Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
For obvious reasons, domestic politics have monopolized the passions of the French people during these last months. However, the debate we have been engaged in would lack breadth if it were not accompanied by a review of the politics France should follow on the international scene. Such a review must rise above personal quarrels and political maneuvering. While I will not attempt to describe what is — or what should be — French foreign policy in every area, problem by problem, sector by sector, I may be able to suggest some of the temptations that I believe our diplomacy should resist.
At the outset, I should like to explain the illusions that the Socialist-Communist opposition would like the French citizens to succumb to, and indicate some delusions that may bedevil the governing Majority.1 I wish it were easier to discuss the foreign policy of the Left. But this is a difficult undertaking. Socialists and Communists disagree on the main points and thus mention foreign policy very rarely. Out of the 185 pages of the Common Program, hardly 15 pages deal with it, including some which are clearly ambiguous.2 Moreover, when the Left Radicals adopted and agreed to support this document, which, like any work tailored for the occasion, has aged rather badly, they added an Annex in which not one line, not one word mentions this essential aspect of French politics.
Is French foreign policy really worth no more than a confused and off-hand postscript?
Undoubtedly, the Common Program includes a whole series of generous propositions to which my movement, the Assembly for the Republic (RPR), subscribes with enthusiasm, especially as it has always supported and worked for the implementation of: respect for the U.N. Charter, world peace, development of international cooperation, the fight against any form of fascism and racism.
The desires of the French people, however, will not be long satisfied by these worn-out slogans. In a way, it is quite natural that Messrs. Mitterrand, Marchais and Fabre substitute verbal acrobatics for a coherent vision of international relations. But when they try to proceed from professions of faith to specific analyses, they are immediately faced with an abyss of disavowals and ambiguities. I shall cite only three examples.
1. In Chapter Three, entitled "European Security," the Common Program proposes the "immediate dissolution of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact" and commits itself to initiating "the necessary steps to arrive at a European Treaty that would imply a new security organization."
At first glance, what is more needed and more desirable than to do away with the policy of blocs, spheres of influence and military camps? But behind these seductive words, the Socialist-Communist proposition is, in fact, extremely dangerous. Indeed, its implementation would clearly favor the Soviet Union to the detriment of the Western camp, for an elementary reason over which the signatories to the Common Program have chosen to throw a veil of modesty: Moscow is linked to all the popular democracies by a network of bilateral agreements that would not be affected by the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. On the other hand, the West — as one sometimes tends to forget — has no such system of treaties at its disposal.
If the leaders of the Common Program casually juggle with utopian solutions and pretend to solve in six lines a problem that the evolution of relations between East and West makes more worrisome each day, that is, after all, "their" problem. But if their proposals faithfully reproduce the theses developed by the Soviets for over 20 years, then that becomes "our" problem. While the Fifth Republic enjoys excellent relations with the Soviet Union, that does not mean that our interests necessarily coincide.
I invite anyone tempted to take Georges Marchais at his word when, as Secretary General of the French Communist Party, he affirms "all that is national is ours," to refer to the edition of the Common Program prefaced by that same Georges Marchais. You will find there, among other surprises, proof of the "Sovieto-centrism" that characterizes the thought of the Communist leader. Indeed, he writes (on page 17) without the slightest qualm: "Nevertheless, unlike capitalist countries, socialist countries follow an ascending line and gradually solve the problems presented by the building of a society where man is no longer exploited, and where unprecedented circumstances are created for the flourishing of the individual." Which means, when clearly stated, that for Georges Marchais Soviet society constitutes the best framework for the harmonious development of individual liberties!
Every international event brings us further confirmation of this quasi-automatic alignment of the French Communist Party with Soviet theses: Did Georges Marchais not strongly approve the involvement of Cuban troops (transported by Russian planes) in Angola at the time of its accession to independence? On the other hand, has he not explained that in Zaïre, the situation was "totally different" and had to be resolved "without foreign intervention"? To be "for" foreign aid when it is Russian, "against" when it is Western, does not, it seems to me, give a French orientation to the Communist conceptual framework.
This type of ambiguity must be denounced, even at the risk of being accused by an oversensitive intelligentsia of "primitive anti-communism." But who cares about snap judgments? Gaullists are not afraid of words.
