called "Euro-voluntarism," and broadly speaking it is supported by politicians as different as François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

It appears at first glance that Mitterrand has followed the "Euro-voluntarist" course in various ways. He has overcome apparent earlier hesitations to emphasize close political and economic cooperation with Germany in support of EC objectives, and he has taken several initiatives for positive political and economic change in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Mitterrand's critics argue, however, that his approach to cooperation with Germany still remains too hesitant, too equivocal and too tempered with a concern for maintaining good relations with Moscow. They charge that nothing specific has been proposed to build up a West European defense identity, that too much emphasis has been placed on France's unique status, and that nuclear forces for protection of the national "sanctuary" have been favored at the expense of the conventional forces needed to make a more effective contribution to the constitution of a European defense entity.

Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac and other members of the opposition, including many in the Giscardian Union pour la Démocratie Française, have championed more effective and ambitious West European defense cooperation as a means to strengthen the Atlantic alliance. Paradoxically, some of the Gaullists seem more prepared than the Socialists to circumscribe France's autonomy in order to build a more reliable Western military posture. Opposition spokesmen generally express more wariness than the Socialist government regarding the prospects for a peaceful and positive evolution of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and thus more interest in Western and, specifically, West European defense cooperation. Some critics of the government warn that excessive and maladroit insistence on autonomy could lead to France's isolation and undermine Franco-German relations. Overemphasis on the long-term goal of a "more European" Europe, on the other hand, could undermine French and European security by weakening ties with the United States.

There is, of course, no guarantee of success in the "Euro-voluntarist" course, even if the French pursued it with great cohesion and consistency. Its prospects depend heavily on France's partners, and above all, Germany. A nationalistic reaction against "Euro-voluntarism" could occur at some point if such policies seemed to imply a subordination of France to Germany and/or the United States. A similar reaction could take place if certain supranational features of the EC's political union seemed to threaten France's national identity and decision-making autonomy.

The opposite of the "Euro-voluntarist" course is France's traditional nuclear sanctuary policy, which is in some ways the path of least resistance. Many French politicians and commentators have asserted that the developments of the past year have vindicated France's reliance on nuclear deterrence to protect the national sanctuary. No policy changes are necessary, it is argued, for France's nuclear posture will continue to shelter the nation's security and independence from all foreseeable challenges. A greater emphasis on autonomy through nuclear deterrence could permit larger cuts in conventional military programs and satisfy those in the Socialist Party eager to cut defense spending to finance social programs. National nuclear autonomy also avoids the divisive controversies and agonizing reappraisals that could be associated with qualifying France's independence and recognizing more explicitly its dependence on allies.

The fear of German domination of European institutions may explain part of the attraction, at least in some circles, of a more nationalistic course for France. The appeal could also be reinforced by unhappiness over supranational trends in the EC, owing to the perception that France is surrendering its sovereignty and losing control over its own borders. Some link such sentiments to France's current problems with immigration and racism, its concern about a potential crisis of national identity, and fears that France has lost its special mission as the light of civilization, considered by many of the French as their nation's exceptional rayonnement. Although the conviction that France has a unique political and ideological vision, a special status and purpose in the world, has had many positive byproducts over the centuries, it could contribute to the risk of France withdrawing to a posture of relying on itself alone, la France seule.

A logical long-term extrapolation of a more nationalistic French course could involve nuclear-armed neutrality, perhaps even supplemented by an anti-German alliance with the Soviets. Virtually everyone who alludes to a possible Franco-Soviet alliance deplores it as unwise and self-defeating, but it has been mentioned relatively frequently, and this has perhaps contributed to the recent troubles in France's relations with Germany. François de Rose has asked, for example, "Doesn't our European policy require that we discard the shadow of a suspicion, however ill-founded, that we might reserve the option of a return to the policy of switching alliances?" [10] Some French analysts have pointed out that the Soviets could use the notion to separate Germany from France, and then choose Germany themselves; Germany is intrinsically more valuable to Moscow than is France. De Rose and others have also warned that a failure to participate in the recasting of the Western alliance would simply mean that solutions would be found without France, and that France's self-isolation would mean Germany's military and political weight in central Europe and the U.S.S.R. would be even greater.

"Euro-pessimists" judge that, if Germany loses interest in the EC, the Franco-German partnership and the Atlantic alliance, France might have no choice but to rely more on its own resources and to strengthen its ties with Britain and America. Such an argument for closer ties with the "Anglo-Saxons" has been advanced by Edouard Balladur, the Gaullist minister of economy and finances during the cohabitation government. Similarly, some speculate that France might become more receptive to stationing U.S. forces in certain circumstances—e.g., a future German government abruptly expelling U.S. troops, an assumption of power by the Soviet military leadership and/or the adoption of more obviously threatening policies by Moscow.


