France’s Strategy – StratforFrance

some excerpts below:

France’s Strategy
May 15, 2012 | 0900 GMT

Stratfor

By George Friedman

New political leaders do not invent new national strategies. Rather, they adapt enduring national strategies to the moment. On Tuesday, Francois Hollande will be inaugurated as France’s president, and soon after taking the oath of office, he will visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. At this moment, the talks are expected to be about austerity and the European Union, but the underlying issue remains constant: France’s struggle for a dominant role in European affairs at a time of German ascendance.

Two events shaped modern French strategy. The first, of course, was the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and the emergence of Britain as the world’s dominant naval power and Europe’s leading imperial power. This did not eliminate French naval or imperial power, but it profoundly constrained it. France could not afford to challenge Britain any more and had to find a basis for accommodation, ending several centuries of hostility if not distrust.

The second moment came in 1871 when the Prussians defeated France and presided over the unification of German states. After its defeat, France had to accept not only a loss of territory to Germany but also the presence of a substantial, united power on its eastern frontier. From that moment, France’s strategic problem was the existence of a unified Germany.

France had substantial military capabilities, perhaps matching and even exceeding that of Germany. However, France’s strategy for dealing with Germany was to build a structure of alliances against Germany. First, it allied with Britain, less for its land capabilities than for the fact that Britain’s navy could blockade Germany and therefore deter it from going to war. The second ally was Russia, the sheer size of which could threaten Germany with a two-front war if one began. Between its relationships with Britain and Russia, France felt it had dealt with its strategic problem.


Charles de Gaulle recognized that France was incapable of competing with the United States and the Soviet Union on the global stage. At the same time, he wanted France to retain its ability to act independently of the two major powers if necessary. Part of the motivation was nationalism. Part of it was a distrust of the Americans. The foundation of post-war American and European defense policy was the containment of the Soviet Union. The strategy was predicated on the assumption that, in the event of a Soviet invasion, European forces supported by Americans would hold the Soviets while the United States rushed reinforcements to Europe. As a last resort, the United States had guaranteed that it would use nuclear weapons to block the Soviets.

De Gaulle was not convinced of the American guarantees, in part because he simply didn’t see them as rational. The United States had an interest in Europe, but it was not an existential interest. De Gaulle did not believe that an American president would risk a nuclear counterattack on the United States to save Germany or France. It might risk conventional forces, but they may not be enough. De Gaulle believed that if Western Europe simply relied on American hegemony without an independent European force, Europe would ultimately fall to the Soviets. He regarded the American guarantees as a bluff.

This was not because he was pro-Soviet. Quite the contrary, one of his priorities upon taking power in 1945 was blocking the Communists. France had a powerful Communist Party whose members had played an important role in the resistance against the Nazis. De Gaulle thought that a Communist government in France would mean the end of an independent Europe. West Germany, caught between a Communist France supplied with Soviet weapons and the Red Army in the east, would be isolated and helpless. The Soviets would impose hegemony.

Nonetheless, he understood that France by itself could not withstand the Soviets. He also knew that neither the West Germans nor the British would be easily persuaded to create an alliance with France designed to unite Europe into one alliance structure able to defend itself. De Gaulle settled on the next best strategy, which was developing independent military capabilities sufficient to deter a Soviet attack on French territory without coming to the Americans for help. The key was an independent nuclear force able, in de Gaulle’s words, to “tear an arm off” if the Russians attacked. Mistrustful of the Americans, he hoped that a French nuclear arsenal would deter the Soviets from moving beyond the Rhine River if they invaded West Germany.

De Gaulle supported economic integration as well as an independent European defense capability. But he objected to any idea that would cost France any element of its sovereignty. Treaties signed by sovereign nations could be defined, redefined and if necessary abandoned. Confederation or federation meant a transfer of sovereignty and the loss of decision-making at a national level, the inability to withdraw from the group and the inability of the whole to expel a part.

Read the whole analysis here: France’s Strategy | Stratfor

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