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Why all the knickers-in-a-twist over France?(12 posts)

Why all the knickers-in-a-twist over France?torquer
Feb 12, 2003 8:23 AM
Now I'll be the first to admit that France's military prowess is about on the level of its riders' GC chances in the TdF, not to mention that whole Jerry Lewis thing, but really, what kind of alliance solidarity does this administration expect:

"Having rallied to the American cause after September 11, the NATO liaison officers who arrived at Centcom in Florida had to endure the humiliation of being denied all access to the Command Center where the war against Osama bin Laden was actually being run." (paraphrased/translated from Le Monde, 1/2/02, by Michael Ignatieff in The New York Review of Books, 2/28/02)

Ignatieff goes on to write:
"The (American) empire signs on to those pieces of the transnational legal order that suit its purposes (the WTO, for example), while ignoring or even sabotaging those parts (the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, the ABM Treaty) that do not."

Interesting article in yesterday's New York Times about the American Trade Representative's trying to shove genetically-modified foods down the throats of the EU. I guess its OK to turn a blind eye to Russia's human rights violations in Chechnia, as well as China's behavior just about everywhere, in the name of alliance building, but heaven forbid Monsanto and ADM should be denied market dominance in a part of the world that just doesn't get the whole concept of supersizing. Isn't that what all those Americans died for on Omaha Beach?

On a related, though tangential note: did anyone else notice the bizarre debate going on in Hungary over support for Dubya's big adventure? It seems that, despite overwhelming popular dissapproval for war with Iraq, the Socialist government is vying with Tony Blair to be Dubya's main lap-dog, while the conservative opposition has become the peace party. Talk about unintended consequences!
Americans have and inferiority complex. . .czardonic
Feb 12, 2003 10:59 AM
. . .when it comes to France. The French have been long derided as effete and cowardly by Americans. Witness the relish with which they recount France's dismal military history! You have to ask yourself, Why? To what end does the world's only military super-power lord its military prowess over the world's military laughing stock? Why waste their time?

In a nutshell, we know that we can beat them on our terms, but we also know that we can never beat them on their terms. France is a lover, not a fighter. The French have always enjoyed an image of suave, romance and sophistication. This drives the Americans, with their "might equals right" ethos, insane with envy. The French have made a niche for themselves in the one area of international reputation that can not be dominated by size, wealth or cowboy cocksureness. Add to that, Americans themselves are not immune to that certain French je ne sais quois.

Drawn by so many competing impulses, it is little wonder that American disdain for France has such a curiously incongrouous intensity. They hold a trump card over Americans which Americans disdain, yet can't ignore. Americans despise them for their ability to seduce, despise themselves for being seduced and then despise them all over again for inspiring this self-doubt. France is a reminder that strength can not conquer wit, and that in the end, Love conquers all.
LOL! nmDougSloan
Feb 12, 2003 11:01 AM
One think tank's take (interesting read at least) nmsn69
Feb 12, 2003 11:55 AM
France is frequently a puzzle to Americans. The country's
behavior strikes Americans as unpredictable and designed to
annoy, without being effective. As with all perceptions -- the French view of Americans as simplistic cowboys, for example--there is an element of truth. French behavior is not always predictable in a particular case, but there is a geopolitical driver to French policy that allows the nation's apparent inconsistencies to be understood, if not always reconciled.

France's history and geography have taught its people
contradictory lessons. On one hand, the French deeply fear being controlled by greater powers; on the other, they have neither the weight to single-handedly counterbalance a power like the United States nor the effortless capability of the coalition building needed to create a sustained alternative to greater powers. They therefore operate in contradictory ways over time and at different levels. This behavior derives from geopolitical realities and not, as many Americans might believe, out of sheer malice.

U.S.-French relations have sunk to their lowest level since 1942, when the United States fought French troops in North Africa. Washington wants to invade Iraq, arguing it is in the United States' fundamental interest. France, formally an ally of the United States through NATO, is -- at least for now -- utterly opposed to the invasion. In effect, one ally is opposing an action the other ally regards as critical to its interests. That is not a stance that an ally takes frivolously, and France is not a frivolous country. Therefore, there is a logic to the French position that both transcends the current situation and that can
be understood.

