I am neither a fan nor a foe of the French though their political maneuvers over the past few weeks have done nothing to endear that nation to me; however, it is incumbent upon any person who seeks to comment on politics and current events to step back and take a long, dispassionate look at what is happening.

I believe the case can be made that the major sin of the French government is that it recognized the shape of the new reality before the US and the United Kingdom were ready to have it do so. Many in the United States have been very vocal in the opinion that both the United Nations and NATO are old alliances that make no sense given the current situation. The governments of the US and the UK likely share this view to some degree; however, it seems that they have been willing to attempt to bend the old institutions to serve the needs of new situations, and to see them eventually break under the strain if that was what was required. Take that attitude, translate it in to French, and suddenly the machinations of those people in Paris and Berlin do not seem quite so irrational.

NATO and the United Nations were born of a bipolar world where two super entities stood in ideological opposition, but with similar goals. The great contest that was the Cold War made NATO, the Warsaw Pact and the UN both necessary and viable. NATO and the Warsaw Pact served to roughly define the boundaries of the conflicting ideologies and the UN served as a vital release valve that allowed both sides to cooperate when absolutely required under the umbrella of a pseudo-supranational body. The United Nations offered a forum whereby grievances could be aired, strategies proposed, and treaties struck while always giving each major power block the ability to halt anything diametrically opposed to their own self interest.

It worked because world politics were so structured as to make it work. Eventually though, catastrophe struck: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed under the weight of a massively mismanaged economy. In the maelstrom that followed the Warsaw Pact dissolved (an event that I suspect placed those nations well ahead of the curve of the NATO members) and lacking any other world-girdling socialist system to step in to the power vacuum, the United States was left as the world’s sole superpower.

Suddenly there was no bipolar world, but the detritus of that world still remained in the form of the old western alliance and the United Nations. Both NATO and the United Nations had lost their old callings and the only thing left to them was to reign in American power. Unfortunately for those bodies, they are utterly inadequate to the task.

The European Union (led by France) sought to position itself as a rival power to the US and her closest allies. In a post modernist world they felt they could build the economic and political power required to check what they considered to be a vibrant yet culturally inferior America. They thought they had time. They were wrong: the ruins of the Caliphate, fueled by petrodollars and Cold War legacies of weapons and training, were stirring to the call of reactionary elements which viewed the west as an evil to eradicated.

After September 11, 2001, the US knew what she needed to do and the post modern EU was forced to go along. This left a terrible aftertaste in the mouths of the EU leaders as they had allowed this “cowboy” nation to run roughshod over them on its way to fight a war. When attention turned to Iraq the French in particular apparently understood that the only way the UN and NATO could be used to reign in the US/UK alliance was to sacrifice those bodies upon the altar of European power and position themselves to possess a solid grasp on power in whatever new body or bodies eventually emerge.

Taken in that light, it seems to me that France’s actions possess a certain element of rationality.

The truly interesting part has yet to unfold. Assuming that the US and the UK move forward without the UN and NATO there will follow several years (at least two, anyhow) of agonizing death-throes for those two organizations. The EU (or what remains of it once the NATO split is complete) could be forced to build a military of its own, or else come to terms with the idea of relying upon the Russians for their muscle. Keep in mind that many Eastern European nations will likely be unwilling in the extreme to become a part of an organization that relies on Russian troops to maintain order. While Russian troops are vastly inferior to modern western (read that US and UK) armies, they are not so inconsiderable in relation to what the EU is likely to have on hand when the dust settles. Part of the price will likely be the curtailment of the grand socialism that Europe enjoyed as a protectorate of the United States.

Keep in mind that during and after this realignment there will still be reactionary forces to be dealt with and that none of them have any more love for Europe than they do for the United States.

Afterword: Mr. Den Beste has a different take on what may have happened to bring NATO and the UN to this point. As always, his analysis is thorough and engaging.

8 Responses to “France”

  1. Your thesis would be stronger if the French anti-American policies were of recent origin, but they go back a long way. De Gaulle was making France a thorn in the US side as early as the early ’60s. He at least was aware that when the chips were down France had to side with the US. His successors have not been so acute or sophisticated.

    The current French attampts to do down American power are the culmination of many, often treacherous ones. An example of that would be the warning of wanted Serbian war criminals in the Balkans. Another might be the refusal of French aircraft to carry out assigned bombing missions in Afghanistan. The puzzling thing is that these acts often seem to bear no relation to any actual French national interest. It is as if the French government sees ticking off the US as an desireable act in and of itself, not as furthering some deeper interest. Thus their poicies give the impression of being those of naive, immature, and shortsighted people, indeed of ones who are remarkably simplistic.

  2. You made a statement about buidling thier own military, or relying on the Russians. There is a severe problem with both.

    Relying on Russia, as you note is something that many of the eastern europeans are loathe to do for good reason. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

    Buidling their own means investing, spending money that is now going to the large social welfare system and/or dismantling many of the business regulations in place now. Neither of which appears to be viable in the present pollitcal climate.

    So, breaking with the US and UK means what? Becoming even more impotent than they already are, and waiting for the day when the reactionary forces rise up and once again the call to America for rescue. Will we be there next time? That is uncertain.