2. In matters of "disarmament and national defense" (Chapter Two), the Common Program calls for "the renunciation of the French nuclear deterrent in any form whatsoever, the immediate halting of the construction of the French nuclear striking force, and the reconversion, according to a precise schedule, of the military nuclear industry into a civilian atomic industry. . . ."
This position is not realistic but at least it has the virtue of clarity. However, on May 11, 1977, the Central Committee of the French Communist Party made a 180-degree turn and, in M. Jean Kanapa's words, explained that the nuclear arm represented "the only real means of dissuasion that, for the time being, the country will have at its disposal in order to face a threat of aggression."
Some will perhaps see in this sudden change of course by the French Communist Party the tardy but sincere expression of a doubt, and will be tempted to forgive it. If so, they would sin through innocence. The acceptance of the nuclear arm by the Communists is, in fact, purely demagogic: for 20 years, the Communist Party has expressed its opposition to nuclear weapons in particularly unequivocal terms. For example, the 1964 Congress of the French Communist Party accused the nuclear deterrent force of "increasing the risks of nuclear conflict." Jean Kanapa, in his report to the Central Committee of April 14 and 15, 1975, took the following position: "The nuclear weapon can only be the instrument of a generalized nuclear war that our country would not survive."
A simple conclusion follows. The hostility of the French Communist Party to the French nuclear striking force has always been justified because of the very nature of the nuclear weapon — considered dangerous for its intrinsic qualities — and not on the basis of an evaluation of the circumstances in which it might be used. This is why the Communist Party's current change of opinion does not result from a fresh analysis inspired by the evolution of the national and international military context but is quite clearly a doctrinal disavowal, motivated by political tactics. Of course, the French Communist Party would like to have people believe that its positions are changing as a result of its reflections on strategic questions. Actually, it is discarding its convictions. Or, rather, pretending to do so.
Not that this is surprising. The French nuclear striking force is acceptable to the French Communist Party only as a tool for a policy of autarky, isolationism and neutralism as well as for a policy attempting to alter the solidarity of the Atlantic Alliance and the unity of the destinies of the peoples of Western Europe.
As for the Socialist Party, badly torn in two directions (some favorable to the atomic weapon, some violently hostile), it hesitates. As early as July 1977, Francois Mitterrand had no scruples in disowning the Common Program, signed five years ago, and in accepting the principle of "maintaining in proper condition" the French nuclear striking force. But, very quickly, the opposition of the "anti-nuclear" members of his own political party forced him to admit that his change of opinion last July was mainly inspired by pragmatic considerations and that his final aim remains the one inscribed in the 1972 Common Program. (The National Convention of the Socialist Party, which met in early January 1978, has confirmed this analysis.) I confess that such electoral "elasticity" on so essential a subject as the security of France astounds me.
3. Regarding the European Economic Community (Chapter Four), the Common Program gives priority to two objectives: First, participation in the building of the Community with an end to freeing it from the domination of "big business" and democratizing its institutions. Second, protection of the freedom of action of the Left to carry out its political, economic and social program.
But what do these slogans really mean? What lies under these meaningless formulas repeated a thousand times, such as "big business," and "freedom of the Left"? The answer is easy: a lame compromise.
The Socialists campaign sincerely in favor of Europe in general and the Common Market in particular. The Communists, for their part, do not want to have anything to do with either one or the other. For a long time they have characterized the Common Market as an "anti-national," "antisocial" and "anti-Soviet" organization. Less than a year before the signing of the Common Program, in "Change of Course",3 the French Communists were still at the "great and true Europe" stage and condemned the Common Market as a barrier to "true international cooperation."
Nothing could be less surprising, then, than the statement of Georges Marchais, January 10, 1976: "The acceptance of the election of the European Parliament on the basis of universal suffrage is a crime against France, against the French. . . ." The same is true of Jean Kanapa's declaration on January 18, 1976: "Never shall we Communists accept the election of the European Parliament by universal suffrage."
These brutal formulas are not new. They are the reflection of the 30-years war waged by the French Communists against any kind of strengthening of European unity, including the Congress of Europe (May 1948), the European Movement (in which Leon Blum participated), the Council of Europe (1949), the proposed European Defense Community (1952-54), the European Coal and Steel Community (1952), etc.
However, on April 17, 1977, Georges Marchais declared that the French Communist Party was no longer opposed to the election of a European Parliament by universal suffrage. But who can believe that the Communist Party has been suddenly seized by a sincere European conviction? Has Georges Marchais been touched overnight by European grace?