To understand French geopolitics, one must understand France's great near-triumph in the 19th century and the two extraordinary catastrophes that overwhelmed the country in the 20th century. Napoleonic France nearly conquered all of Europe, and with it an unprecedented global empire, but all ended in disaster. The two World Wars of the 20th century cost France first, a generation of men, and second, its sovereignty until liberated by the allies. French history for the past two centuries has been the history of
extremes, from near-triumph to near-annihilation.

For France, the fundamental geopolitical problem was to the east, across the North German Plain and into Russia. France, having achieved a coherent national unification, confronted a Europe that presented either strategic opportunities that diminished France's resources to exploit or dangers that France could not deal with alone. Before German unification, Europe became a vacuum that dragged Napoleon in almost uncontrollably. The first steps toward securing the nation's frontiers created an opportunity for France to be drawn ever deeper into the east, until its resources were depleted. After German unification, France faced a reverse crisis -- in which the resources to the east moved west against it.

In the first case, France reached for empire and then collapsed. In the former case, France was forced to reach for allies. The problem and solution was Great Britain, which was interested in maintaining the balance of power in Europe. London did not care who won, so long as no one did. When France tried for empire, it was Great Britain -- protected by the English Channel from Napoleonic power -- that manipulated and underwrote Napoleon's defeat. When Germany threatened to dominate Europe in two world wars, it was the British who aligned themselves with France to prevent that from happening.

From Paris' point of view, limits to French power have led the country either toward direct calamity or to alliances that resulted in agony. The French experience of history is between dominance, which it cannot attain by itself, and alliance, which tends to work against France. Paris understands that it cannot stand alone. It also deeply distrusts any alliance. For the French, outs
Part 2sn69
Feb 12, 2003 12:02 PM
From Paris' point of view, limits to French power have led the country either toward direct calamity or to alliances that resulted in agony. The French experience of history is between dominance, which it cannot attain by itself, and alliance, which tends to work against France. Paris understands that it cannot stand alone. It also deeply distrusts any alliance. For the French, outsiders who take fewer risks than Paris use France as a foil against the east.

French foreign policy, particularly since the end of World War II, has been a search for an alliance in which France has the deciding hand. The United States replaced Britain as the great outside power, which both threatened French interests but also was indispensable. Paris distrusted and depended on the United States, much as it had Britain. This was not a French neurosis -- it was French geopolitical reality, borne of being trapped on a continent it could neither dominate nor trust to restrain from attempts to dominate it. France needed an ally outside the continent, but could not really trust that ally either.

The pivotal figure of post-war French history was Charles de Gaulle, who more than anyone represented this dilemma in French foreign policy. He spoke for the Napoleonic claims of France, knowing perfectly well that they were beyond his reach. It was de Gaulle who abandoned Algeria and empire, even while speaking of French grandeur. It was Napoleon who simultaneously reduced French exposure while asserting French power. As such, he was simply the expression of French geopolitical reality: too much power not to assert influence; too little power to stand alone.

For de Gaulle, the central premise was that France -- or any other nation-state, for that matter -- ultimately could not relinquish its sovereign right to national security to a multinational organization. France was part of NATO, a
transnational organization which, under its charter and internal agreements, would treat an attack on one member as an attack on all. Thus, if the Soviet Union invaded Germany, all NATO members would automatically consider themselves in a state of war with the Soviet Union.

The United States dominated NATO. The country was the major
economic power, and it had the greatest military force. Most important, it controlled the nuclear weapons that were the final guarantor against a Soviet invasion. The American guarantee -- never tested -- was that if the Soviets invaded Western Europe, the United States would regard it as an attack on American soil and retaliate with a nuclear attack, accepting the Soviet nuclear counterattack.
This repelled de Gaulle in two ways. First, he had no objection to alliance, but the automatic mechanisms of NATO alarmed him. The idea that France, without a final say, could find itself at war simply because the NATO council in Brussels passed down a judgment was anathema to him. He withdrew France from the military committee of NATO -- but not from NATO itself -- because he believed French sovereignty could not be subordinated in any way to a multinational body.

