Gaullism and Neogaullism: Foreign Policy Continuity and Dynamics in France

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Article describes the main priorities and objectives of foreign policy of Gaullism and neogaullism, trying to underline those elements that remain untouched during the decades and those that have been transformed due to the changes on the international arena. Besides, the authors focus on the notion of “grandeur” that was extensively used by the general de Gaulle, and estimate the direct influence of this concept on the French foreign policy. The main foreign policy priorities of Charles de Gaulle include independent foreign policy, status quo change in the bipolar world and great power status regain. Foreign policy priorities of neogaullists, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, haven’t been changed so far, but the ways of achieving goals are different now. Both presidents have been trying to develop the EU integration, even through strengthening the supranational institutions, and develop the integration with NATO (Sarkozy even returned France to the military structures of NATO). France, led by neogaullists, also conducted an active policy in the Mediterranean, cooperating not only with traditional partners (Arab states) but making attempts to restore relations with Israel. Sarkozy launched the idea of the Mediterranean Union that had the aim to strengthen the influence of France in the region, boost cooperation with Mediterranean countries and solve the numerous problems that all of them were facing. But this idea wasn’t realized as it was supposed to. In general, neogaullists follow the main principles of Charles de Gaulle, also responding to the current challenges. It’s worth mentioning that the authors analyze the foreign policy of French presidents holistically from the point of view of neogaullism, trying to evaluate the level of continuity during the decades and conclude whether the provisions of Gaullism are relevant for France in the 21st century.


