In the post-war world, France has struggled to maintain and regain its position of international prominence, which was diminished following both of the Twentieth century’s world wars. The experience of defeat, occupation, and liberation left France to participate in the post-war reorganization of Europe only at the invitation of the United States and Great Britain. Its major post-war concerns were to ensure that it maintained a major role in Europe, her autonomy, and through 1962 preserving it Empire.
Relationships with German and the United States dominated French diplomatic and Foreign Policy concerns for the duration of the Cold War. According to Helga Haftendorn, France worked in triumvirate, or a “strategic triangle”, from 1965-1995 with the goals of maintaining a close working relationship with Germany and balancing the power of the United States to preserve France’s freedom of action on the world stage. During the 1950s, France focused developing ties with Germany as part of its efforts at reconciliation. The goal in fostering close relations was to integrate Germany into the West European economic and security system and guarantee American protection from both Germany and the Soviet Union. France still attempted to develop a global role, but had to do that within the context of its relationships with Germany and the United States. The initial steps toward this can be seen in the development of the European Coal and Steel Community as developed by the Schumann Plan of 1950 and the efforts of Jean Monnet. The end result of the beginnings of the ECSC was to lay the groundwork for later European integration in the EEC.
According to John Gillingham, the ECSC worked to provide peaceful access to the resources of the Ruhr, which he believes was one of the major issues leading to World War I and World War II. What was needed was a way to reconcile both French and German need for resources while restoring the international system of payments, allowing trade. Monnet’s solution was a supranational agency that integrated the German economy into the West and made it the guardian of West European progressivism, and satisfying French economic and Security concerns.
The Ruhr was especially important to France and the low countries because while German industry had modernized by the war, industries in occupied Europe had not been. The ECSC got Germany to subsidize mines in Belgium, allowed imports of coal, and encouraged German cartels to allocate markets to other ECSC members when it could not meet demand for industrial products. The ECSC and Schumann Plans were just the first stage of European integration, and when Great Britain turned out unable (or unwilling) to lead the way in Europe, the United States partnered with France to lead Europe. De Gaulle had begun to press for a special relationship with the United States like that enjoyed by Great Britain as early as 1947, with later consequences for its relationship when it failed to do so, even within the context of NATO.
These developments built on Charles de Gaulle’s acceptance of NATO, who Marc Trachtenberg argues accepted the organization because he feared the Soviet Union more than he feared Germany. De Gaulle foresaw a beginning of military alliance with Germany as early as 1945, but continued to oppose it in public due to the power of the French Communist Party. However, de Gaulle was not happy with supranational agreements because of their influence on sovereignty and autonomy. The NATO crisis of 1966-67 was another example of de Gaulle’s attempts to preserve France’s status as a great power while still binding Germany to Europe, as it had increasingly done, as seen in the Elysee Treaty between France and Germany in 1963. Trachtenberg argues that the NATO Crisis had been percolating for four years after de Gaulle had publicly proclaimed that he would review French military participation in NATO. In 1966, he announced France’s withdrawal, and required that NATO forces leave France by April of 1967. The main sticking point seems to be de Gaulle’s distaste for American Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s doctrine of flexible response as a mechanism for responding to war with the Soviet Union. De Gaulle worried that because the United States was distracted with the Vietnam War, it would not act to defend Europe quickly enough, and he was unwilling to risk French security on its ties to NATO.
De Gaulle’s desire for autonomy was behind his insistence that France develop its own nuclear weapons programs, so that it would not be wholly dependent upon the United States for nuclear deterrence in the way Great Britain was. Reasons of geopolitical prestige also drove de Gaulle to ensure that the French Navy developed and maintained its own aircraft carrier after the Suez crisis. In this respect, France reacted in the opposite way of its partner at the Suez, Great Britain. Where Britain withdrew all of its forces East of the Suez, dropped its plan to build and maintain aircraft carriers, and stated that it would no longer act globally without the support of the United States, France became more insistent in declaring its autonomy, even loudly criticizing the American war in Vietnam unlike other NATO allies.
De Gaulle’s greater goal was to lead Europe as an equal to the United States, and claimed to represent all of Europe in negotiations with the Soviet Union to produce closer ties between East and West. To achieve this, de Gaulle proposed a U.S. withdrawal from Europe and a unified Germany within the confines of a French-led Europe. The French global and European role did not end with its exit from NATO. France played important roles in the establishment of the EEC and EU, despite its divisiveness in France. The key debates in promoting this agenda are between those pushing integration due to the need to co-exist with Germany, and those who see a domestic agenda. It is difficult to completely assess the debates within the French government due to the difficulty getting documents under the Fifth Republic.
Craig Parsons argues that we should find our answers to these questions by looking at old Foreign Policy goals. Each decision to surrender sovereignty was made primarily due to pro-community ideals of key policy makers. Schumann could have chosen options other than the ECSC, but they would not have provided the coal or steel needed to fuel the French economy. Similarly, the Treaty of Rome was signed by Foreign Minister Antoine Perry despite the instructions from the government not to, and Francois Mitterrand supported the Single European Act and the European Monetary Union despite opposition from his own party. David Howarth believes that Mitterrand supported Maastricht for geopolitical reasons – to boost the status of France in relation to Germany and the United States.