His second reservation was to the idea that the United States would be willing to suffer a nuclear holocaust to defend Europe. The United States, like France, had to defend its national interests first. Therefore, while it was in Washington's interest to convince the Soviets -- and Europe -- that it would automatically commit suicide to defend Europe, de Gaulle did not believe that in the final moment the United States would go through with it. At the very least, it was an unreliable presupposition that risked France's national security. Therefore, de Gaulle undertook to construct France's own nuclear forces, with a purpose, in his words, to at least "tear off the arm" of anyone who would threaten France again.

De Gaulle operated on two principles: The first was an
unwillingness to abandon French sovereignty again, regardless of the reason; the second wa
Part 3sn69
Feb 12, 2003 12:05 PM
De Gaulle operated on two principles: The first was an
unwillingness to abandon French sovereignty again, regardless of the reason; the second was to keep from basing France's sovereignty or self-interest on any other nation -- knowing that in the end, no commitment could cause a nation to act in any way other than in its own self-interest. The French image of Dunkirk always has been one of abandonment by allies. De Gaulle had no intention of making France the object of invasion or dependent on allies with their own interests to pursue.

There was another dimension to de Gaulle's thinking. The United States reacted to France's withdrawal from NATO's military structure with anger. U.S. strategy was to contain the Soviets, and containment required both an alliance system and deterrence -- convincing the Soviets that NATO's response would be automatic. Washington regarded Paris' behavior as undermining both strategies. De Gaulle had cracked the alliance and undermined the critical automation of deterrence. Washington saw France as giving the Soviets an opening to split the alliance. De Gaulle did not intend to split the alliance, but he did intend to rectify what he saw as an imbalance of power between the Soviets and the United States. From the French standpoint, the United States had succeeded in containing the Soviets. In fact,
the containment was so effective that the United States now
towered above the Soviet Union in terms of power. From de
Gaulle's standpoint, while he was certainly a committed anti-communist and did not intend to tilt too far, he intended to tilt France sufficiently to redress some of the imbalance. His interests were not theoretical. The world was in disequilibria: The United States had great power, and NATO had curtailed France's freedom to act independently. A less powerful United States and more powerful Soviet Union would be in French interests. The United States, which never genuinely felt it had
the upper hand during most of the Cold War, saw France's actions as threatening Western security.

A broader application of the Gaullist balance of power theory was to create a united Europe that could serve as the balance between the United States and the Soviet Union. For France, this was an incredibly complex issue. On one side, given France's relative weakness, it made geopolitical sense. On the other side, given France's desire to never again lose its sovereignty, it made
little sense. From a purely economic standpoint, there was little choice.

The result is the current bizarre structure of Europe. On one side, Europe has become a real concept: Much of Europe is integrated into a single economic entity, with a single currency and central bank. Yet at the same time, none of the members, least of all France, has given up sovereignty. The only unified defense force and policy is centered on NATO, which is incongruent with the European Union. In a conceptual sense, the idea of Europe is chaotic, with different aspects on every subject. Yet it matches neatly France's own complexity -- its aspiration to lead a united Europe, its fear of abandoning its national sovereignty to others. More than anything, the conceptual crazy-quilt of Europe resembles the French dilemma.

There is one idea fixed in the French mind that remains
unchanged, however -- the notion of geopolitical equilibrium. If in 1958, de Gaulle was made uneasy by American power and the loss of French sovereignty, then one can only imagine how the current French leadership looks at the world. Where the United States once stood over France, it now towers. And unlike 1958, where there was a Soviet Union that could dilute U.S. power and attention, nothing like that exists today. The United States essentially is contained only by its own fears and appetites.

For France, the most important task is to limit unbridled
American power. Without that, its worst nightmare, loss of
sovereignty, rears its he
Part 4sn69
Feb 12, 2003 12:10 PM
For France, the most important task is to limit unbridled
American power. Without that, its worst nightmare, loss of
sovereignty, rears its head while its deepest hope -- reaching again for European power -- is blocked. Therefore, the only logical step for France is to try to create a coalition to block the Americans, and try to stand fast as U.S. power erodes that coalition. For France, the time since the end of the Cold War has been a bad dream. The time since Sept. 11, 2001, has been an utter nightmare.

France's behavior is inherently contradictory. On one side, it wants to build an anti-American coalition. On the other side, coalition building simply on the basis of national self-interest is hard when dealing with a power the size of the United States. French recourse to multilateralism, ironic in the light of its Gaullist past and national imperatives, points to France's dilemma and its limits. France wants to build a concert of nations in which its own national sovereignty is guaranteed and its right to pursue its national interests is recognized.

