The overreaching French

One way to judge a country is by the caliber of the countries that choose to oppose it. Who are the adversaries of the U.S.? Iraq and North Korea — pretty good choices. Then there’s the French. The Economist sums up France’s foreign policy of the last few months quite nicely: The president, apparently in ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

One way to judge a country is by the caliber of the countries that choose to oppose it. Who are the adversaries of the U.S.? Iraq and North Korea -- pretty good choices. Then there's the French. The Economist sums up France's foreign policy of the last few months quite nicely: The president, apparently in a fit of pique, in October abruptly postpones a long-planned summit with Britain. The agriculture minister criss-crosses the European Union to sabotage the European Commission's plan to reform EU farm policy. The foreign minister last week enrages the United States by implicitly threatening a veto at the United Nations over any assault on Iraq. Such is the behaviour of France over the past four months—and doubtless there is more to come. Most of this can be explained by the French fear of U.S. "hyperpower" and the desire to create a Franco-German counterweight via the European Union. A funny thing happened along the way to balancing, however: the French overreached. Bill Safire (link via OxBlog) does an excellent job of linking last week's "Gang of Eight" declaration to the fear of peripheral European states of French power-grabbing. The key sections: The underlying purpose of the Schröder-Chirac push was less about protecting or defanging Saddam Hussein than it was about a much more parochial goal: to assert permanent Franco-German bureaucratic dominance over the growing federation of European states. Opposition to American superpower, they thought, was their lever of Archimedes to move the Old World.... The draft document was then circulated by the Europeans among other leaders thought to be (1) critical of the Franco-German proposal to assert dominance in the European Commission; (2) genuinely worried about their nations' exposure to weapons of mass destruction being developed by Saddam; and (3) eager to express solidarity with the United States, which three times in the past century had saved them from tyrannous takeover. Once the French got wind of the document, they tried like hell to get these countries to reverse. Only the Netherlands acquiesced. In other words: the French attempt to balance against the United States has led to much of Europe balancing against France. As I said, we have good taste in our rivals. [But don't the French have substantially valid reasons for objecting to U.S. policies?--ed. As Chris Sullentrop pointed out last week in Slate, French opposition to the United States is rooted in U.S. hegemony, not any set of specific policies.]

One way to judge a country is by the caliber of the countries that choose to oppose it. Who are the adversaries of the U.S.? Iraq and North Korea — pretty good choices. Then there’s the French. The Economist sums up France’s foreign policy of the last few months quite nicely:

The president, apparently in a fit of pique, in October abruptly postpones a long-planned summit with Britain. The agriculture minister criss-crosses the European Union to sabotage the European Commission’s plan to reform EU farm policy. The foreign minister last week enrages the United States by implicitly threatening a veto at the United Nations over any assault on Iraq. Such is the behaviour of France over the past four months—and doubtless there is more to come.

Most of this can be explained by the French fear of U.S. “hyperpower” and the desire to create a Franco-German counterweight via the European Union. A funny thing happened along the way to balancing, however: the French overreached. Bill Safire (link via OxBlog) does an excellent job of linking last week’s “Gang of Eight” declaration to the fear of peripheral European states of French power-grabbing. The key sections:

The underlying purpose of the Schröder-Chirac push was less about protecting or defanging Saddam Hussein than it was about a much more parochial goal: to assert permanent Franco-German bureaucratic dominance over the growing federation of European states. Opposition to American superpower, they thought, was their lever of Archimedes to move the Old World…. The draft document was then circulated by the Europeans among other leaders thought to be (1) critical of the Franco-German proposal to assert dominance in the European Commission; (2) genuinely worried about their nations’ exposure to weapons of mass destruction being developed by Saddam; and (3) eager to express solidarity with the United States, which three times in the past century had saved them from tyrannous takeover.

Once the French got wind of the document, they tried like hell to get these countries to reverse. Only the Netherlands acquiesced. In other words: the French attempt to balance against the United States has led to much of Europe balancing against France. As I said, we have good taste in our rivals. [But don’t the French have substantially valid reasons for objecting to U.S. policies?–ed. As Chris Sullentrop pointed out last week in Slate, French opposition to the United States is rooted in U.S. hegemony, not any set of specific policies.]

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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