Quite obviously, it is not in order to score points that I have brought up some of the doctrinal arabesques to which Socialists and Communists have unfortunately conditioned us. Rather it is because any approach to foreign policy must, first of all, be an exercise in demystification.
It must also be a demythification. For we seldom manage (not only in France but also more generally in the Western camp) to rid ourselves of certain myths that obscure and distort our perception of international reality and, more specifically, the relationship between the East and the West. In particular, there are three myths that seem to me more deeply rooted, and thus more harmful, than any others.
1. Atlanticism. To begin with, a certain ambiguity must be resolved: for 20 years some people have linked Gaullism with hostility toward the United States as a matter of principle. The assertion is absurd. Only enemies of Gaullism or of the United States could find it desirable to perpetuate this fiction. It is typically one of those pointless quarrels that results from a misunderstanding of language. Indeed, those who wish to damage the relations between our two countries always hurl the term "Atlanticism" at us. However, as a Gaullist, I am not afraid of this word. In my eyes, to be an Atlanticist is neither a blemish nor a virtue. Nor is it a scarecrow.
But let us understand one another quite clearly. If being an Atlanticist means being one of the 500 million Westerners who hold a certain notion of freedom in common, then I am quite definitely an Atlanticist. If, on the other hand, an Atlanticist means being linked against one's will to a great power that tends to confuse an alliance of equals with casual hegemony, then, quite obviously, I cannot be an Atlanticist.
I will go further.
This refusal to submit is said to be Gaullist. That is true, of course, in the sense that General de Gaulle emphasized most strongly what should be the unswerving attitude of nations that respect themselves. However, this insistence on independence has deeper roots. It is as old as history. All proud nations have felt it. Americans, who justly proclaim their attachment to freedom and know the price of independence, cannot fail to understand this yearning.
This being said, if we are extremely sensitive about anything that may seem to threaten our sovereignty even slightly, we have never confused independence with isolation. Our patriotism does not imply solitude. France belongs profoundly to one camp. The very diplomacy of the Fifth Republic shows it. For instance, how could a Gaullist forget that in 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the first to affirm his solidarity with President Kennedy was General de Gaulle? How could he forget that, two years earlier, during a speech delivered to the U.S. Congress, General de Gaulle exclaimed: "Morally, the balance is not equal between the two camps that divide the universe. France, for her part, has chosen to be with you, on the side of freedom"? How could a Gaullist forget that President Pompidou, in the Kremlin itself, did not hesitate to reaffirm the fidelity of France to her alliance? It was an expression of common sense, and the Soviet leaders could not take offense.
But, at the same time, how could a Gaullist fail to recall that, in 1966, France left the integrated military organization of NATO because she refused to allow her future to be decided by others? And how could he not underline his attachment to the policy of détente with the Soviet Union —the other superpower —initiated by General de Gaulle? What I want our American friends to understand and to accept is that there is no contradiction here. Speaking for myself, there is only one consistent attitude: being in the camp of freedom means preserving one's own freedom of judgment.
2. Eurocommunism. Contrary to a rather widely held opinion, I do not believe in the existence of Eurocommunism. Anyway, not yet. You hear a lot about it, but you never see it!
To prove their evolution, the Eurocommunist parties, first of all, would have had to de-Stalinize themselves. They would have to modify the principle of their internal procedure, "democratic centralism." This euphemism, which includes a lot of centralism and very little democracy, characterizes the Stalinist parties. The slightest signs of dissidence are immediately smothered. Power runs from top to bottom. Their elections are nothing but ratifications. In these circumstances, how can one believe that Eurocommunists form a new variety, i.e., a more "democratic" one, of communists? And how can one hope that they would apply to others tomorrow a principle of freedom that they deny to themselves today?
It is true that the Spanish Communist leader Santiago Carrillo has sometimes denounced the excesses of "democratic centralism." But we have only to go back to his doctrinal writings to be convinced that his current declarations are not sufficient to make him the spokesman and defender of a unique form of communism.
Nor are the Eurocommunist parties detached from the Soviet Union. I have already shown this to be true as regards the French Communists. But is this not also true of the Italian and Spanish Communist Parties?