Extreme scenarios appear far less probable at the present juncture than an uncomfortable compromise between "Euro-voluntarism" and efforts to maintain the specificity of France's autonomous security policies. A compromise course may have the advantage of preserving the consensus on the Gaullist model in the intermediate term, and perhaps even longer, depending on the course of events. Retaining at least part of the Gaullist model is a political imperative, as it provides a satisfactory national self-image of rank and autonomy, and promises to hold France aloof from war. This approach to security has been, particularly since the late 1970s, a source of cohesion in a society that has historically been polarized on political matters, including national security policy. This pragmatic approach of hedging and balancing, with a continuing admixture of Gaullist rhetoric about France's rank and independent nuclear strategy, is politically more sustainable than a course that appears to allow French policy to be overly influenced by its security environment.

This compromise approach nonetheless entails notable risks. Three internal challenges to the defense consensus could be especially significant.

First, the legitimacy of nuclear deterrence policies could be challenged more profoundly than in the past. Environmental concerns raised by an increasingly successful Green political movement, les Verts, are becoming more prominent, owing in part to greater public awareness of nuclear reactor safety questions and unresolved problems of nuclear waste disposal. On the other hand, despite signs of official concern about the potential fragility of the national consensus behind nuclear deterrence, antinuclear movements and sentiments remain markedly less significant in France than in Britain, Germany or the United States. Powerful countervailing political incentives may tend to reinforce the legitimacy of France's nuclear deterrent policies, particularly in an era characterized by greater fluidity in international political alignments and more extensive proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Second, questions about immigration and racism, particularly with respect to the large and growing numbers of North Africans and other Muslims in France, loom larger in day-to-day French politics than do questions about Germany and European security arrangements. The immigration question poses profound challenges to France's social cohesion and domestic consensus. An awkward overlap with defense issues could arise because of the "third circle," as some of France's internal political contention during the current crisis in the Persian Gulf suggests. Some French observers are concerned that international conflicts such as the gulf crisis and Islamic fundamentalism in North Africa and other areas could lead to a radicalization of the substantial Muslim minority in France, and possibly to civil strife or terrorism.

Finally, a perceived loss of national military-industrial autonomy could also affect the French defense consensus. Declining arms exports, the rising costs of modern weapons and other practical considerations may encourage France to cooperate much more with allies in equipment production and procurement in the future. Such pressures are likely to be accentuated by France's need to replace large categories of conventional equipment in the 1990s, owing to the obsolescence of its tanks, tactical aircraft, surface ships and other weapons systems. Limited defense resources, in view of the splits in the Socialist Party over budgetary priorities and pressing social welfare demands, may also point toward greater French cooperation with allies.

If French governments can overcome such challenges to the defense consensus, they may be able to maintain a compromise course. It will, however, undoubtedly be harder for France to sustain the policy guidelines and ambiguities of the past. Future governments are nonetheless likely to strive to retain as much of the Gaullist attitude as possible, even if the substance of their policies eventually contains less and less of the approach de Gaulle bequeathed them. The profound reluctance to change France's basic security policies is rooted in their past success and inherent attractiveness; these policies have permitted France great autonomy and a special international status, as well as security. Recognizing that the success of these policies has depended to a large extent on a particular set of international circumstances implies a painful adjustment for a country that prides itself on its rank and independence.

[1] Speech at the Royal United Services Institute, London, June 7, 1990, in the French Ministry of Defense compilation, Propos sur la Défense, May-June 1990, p. 105.

[2] Henri Paris, “La France ennemi principal de l’URSS en Europe?” Défense nationale, January 1988, pp. 51-64.

[3] "Cette grande Allemagne qui inquiète," Le Point, March 5, 1990, p. 44.

[4] Interview in Le Monde, July 13, 1990, pp.1, 9.

[5] Speech at the Institut des hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale, Paris, May 21, 1990, in Propos sur la Défense, pp. 50-52.

[6] Dumas speech to French Senate, June 27, 1990, in the Foreign Ministry's Bulletin d'Information, June 28; Dumas interview in Le Figaro, July 25, 1990, reproduced in Bulletin d'Information, July 25.

[7] Mitterrand press conference of July 6, 1990, in Le Monde, July 8-9, 1990, p. 5, and Chevènement interview, op. cit.

[8] "Europe et défense," Le Monde, March 21, 1990, p. 2.

[9] “L’unification communautaire et les bouleversements du paysage européen,” Politique Etrangère, Spring 1990, pp. 147-148.

[10] "La crise des stratégies," Défense Nationale, May 1990, p. 70.

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  • DAVID S. YOST is an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, currently serving as a Fulbright Research Fellow in Paris. The views expressed are his alone and do not represent those of any U.S. government agency.
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