Can France Again Be a Great Power?

Courtesy Reuters

FRANCE ceased to be a free agent in international affairs on May 10, 1940. On that fateful day, her armies under Gamelin crossed the Belgian frontier and rushed northeast to meet the Nazi attack. Since then France has not regained a position of even relative steadiness and power. Today her national production has probably regained more than 80 percent of the 1938 level, but this result has been mainly achieved by the scattered efforts of individuals. Solid monetary and financial foundations have not yet been laid and organic reconstruction is still to come. The moral scars left by the invasion are perhaps even more terrible than the physical wounds. The élites which guided the French nation ten years ago are gone, discredited beyond hope of rehabilitation. One result is that too often mere amateurs are trying their hands at the helm.

The French Navy now consists of 300,000 tons, about half the total before her best warships were sunk in the port of Toulon or lost in the criminal defense of North Africa against the American forces. The bulk of the French Army is formed by the divisions equipped on Lend-Lease which are keeping watch over the Empire overseas or garrisoning the French zones in Germany and Austria. Whether in an emergency the 70 or 80 divisions that France is supposed to be able to assemble could be provided with enough weapons to make them effective is problematical. French factories will start producing material for an air force in 1950 or 1951, not before.

As a factor in power politics, then, France counts for very little; and power is the determining factor in international relations. League of Nations or United Nations notwithstanding, the influence which any nation commands is in relation to the amount of physical force it can gather. France's weakness offers a danger not only to the French people but to the world at large. Perhaps I might even say that when France is prostrate the spiritual patrimony of many men beyond the French borders is impaired accordingly.

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