Studying France’s defence policy

I published two articles in the Journal of Strategic Studies on France’s defence policy. They are part of a special issue on France in the transatlantic security order I guest-edited, and which includes articles from Alice Pannier (US-UK-France relations), Stephanie Hofmann (French party politics and policies towards NATO), Olivier Chopin (intelligence reform), and Élie Tenenbaum (irregular warfare).

Below are the abstracts and the links to the two articles, available in open access thanks to the SDU library.

“The Reluctant Atlanticist: France’s Security and Defence Policy in a Transatlantic Context” (link) (pdf)

This article introduces the key tenets of French foreign and security policy during the Cold War, and illustrates the deep challenges to the French consensus raised by the emergence of a unipolar system. There is a growing gap between the rhetoric of French security policy, emphasizing ‘autonomy’ and ‘sovereignty’ out of habit from the Cold War, and the actual security practices showing a gradual embedding within the transatlantic security structures. In the absence of a new transpartisan grand narrative relevant for the contemporary international system, such embedding is easily portrayed in France as a ‘treason’ from a romanticized Gaullist foreign policy.

“French Military Adaptation in the Afghan War: Looking Inward or Outward?” (link) (pdf)

For some, a specific feature of the French armed forces’ adaptation process would be the capacity to look inward instead of outward in order to identify relevant solutions to tactical/doctrinal problems. This article questions such a narrative, and argues that the French armed forces are as quick as any to borrow from other countries’ experiences. In order to do so, this article introduces the concept of ‘selective emulation’, and compares the French and German military adaptation processes in Afghanistan. The article argues that there is indeed something distinctive about French military adaptation, but it is not what the fiercest defenders of the French ‘exceptionalism’ usually account for.

FJSS

“Cheese-eating surrender monkeys?”

I attended the last International Studies Association (ISA) annual meeting in San Diego, and participated in a roundtable I helped to organize entitled “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys? Reassessing the French contribution to international security”.

The aim of the roundtable, chaired by my thesis supervisor Theo Farrell, was to bring together French and American scholars and have them discuss France’s role on the international stage in a funny, friendly, and provocative way.

The French team consisted of Prof. Pascal Vennesson (European University Institute), Prof. Frédéric Charillon (IRSEM) and I. The US team was made up of two big guns realists: John Mearsheimer (U. Chicago) and William Wohlworth (Darthmouth College).

The discussion was quite interesting. Pascal Vennesson showed that France’s return to NATO was just a normalization, since the majority of the recent French military interventions were already happening in a NATO framework. Frédéric Charillon argued that France was facing the traditional dilemma of middle-range powers: how to reinvent the ways to matter on the international stage when France’s power (measured by traditional indicators such as military power, economy, size of the population, etc.) is seen has gradually diminishing? I tried to list the main issues in contemporary international security, and to show that in most of them (the notable exception being the Israel-Palestine conflict), France was playing an arguably positive role. Moreover, France’s “immaterial” resources (I don’t like the term “soft power”) also matter: for example, France is one of the very rare countries at the UN to be able to draft an entire UNSC resolution in both French and English, hence setting the agenda in some ways.

John Mearsheimer adopted a historic look at France’s role, and argued that it was gradually diminishing over the last two centuries, because of a relative French decline in the traditional indicators of power. Basically, he thought that France did not matter anymore, a view consistent with his own theory of international politics. Of course, the three Frenchmen on the panel begged to differ and offered a more nuanced appraisal. William Wohlworth asked why France was so irritating to the US public and argued that it was because France behaved pretty much as predicted by the realist theory of international politics, which did not fit into the American liberal narrative on foreign policy. Hence the framing of France’s behavior as an issue of betrayal or reliability instead of an issue of diverging or shared interests. Wohlworth also tried to balance Mearsheimer’s view, arguing that it is only compared to the US that France appears weak, and that the French voice in the world still matters a lot.

The debate with the audience covered topics such as the Anglo-French defense treaties, France’s relations with Germany or the state of the French armed forces.

Overall, an interesting and funny debate.

From left to right: William C. Wohlworth, John Mearsheimer, Theo Farrell, myself, Frédéric Charillon and Pascal Vennesson