Outside of Europe, France faced major challenges in maintaining her international position, especially as it pertained to its Empire, renamed the French Union after 1944. European colonies in Africa and Asia had been a source of international tension since the end of the 19th century because established European powers had claimed most areas, leaving none available for emerging powers like Germany to exploit. French colonies played an important role during both World Wars, providing the only territorial base available for Free French forces led by de Gaulle. After World War II, the former colonies provided a new type of international turmoil as France struggled to rebuild and nationalist movements emerged in Asia and Africa. Nationalist struggles in France’s two most important colonies led to bloody wars in Vietnam and Algeria. The source of these struggles was partially due to the war, to the nature of French administration, and partially due to the rhetoric and promises of both de Gaulle and the Vichy regime. Efforts to maintain its dominion over Vietnam and Algeria placed France at diplomatic odds with the United States and Great Britain.
French colonies in Indochina had been conquered by Japan in 1941, but remained under the administration of Vichy personnel for the duration of the war. The war provided a fertile ground for the region’s nationalist movements by showing that European forces could be defeated, but also due to de Gaulle’s 1944 declaration in Brazzaville that colonial peoples would get greater roles in self-determination after the war. Unfortunately for the Vietnamese, their hopes were dashed when the United States went back on FDR’s belief in self-determination for Indochina and assisted France take control of its colony by providing weapons and supplies for French forces. At least through the French withdrawal in 1954, this placed France in debt to the United States in its colonial efforts.
Algeria represents a special case for France in the decolonial era. Due to its long association with France, dating back to 1930, and close proximity, Algeria had become politically integrated into metropolitan France, with its own deputies sitting in the National Assembly. This made it even more difficult for the French to envision letting Algeria go its own way. In many respects, French colons had gone further to make Algeria French than in any other colonies, especially in the case of cities like Bône, where Europeans far outnumbered indigenous Algerians, the streets and plazas had French names, and the economy was two-tiered, with Algerians on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Shepard argues that because of these factors, decolonization had huge consequences for both France and Algeria. The loss of French Algeria in 1962 changed France’s international outlook from one that justified its empire through the belief that French civilization was inherently superior and that morality required France to spread their culture and methods to others (by force, if necessary), to no longer seeing themselves at the center of a universal civilizing project. Social tensions arising from France’s experience in Algeria can still be seen in debates over Muslim women wearing veils and controversies over immigration into France. Shephard believes that the Algerian Revolution was the key to defining the shape (hexagon) and meaning of France.
Through the second half of the Twentieth Century, the French relationship with the United States seems wracked with indecision. On the one hand, during the Cold War, France seemed determined to establish a close relationship with the United States as a key to its security from perceived threats by Germany and the Soviet Union. However, within French culture and French diplomacy, a recurrent thread of anti-Americanism runs. Jeremy Popkin argues that in large part, French anti-Americanism after 1945 was due to France’s very dependence on the United States for security and economic reasons.
Intellectuals, especially Communists like Jean-Paul Sartre, were opposed to both bourgeois society and American influence. Sartre believed that the United States was attempting to politically dominate Europe, and abhorred American culture because he believed that it was hopelessly materialistic. The intrusion of American products, like Coca-cola, into the French market brought French merchants and vintners into the anti-American fold. Economic anti-Americanism reached beyond the 1950s to reach a climax in the 1990s with activists’ attacks on MacDonald’s restaurants, which seemed to be a perfect target for their fears of globalism and American economic domination. Many French producers, intellectuals and politicians decried globalism as an American effort to dominate the world economically and a threat to French culture and institutions.
Philippe Roger argues that French anti-Americanism is not a new phenomenon, dating back to at least the 1890s. He argues that French anti-Americanism is largely self-referential – that criticism of the United States is more about French fears related to internal problems than the United States. The source of the problem, Roger argues is that difference breeds contempt by the French toward Americans. American and French cultures are simultaneously too close and too far from each other. The United States is enough like France (republican, large number of immigrants, many shared ideals) that it is not interesting, but too different to create emotional and intellectual community like that shared between the United States and Great Britain. Even the existence of similar institutions and values cannot convince many French to see Americans as like them.
Roger’s argument seems to typify the French and American relationship since 1945, and may, therefore, define the French role in the world. Both nations pursued similar goals during the Cold War – of integrating Germany into the economic and political systems of Western Europe to ensure peace and stability, of defending the West from Soviet and other aggression, and of keeping the United States engaged in European and global security concerns. Both nations played critical roles in decolonization, where the United States supported French efforts in Vietnam before taking up its own role their. France began to criticize the American war in Vietnam in 1966 – after the United States had made it clear that it would help to negotiate in Algeria, but preferred a solution that split the two nations.
Anti-American and Anti-French feelings come close to mirroring each other. Anti-Americanism reflects fears of globalism, of losing “Frenchness” and the desire to maintain France’s place as a global power. At the same time, Americans resent the lack of French “gratitude” for their efforts on the French behalf during both World Wars and the Cold War (forgetting the French role in the American Revolution), and complain about French arrogance and lack of support in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These last complaints are made largely in ignorance of French support during Operation Desert Storm and the role of French intelligence operatives in providing information to the United States for the Global War on Terror, but provide a soapbox for politicians looking for an easy target, much in the way that left and right intellectuals in France use the United States as a convenient punching bag.