Italian Party chief Enrico Berlinguer declares that "the Soviet Union's policy of peace is pursued in the general interest of humanity." Lucio Lombardo Radice, a member of the Central Committee of the Italian Communist Party, proclaims that in the case of an acute crisis between the East and the West, the Italian Communists "would obviously choose the U.S.S.R." And Santiago Carrillo (although he is the most "de-Russified" of the Eurocommunists) insists on the "resolutely defensive character of the Warsaw Pact" and stigmatizes NATO as a "mere instrument of political, economic and military domination of Americans over Europe."
To simplify, let us say that Eurocommunism is a bet that we are urged to make on the capacity of Communists to change. As of now, nothing allows us to place this bet without grave risks.
3. The convergence of the systems. To define this myth one has to place it within the more general context of détente. Détente between the East and the West is an absolute necessity. To oppose it would be quite obviously to swim against the current of history. But it is not because détente is a concept with which we are now familiar that we should be so naive as to hesitate to question its nature. Nor should one refrain from questioning the value of diplomatic procedures just because the world, thank God, is not at war.
What is called détente has never been more than a modus vivendi in order to coexist and so to avoid the major risks of a brutal confrontation. And this is what it still is. Détente does not imply for either of the two camps any disavowal of its own personality or any acknowledgment of the superior value of the other. Undoubtedly, from time to time, an event may sharpen or, more precisely, renew fundamental differences. The struggle of the Soviet dissidents is one of these events. Thus, the meaning of détente should not be misunderstood. Virtues should not be attributed to it that it does not possess inherently. For instance, one should not expect (as certain Western politicians wrongly do) that détente will favor a convergence of capitalist and Marxist systems. This seems illusory to me. The notion that by dint of exchanges and economic and commercial contacts socialist societies will gradually become more liberal and more democratic has no solid basis in reality. Wishing it were otherwise will not change that reality.
Of course, I believe that these relationships should be intensified. But, at least in the near future, I see nothing that justifies the dreamers who imagine that parallel lines can meet! Moreover, history refutes their analysis: Did the fact that the United States contributed to the financing of the first five-year plan under Stalin prevent the "great purges" of the 1930s?
I am aware that this sort of language is seldom heard — at least in political circles — because idealism is a much more popular genre. I may well be wrong, but I believe that idealists are not always the ones who best serve the ideals they cherish. In any event, that is where the truth lies. It should offend no one. Indeed, the Soviets themselves have always rejected the theory of the convergence of the Western and the Eastern regimes.
The followers of the convergence thesis also quite often believe in the "diminution of the ideological competition" between the two camps. No one will be surprised to hear that this second, hoped-for effect of détente leaves me quite as puzzled as the first one. And for a simple reason. For the Soviets, the ideological struggle against the liberal camp is the expression of the superiority of their system over ours. To demand that they lower the intensity of their struggle is, in a certain way, asking them to renounce this conviction. Is it really necessary to point out that such a wish is unrealistic?
Doubtless it will be suggested that these remarks are pessimistic. I cannot help it. Westerners can successfully defend their system of values only on the basis of certain realities — even if they seem harsh and unfair — and not on the basis of foolish hopes. Freedom can progress only on the basis of truth. Every political and economic system has to risk being judged by international public opinion.
The main principles that inspire the Fifth Republic's foreign policy are generally known. Nor is this policy the monopoly of one camp. On the contrary, it is deeply rooted in the whole nation. Various political headquarters sometimes dispute it for obscure, prejudiced reasons, but deep down, the masses endorse it. As Prime Minister, I personally carried out this policy. As President of the Gaullist RPR movement and as Mayor of Paris, I continue every day to evaluate its successes and possible difficulties. The task is no longer to build but to protect and to develop what has already been achieved. This implies a permanent effort of thought. Not, I repeat, about the essential choices, which are clear, but about the best ways of approaching them.
1. We must accept the notion that foreign policy often becomes enmeshed with the art of managing ambiguities. The ability to conduct foreign policy effectively consists in not being induced to refuse an agreement because it involves shadowy areas. On the contrary, the man in charge should understand that an agreement may — sometimes — only be a formal delimitation of calculated bets. Here is an illustration, taken from the German problem. Observers agree that when the Federal Republic of Germany finally "recognized" the reality of the other Germany, it was convinced that this was the price to be paid in order to preserve the chance for reunification in the far distant future. The German Democratic Republic reasons in the opposite direction: "recognition" by Bonn and admission to international life are the best means of reinforcing the structures of the East German state and protecting it against the risks of such a reunification. International life swarms with situations that exclude tranquil and clear solutions.
