In This Review

Reconcilable Differences: U.S.-French Relations in the New Era
Reconcilable Differences: U.S.-French Relations in the New Era
By Michael Brenner and Guillaume Parmentier
Brookings Institution Press, 2002, 208 pp

Despite its title, this book's action occurs largely in Brussels rather than in Washington or Paris. The approach works, since postwar U.S. and French governments have largely engaged each other through their Western alliance rather than through bilateral channels. This history is well established but has not featured as prominently in previous discussions as it does in this volume, and Brenner and Parmentier chart new territory in their analysis of its consequences for the future. Indeed, they make a convincing case that the Washington-Paris-Brussels triangle could prove the ultimate savior of the perennially troubled relations between these two partners. By embedding its interests within a common European position, France carves out greater space for itself to act independently of U.S. influence, creating "disincentives for the United States to attack Paris-based initiatives." In return, however, Paris must use its strong position within Europe to help promote the U.S. interest in having "an EU that is an open, constructive partner." The section on NATO is particularly strong. The authors harshly criticize U.S. and French policymakers (while not absolving their alliance partners) for a string of "missed opportunities" to give the alliance a post-Cold War purpose and structure. Readers may be frustrated, however, with the somewhat confused policy recommendations in the final chapter. The authors contradict themselves by first advocating "a bilateral relationship clear in purpose and consistent in method," and in the next breath arguing that "collaboration on a case-by-case" basis would be preferable to a "routinized partnership." But such a quibble hardly detracts from the value of this detailed, nuanced, and innovative work.