    The France that helped us during the Revolutionary war and gave us the Statue of Liberty is dead. We might as well get used to it.

  3. “In a post modernist world they felt they could build the economic and political power required to check what they considered to be a vibrant yet *culturally inferior* America.”

    ” This left a terrible aftertaste in the mouths of the EU leaders as they had allowed this “cowboy” nation to run roughshod over them on its way to fight a war. ”

    “Taken in that light, it seems to me that France’s actions possess a certain element of rationality.”

    The US threatens the socialist/”dirigiste” EU with embarrassment by being more economically successful.

    The “reborn Caliphate” threatens the EU with guns, bombs, ricin, anthrax, and serious plans of introducing Sharia to Europe in under 50 years supported by a demographic time-bomb.

    To choose to side with the Caliphate rather than the US out of spite, pique, and cultural snobbery may be “understandable.”

    But it sure as hell aint “rational.”

  4. In response to both of you I would posit that the French are under no obligation to behave in a manner that makes sense to Americans, nor are they obligated to keep foremost in their minds what America wants. The US certainly has reasons to hope that the French would be more accommodating, but since they never have been before, why should anyone expect things to be different today?

    I am not delusional enough to believe that my own thesis is the beginning and end of the equation driving French and German diplomacy in the post-post-modern age. When dealing with human beings it is imperative to remember that there are not two, or three or even four sides to every story; rather there are many multitudes of determinant factors. Theories are proposed in an effort to impose some sort of order on an inherently disorderly construct, but in imposing order, they invariably introduce errors in perception that must be recognized in order to keep the model somewhat valid.

    I like Mr. Den Beste’s theory, as well as Mr. Green’s (Vodka Pundit). I believe that theirs and mine all possess certain validity in that one can take a view from any of those three positions and easily incorporate the other two to form a broader and more complete picture. Just bear in mind that even that synthesis would be flawed as all theories of human behavior are.

    As to the formation of a EU military force, I believe I did mention that it would come at the cost of the vaunted European social safety net, regardless of whether they began from scratch or simply chose to fund the Russians. It is my view that the French and Germans may have seen the coming demise of NATO and the UN and hence acted in a manner that accepted that eventual outcome; however, I doubt that much thought has gone in to the aftermath (this blends quite nicely with Mr. Den Beste’s theory of cultural differences being magnified by events). I suspect they did not expect this to blow up so quickly. Remember that just a couple of years ago the EU was working towards the idea of a post-modern national entity whose influence was primarily through diplomacy and economic forces, with a limited military. It has been pointed out ad nauseum that there is no diplomatic force if there is not military threat, but the Europeans seem to be locked in a state of denial on this point.

    Despite all of the above what would be the value, from the French perspective, of straining to maintain NATO if doing so meant weakening their position in what they hope to build through the EU? If they believe that NATO and the UN are finished, what else should they do in order to cement their position in whatever emerges? It appears that the idea of being second-fiddle to the US is not something they fell they can tolerate.

  5. Ralph,

    It is rational if one believes that they are not siding with the reactionaries, but simply staking out their own political ground in a post-NATO Europe, AND they believe that the threat posed by those reactionaries is not entirely real, at least not to them. I would agree that the second point is not terribly grounded in reality, but that does not mean that the French and Germans do not honestly believe it.

  6. One kvetch: Your statement that the “UN was born in a bipolar world” is incorrect. The UN came into existence a couple years before the bipolar world emerged, hence the multipolar composition of the UN Security Council. The emergence of bipolarity then froze the ability of the UN to operate, but it is incorrect that to state that the UN’s institutional structure reflects this bipolarity. Similarly, the UN did not effectively act as a safety valve because it could not actually implement anything. Rather, it was one theater (in both the dramatic and military senses) in which the Cold War was fought.

    Generally, though, your assessment of French motives is good. But it’s not merely a matter of the French perceiving the new reality earlier than others. It’s also that the French were flushed out of their position of cover with NATO before they were ready. Clearly they have been seeking to build up the EU as an alternative to the US for years, and equally clearly they would have been willing to sacrifice NATO once the time was right. But one of the most useful (and perhaps not unintended) effects of forcing the Iraq issue now was to expose the French before they were ready. This explains why the declaration of the Euro 8 was such a blow to the French and caused such a wild reaction — it demonstrated that the EU was nowhere near forming a coherent block against the US. In a similar vein, the Vilnius 10 declaration was a preemptive strike against France playing the Russia card — it’s going to be pretty hard for France, Germany and Russia to form a unified counterweight to the US when US forces are stationed in every country between the Rhein and Russia.

  7. Minor kvetches are the whetstone of refined debate. I choose to maintain my perspective on the United Nations- yes, it formed from the Allied powers after WWII, but its existence was defined by the Cold War as it served as a catch-all debating forum with little power to act forcefully in any way. Its current and growing irrelevance is a reflection of its inability to adapt to a changing world.

    And thank-you to all who chose to comment.

  8. The above comments were all first posted on 02/12/2003 before re-posting here.