2. We are sometimes tempted to speculate over the supposed intentions of our partners and allies instead of patiently carving our own concept of the world. However, it is not from the approval of this or that foreign country that we must draw the strength to pursue our own course. Nor should fear of the reactions of others lead us to abandon it. If a line of conduct is not good for France, it should be rejected for its own defects and not because it might displease others — even if these others are "great powers."
3. We must clearly choose a method of negotiation and stick to it. I have already had the opportunity of stating that I was not favorable to the technique of "globalization," which consists of intermingling and often confusing all problems that might arise, of demanding that the Soviets show more tolerance toward their dissidents in exchange for preferential rates for their loans, of linking European commercial submissiveness toward Washington to the maintenance of American troops on the continent, etc. Indeed, there is a substantial risk, if one adopts this method, of yielding to the temptation of permanent haggling and ending up by considering negotiation as an end-point rather than as a means of diplomatic action.
Furthermore, it seems indecent, in a way, for a state to throw intercontinental missiles into the same basket with nuclear reprocessing plants, the principle of inviolability of frontiers with the cries of men fighting (in the East and in the West) for more freedom. True, some people say that the defense of human rights is a "categorical imperative" and that every pressure that can be exerted should be used to have these respected. Without question. But can we be quite certain that the method of "globalization" might not tempt a power to use it to the advantage of its immediate materialistic interests and so to the detriment of higher values? For all these reasons, the technique of case-by-case reciprocity seems to me, in the great majority of hypotheses, both more modest and more sensible. An economic challenge should be met by an economic counterthrust; a diplomatic pressure by a diplomatic response; an industrial bid by an industrial riposte. It is generally dangerous to mix genres.
4. Certain Western leaders (including the French from time to time) seem fascinated by the charms of a strongly "personalized" foreign policy. Indeed, I can criticize these direct contacts and frequent relations between international leaders all the less because I have myself appreciated their advantages. But diplomacy that invests too much in men and not enough in facts runs the risk of being shattered by its first psychological error. If, in Vienna in 1961, Nikita Khrushchev had not misjudged John Kennedy as a spoiled young man lacking in will and experience, would he have taken the risk of threatening America with the missiles he installed in Cuba the following year?
Moreover, an excess of personalization naturally tends to emphasize atmosphere, the "spirit" of a negotiation, to the detriment of its concrete results, the décor at the expense of the play itself. The sole explanation for the enthusiastic celebration of the "spirit of Helsinki" is that the representatives of the great powers displayed their warm handshakes and their deliberate smiles because the situation demanded it.
It would be easy to give other examples. But to what end? I have no interest in presenting a case against anyone. I simply wish to recall, through these brief remarks, that the preservation of a doctrinal heritage such as the one left to us by General de Gaulle is no small undertaking. A few brilliant improvisations and some solemn statements are not enough.
It seems to me that a great foreign policy cannot be constructed without the help of a conceptual key that permits one to decipher the nuances and the subtleties of international realities. But neither can one conduct the foreign affairs of a great nation without questioning oneself as to the best attitudes and diplomatic techniques to achieve one's aims.
What I say naturally applies to France today. What does it matter if our aims are so ambitious? France has no fear of difficulty. She has always defended something greater than her own comfort.
1 The governing Majority at the time this article was written, preceding the March 1978 legislative
elections, was made up of the Gaullist Assembly for the Republic (RPR), headed by Jacques Chirac,
the Independent Republican party (RI), associated with President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and
several Centrist parties.
2 The Common Program of Government was signed in June 1972 by Francois Mitterrand's
Socialist Party and by Georges Marchais' Communist Party. The small Left Radical party, made up
of Socialist-oriented Centrists and headed by Robert Fabre, joined in July 1972. In 1977, these three
parties began discussions to update their program. This is precisely when the break between the
French Communist Party and its allies occurred. Notwithstanding, the 1972 version of the Common
Program continues to inspire the policy of the three parties, in spite of electoral ups and downs.
Consequently, it is an essential instrument for those who wish to discuss the aims of the French Left.
3 "Program for a Democratic Government of Popular Union," adopted by the Central Committee
of the French Communist Party, October 9, 1971.