Gaullism, as a special foreign policy phenomenon in modern France, represents a rather flexible political direction, with concrete and clear fundamental principles. Vitality and flexibility of the Gaullism can be explained due to several factors. Firstly, Gaullism has several dimensions: historical (appeared in the period of the Resistance, giving a reference to the period of Jeanne d’Arc, Clemenceau government 1917), philosophical (opposing voluntarism to fatalism) and political (political idea of the general de Gaulle and his successors, political actions of Gaullists). Secondly, political actions of Charles de Gaulle do not fully reflect the variety of his political ideas. In this context, the research question arises: does Gaullism present pragmatic actions of Charles de Gaulle during his staying in power or it could better and fully demonstrated through his political ideas presented in doctrines, reflections and memoirs? Even despite these difficulties, the key foreign policy principles of Gaullism could be understood as “ideas, determination and action”1. According to the Constitution of the Fifth republic2, the foreign policy of France is determined by the Elysee palace, although it is conducted not only by the president. Parliament and government also play a great role in the foreign policy realization, but starting from 1959, the president comes to the fore. After the 2008 constitutional reform, the “Parliament also needs to take part in French diplomacy”, nevertheless, president still plays a key role in the determining the foreign policy objectives, to say nothing of the Charles de Gaulle presidency, who had established the main provisions of Gaullism. French foreign policy at those times was fully based on the idea of the “grandeur” of France that laid the further foundation for the foreign policy strategy of the general. The idea of the “grandeur” was transformed by the general into a national idea, but one could hardly define it in a single way. What is for sure, that it had nothing to do with Fascism or Nazism and does not refer to the superiority of the French over other nations. As de Gaulle stated, “France can’t be France without grandeur”3. It can be concluded that for the general this idea of the grandeur is national sovereignty of France, based on strong national and military power as well as on the changing of the world order, where all the decisions are taken by two superpowers [Vaïsse 1998: 34]. National sovereignty and the necessity to restore the influence of France on the international arena contributed to the development of other foreign policy principles of the general. This idea is characterized by many researches and political figures, for instance Edouard Balladur, as pragmatic4. National independence is the indispensable condition for the state to be able to influence and form international trends, and be independent in taking foreign policy decisions. France has always been stick to the principles of independence and national sovereignty, not integrating entirely to the NATO, not taking without preliminary consultations the decisions of Anglo-Saxons, etc. Even in the realization of European policy France has been demonstrating its own independent approach. De Gaulle accepted those provisions of the Rome treaty that were set to establish the Common market, as it was a possibility for France to modernize its economic structure and then strengthen its position in the world politics. But he was firmly against the development of supranational institutions that could threaten the sovereignty of the country [Gaillard 2010: 81]. Taking into consideration the international bodies and alliances, it’s necessary to take into account one more key position of the general. He realized that without strong Europe France couldn’t claim to be a strong power that would be listened to by the USA and the USSR, having, of course, the decisive vote on the political topics of that period. At the same time de Gaulle was against the hegemony of two confronting blocks determining the world agenda. According to this perceptions, the stability of the world is determined by the multipolar system where there are other centers of power and one of these centers had to be France being the leader of the united Europe [Vaïsse 1998: 34]. But the general had his own views on the functioning of the international organizations, in particular the European Communities. This was the reason for his refusal to change the system of voting in the EC from the unanimous adoption to the majority system. As a result, the EC had to adopt the “Luxembourg compromise” as a response to the empty chair crisis. Although there were some disagreements between de Gaulle and his partners about the project of the united Europe, he realized that only the united Europe can help France to become one of the centers of power on the international arena [Gaillard 2010: 87]. The next condition for the independent policy and national sovereignty is the quality of the national defense system. For the general, the effectiveness of the defense policy and the effectiveness of the foreign policy are two interlinked notions. That’s why, when he became a president in 1959, de Gaulle defined one of the strategic goals the creation of nuclear weapon, by France itself without any help from the USA. This decision had two consequences: finally French nuclear weapons were more expensive in comparison with the British WMD, as GB got the American support, but France was entirely independent in taking decisions how to use these means of intimidation. The last point was very important for gaullists who regarded nuclear arms as the possibility for survival in the framework of Cold War. This means that each state can use this power at first for its own survival and only then provide security of its allies [Narochnitskaya 2015]. The issue of nuclear weapons was one of the key security factors of that time. For the general, WMD represented mainly the political instrument. He realized that the amount of French nuclear weapons would not allow starting a real nuclear war against USSR, but at the same time it could be used during the negotiations, as the potential threat to Moscow from Paris could have been rather significant. According to calculations, French armament was able to destroy 10 big cities of the USSR and only a quarter of the industrial potential. Even these numbers had to make Soviet government think in case of a serious conflict. Besides, having nuclear weapons is primordial for a great power [Vaïsse 1998: 47]. The second task of de Gaulle was the refusal of the military integration in NATO. According to the general, every country has to remain control in security and defense sphere due to two reasons. Firstly, independent defense policy reflects the national interests of the state and can’t be identical to the defense policy of others states, members of the Alliance. That’s why France didn’t support the presence of the military bases on its territory and in 1958 was firmly against the usage of its air force base by the USA to conduct the military operation in the Middle East outside the NATO zone. The permanent presence of the American partners on the territory of the country, regular flights over the territory were the cause to call for the reform of NATO in 1958 and in 1966 France left the military structures of the Alliance. Protecting the national sovereignty in the framework of its