Therefore, France behaves in a completely predictable fashion. It will resist the United States vigorously, seeking to limit its global, hegemonic power. It will seek to build coalitions with other nations. However, because it reserves the right to pursue its own national self-interest, the coalitions tend to dissolve -- leaving France to face the United States impotently or to pursue its national self-interest and make its peace with the
United States.

France wishes more than anything to be sovereign. Its
sovereignty, however, is insufficient to guarantee its national self-interest. By itself, it cannot control its destiny; it must be part of something greater. But in being part of something greater, the temptation to make that large thing uniquely French strains the edifice. Without that impulse, however, France's nightmare comes to the fore -- saving itself by losing itself to something more important than France. Paris' behavior is neither
mysterious nor unpredictable. It is, however, incapable of
shaping history. France is caught between decisions it cannot make.

Therefore, France's operational pattern is to resist anything that impinges on its understanding of its national interest. The problem is that its national interests cannot be achieved alone, and therefore it requires accommodation. Its national interest is torn between resistance and accommodation. This creates a pattern that is unsettling to all concerned. The Iraqis, who thought they could rely on France, will be surprised that France, in the end, ultimately will prove to be an ineffective defender. The United States, which sees France increasingly as an adversary, will be bemused as the country realigns itself and eventually claims -- and indeed will believe -- that it has always been in the last position it occupies.

For France, Iraq represents two national interests. First, it has direct national interests in Iraq -- oil, defense and other markets. Second, and more important, France understands that a U.S. occupation of Iraq would shift the global balance of power even more in the favor of the United States. It is therefore in the French national interest to resist. At the same time, all-out resistance is impossible. By the nature of its foreign policy, France finds it difficult to hold together coalitions. Standing
alone, France cannot resist the United States, nor can it resist a rupture with the United States.

France will resist the United States with all of its might -- but recognizing the limits of its might, it ultimately will capitulate, formally or informally. France will carry out its policies on multiple levels -- opposing on one, cooperating on another. It will appear to be perfidious, as the current term would have it, but it is simply torn in multiple directions, torn by competing geography, dreams and nightmares. France will move very qui
...and finally...sn69
Feb 12, 2003 12:15 PM
France will resist the United States with all of its might -- but recognizing the limits of its might, it ultimately will capitulate, formally or informally. France will carry out its policies on multiple levels -- opposing on one, cooperating on another. It will appear to be perfidious, as the current term would have it, but it is simply torn in multiple directions, torn by competing geography, dreams and nightmares. France will move very quickly in many directions during any crisis. In the end, it will wind up where it began. France appears insufferable, but it is merely trapped by geography and history
Fascinating and, as far as I can tell, accurateMcAndrus
Feb 12, 2003 1:46 PM
I just finished a very good book called "An Army at Dawn" about the American-British invasion of North Africa. There is a lot of information in it regarding France's position as being essentially hopeless: occupied by a hostile power at home, desiring a national identity and pride, and faced with nominally friendly powers more than willing to fight it for possession of a North African position to use to attack the Axis.

The book has story after story of several French admirals and generals who wanted to command either a) all of the Allied forces or b) at least all of the Free French forces.

In the end the Free French were subsumed into the American and British armies. A demeaning end for them.
Fascinating and, as far as I can tell, accuratesn69
Feb 12, 2003 2:37 PM
I decided to leave out all of the endnote annotations. I think it's fairly accurate, although I'm going to try to hunt for similar info from RAND and CNA. I'll let you know what I find.
interesting readDougSloan
Feb 12, 2003 2:10 PM
I'm curious, though; aren't there many (or most) countries troubled by the sovereignty/alliance issue? Why is France singled out?

Doug
Perhaps because they were never signateurs tosn69
Feb 12, 2003 2:36 PM
NATO. Speaking of which, isn't it odd that Javier Solana hasn't weighed-in on behalf of the alliance with any substance? Article 5 stipulates that an attack on one is an attack on all (I had to read the charter once for a grad school class), but it doesn't cover pre-emptive actions.

We discussed this today at work. A great many of the heavies are convinced that there's some serious back-door politicing going on and deals being cut.