defense, France wasn’t against the cooperation in this sphere (standardization of the armament, common logistic system, etc.). Paris only tried to preserve subjectness in taking decisions in this sphere [Vaïsse 2009a]. As concluding remarks on the French foreign policy the following assumptions should be mentioned. At first, declaring the grandeur of France and its sovereignty in international affairs, the general realized that France couldn’t be called a superpower under any circumstances and couldn’t be placed in the same row with the USA and the USSR. It didn’t have either great industry or labor force or vast territory. At the same time, de Gaulle was sure that France could be one of the world leading powers also having great influence on the world order and agenda. That’s why one of the priorities of Paris was to change the status quo in the bipolar world, that according to de Gaulle was less stable and equilibrium then the multipolar one. Moreover, the bipolar world stack to the block policy where the policy of the superpower was the main one. At the same time de Gaulle favored intergovernmental cooperation that was aimed at strengthening all the participants of the process. This was the classic concept of the general concluded during the times of the Cold War period. So, how did the Gaullists change after the end of the bipolar world system and how did they see the role of France in the new one? From 1986 Jacques Chirac and his supporters were getting the main positions in the government. The party “The Rally for the Republic” that is a Gaullist party gain the majority in the National assembly on the elections of 1993 and in 1995 Jacques Chirac became the president of the Fifth Republic. During this period such notions as “chiraqism” and “pragmatic neogaullism” appeared [Pupykin 2010: 331-341]. They were a start of a new period in the history of Gaullism that was connected with the refresh of the traditional ideology to confront the threats of the modern world. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to name the researcher who was the first to introduce these notions but even in 1982 René Rémond in his book “Les droites en France” uses these notions to characterize the Gaullist movement at those times [Rémond 1982: 334-335]. Jacques Chirac was the first president who had to perform from the beginning of his presidential term in the new international context and adapt Gaullism to the post-bipolar system. The international situation was rather tense at that period: the USA remained the only superpower, Russia found itself in a very challenging position deprived of territories and having difficulties understanding its new geopolitical and economic space, Europe was pushing its integration even though having significant economic difficulties [Charillon F. 2007] President Chirac defined the following principles of his presidency, mainly on the basis of the previous Gaullist provisions of pragmatism and voluntarism. Firstly, he wasn’t satisfied with the bipolar world, as well as with the unipolar one, even though the only superpower after 1991 was his ally - the USA. So, on 26 of August 1999 during this speech in front of the ambassadors the president defined the multipolar world as one of the priorities5. No doubt, France was seen as one of two key leaders of the united Europe and one of the centers of the decisionmaking in the new world. President Chirac was for the continuation of the European construction, although the more powerful Europe was, the more sovereignty France had to transfer to supranational institutions [Fabius 2004]. But he fully realized that without further integration the EU wouldn’t be the center of the world politics. In accordance with the strengthening of Europe Jacques Chirac was considering the topic of the building of European defense system as he didn’t want to rely entirely on the USA in this sphere6. Joining the concept of multipolarity contributed to the appearance of one more element in his foreign policy agenda. This was the desire to strengthen the role of international institutions in adopting the decisions in particular the UNO which the activity had to help in the construction of the new world that had to be based on the supremacy of the international law and participation of several centers of power in decision-making process [Vaïsse 2009b: 30]. Needless to say that these concepts and decisions were formed not only by the president. A significant role in the formation of the foreign policy agenda were playing two eminent figures: 1) Dominique de Villepin, a longtime supporter of Jacques Chirac, who was at first the general secretary of the Elysee palace (the head of the presidential administration), from 2002 to 2004 - the minister of Foreign Affairs; 2) Jean-David Levitte - an experienced diplomat that was a diplomatic adviser and “Sherpa”7 not only of Jacques Chirac, but also of Nicolas Sarkozy [Vaïsse 2009b: 30]. Both advisors graduated from Sciences Po, both had significant experience in diplomatic sphere and work in the government. Since 1981, Dominique de Villepin participated in the Centre for analysis and planning of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a think-tank on strategic issues. France still lacks a special expertise and research center where the external priorities of neogaullism would be developed. Sciences Po has been elaborating some strategy for the president and its supporters. Centre of political studies and Centre of international studies, functioning on the platform of Sciences Po, closely collaborate with the French National Center for Scientific Research. Eminent foreign policy experts and scholars (Christian Lequesne, Samy Cohen, Maurice Vaïsse, Serge Berstein, David Valence) contributed to their functioning. M. Vaïsse, S. Berstein, D. Valence are members of the scientific council of the Foundation of Charles de Gaulle that analyses Gaullism and political actions of the general. It would be an exaggeration to claim that J. Chirac managed to reach all the goals set at the beginning of the presidency. Trying to show the independence from the USA in decision-making and pretending to be a leading center of power, France didn’t support in 2003 the military operation of NATO in Iraq. In January 20, 2003, the French minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin claimed: “We consider military invasion in Iraq to be the worst decision”8. This position led to a big disagreement in French-American and French-British relations, but it made the president and his cabinet very popular in France. At the same time, Chirac could not allow a complete rapture with NATO, entertaining some steps to establish closer ties with the Alliance. In December 5, 1995, Jacques Chirac returned France to the Military Commandment of NATO, as the war on the territory of former Yugoslavia showed European and French military forces couldn’t stabilize the situation alone. Besides, France had limited influence on adoption of the decisions on some key questions because of the absence of its representatives in military structures of NATO. J. Chirac hoped that the fully integrated participation of France in NATO could help to gain the right for the Europeans to dispose control over the military forces of NATO. But this return didn’t lead to the desired effect [Pupykin 2010: 331-341]. Jacques Chirac demonstrated a particular diplomatic activity during his second presidential term when he didn’t have to consider the “cohabitation government”. The relations with Russia, an important partner even during the times of Charles de Gaulle, got a high dynamics. Jacques Chirac had a rather positive perception of Russia. He realized that both countries had common interests [Lequesne, Vaïsse 2012: 159]. Diplomatic activity on the Middle East was rather ambiguous. On the one hand, the president tried to follow the traditional pro Arabic strategy that had been accepted from the de Gaulle presidency [Vaïsse 1998: 40-45]. On the other hand, Jacques Chirac took several steps to reestablish the relations with Israel and improve mutually beneficial cooperation in military and economic sphere. Besides, France continued anti-Israeli actions in the UN and actively cooperated with Arabic regimes in Libya, Egypt, Jordan [Lequesne 2007]. As for the political concept of Nicolas Sarkozy, there was an obvious contradiction between political slogans and real actions [Védrine, Boniface, Lequesne 2018]. On the one hand, at the beginning of his presidency, Sarkozy declared a complete rapture with the policy of predecessor and in this sense with Gaullist principles [de Charrette 2008: 7-12]. On the other hand, his real actions during the whole term of the presidency mostly corresponded to neogaullism. Together with Chirac, Sarkozy declared the necessity to reform international institutions [Panyuzheva 2013]. At the beginning of his term he insisted on the UN Security Council enlargement including Germany, Japan, India and some African states. Besides, there were some remarks about the enlargement of the G89. President Sarkozy made European direction one of his main priorities, especially the EU that was in the institutional crisis. On the day of the inauguration the president paid a visit to Germany and called Angela Merkel to start active cooperation. During his election campaign Sarkozy claimed that he was determined to make a new EU treaty that had to include institutional changes derived from the European constitution rejected by France and the Netherlands in May - June 2005. Finally, Sarkozy stepped with a proposal to elaborate a new strategy of European security instead of the one in 2003 [Gaillard 2010: 144-145]. As for the EU and its enlargement, the president actively supported the idea of the enlargement towards the Balkans (candidate - Macedonia, potential candidate - Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania) and even saw a European potential for Kosovo that claimed its independence in 2008. But he didn’t regard Turkey that had been a candidate since 1987 as a member of the EU. Sarkozy was ready to develop different cooperation projects such as “partnership” or “association” [Zuqian 2002]. This desire not to accept Turkey in the EU was supported, according to the survey, by about 70% of the French [Zvereva 2008: 34-38]. This formed the concept of the Mediterranean Union that would join all the countries of the Mediterranean into a single organization. The idea was launched even in 1995 in the framework of the Barcelona process but didn’t reach its objectives. According to Sarkozy, the Mediterranean Union had to contribute to the dialogue between two rivers of the Mediterranean historically connected with each other, as well as to find a way to solve such a great problem as migration [Gaillard 2010: 163]. No doubt, he also took into a consideration the role of France in the project as he wanted the country to regain the lost influence in the region. But due to significant disagreements with Germany the idea of the Mediterranean union was transformed in the Union for the Mediterranean that included all EU member states (even those that didn’t have any access to the Mediterranean Sea) that made the work difficult [Kareva 2015: 98-160]. Furthermore, due to the revolutionary events in Arab world, historical disagreements between Arab states and Israel, the Union didn’t become such an organization that could fulfil the ideas of N. Sarkozy. The idea of strengthening the influence of France in a strategically important region from the Atlantics till the Indian Ocean was also touched in the White Paper of 200810. This region had a great significance for France not only in the framework of the strengthening the global influence of France, but also in connection with the security agenda [Bagayoko-Penone, Cazelles 2007] That’s why in 2008 White Paper a great attention is paid to the development of intelligence service and its technical support (the development and launch of the military satellite systems, the creation of the joint commandment of space forces)11. In general, the modernization of forces in order to prepare them for global challenges as information warfare, terrorist attacks12 were organized13. Nicolas Sarkozy is famous for the proatlantic statements and the speech delivered in the US Congress when he announced his plan to be the friend and partner of the States [Pupykin 2010: 331-341]. Needless to say, transatlantic relations were closer during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy compared with the one of Charles de Gaulle. Sarkozy made a rapture with the policy of de Gaulle claiming in March 2009 that “it was time for France to return to the Military Commandment of NATO”. He reminded that his predecessors also made some changes in the policy of France, so he only continues their political actions. The decision of the president approved by the Parliament was actively criticized by Allain Juppé and Dominique de Villepin [Boniface 2010]. At the same time, France tried to show its independent position on the international arena criticizing the USA for the Iraq war [Zvereva 2014: 124-125]. To sum up, the political “heirs” of de Gaulle have to give answers to current challenges such as the international terrorism, new conflicts, not defined format of the current international system, etc. Usually, they propose thought-provoking initiatives on the international arena. At the same time neogaullists try to stick to the main principles that had been formed by the general de Gaulle and that are associated with main priorities of the foreign policy of Gaullism. First of all, it is the perseverance of national sovereignty of France, based on centralized power and military force. Foreign policy of gaullists has undergone thorough different periods due to the changes in political, economic and social situation in the world. Gaullism has always been about pragmatism. So gaullists try to solve their political problems basing on the modern global conditions. But for the French politicians Gaullism is still the basis that has been forming the political culture of the country and the main priorities and objectives of the foreign policy.

Alexander Alekseevich Kornilov

Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod

Author for correspondence.
Email: region@imomi.unn.ru
Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Federation

PhD, Dr. of Science (History), Professor, Head of the Department of Foreign Regional Studies and Local History of the Institute of International Relations and World History

Alexandra Ilyinichna Afonshina

Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod

Email: aleksandra.inbox@mail.ru
Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Federation

postgraduate student, Institute of International Relations and World History

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