In Other Words

A Rival to the American Idol

Ramses 2005, September 2004, Paris The word "globalization" has a particularly resonant ring in France. The French use the term more often than their American counterparts, and they certainly have a more complex — some would say conflicted — relationship with the phenomenon. It may be, in part, because the United States is always near ...

Ramses 2005, September 2004, Paris

The word "globalization" has a particularly resonant ring in France. The French use the term more often than their American counterparts, and they certainly have a more complex — some would say conflicted — relationship with the phenomenon. It may be, in part, because the United States is always near the center of France’s definitions of globalization, provoking the same antagonism that France feels toward its bête noire.

Culturally, the French view globalization as synonymous with Americanization, the cultural imperialism that has filled France with bad food and bad films, not to mention English words. This, the French have resisted. Economically, globalization is seen to impose an Anglo-Saxon neoliberal logic that demands business deregulation and privatization, financial market liberalization, and the retreat of the state. This, the French have embraced.

But politically, globalization is understood as consecrating American predominance in world affairs — in essence, replacing the bipolar world that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall with a unipolar one. This, the French have sought to moderate or disprove by frequently reminding the United States (and everyone else) that the world is multipolar. By this term, they do not mean to suggest that France sees itself — either alone or within the European Union — as a rival to the United States. Any French leader knows that is neither possible nor desirable. Instead, they mean to convince others that even as the world becomes increasingly globalized, its diversity in historic, cultural, economic, and strategic outlooks remains a counterbalance to U.S. dominance.

This worldview is evident in Ramses 2005, the annual edition of the journal published by the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), France’s premier foreign-policy research institute. Titled "Les Faces Cachées de la Mondialisation" ("The Hidden Faces of Globalization"), the volume examines the impact of globalization on the other "poles," such as the fallout from the Chinese miracle, the marginalization of Africa, and problems stemming from conflict in the Middle East. France, and Europe as a whole, is notably absent from the principal essays, implying an attempt by the authors to avoid the tendency — so often associated with the United States — to see the world only from the country’s perspective. This approach is best captured in a piece by Ramses coeditor Philippe Moreau Defarges, who takes a dispassionate, objective tone in discussing how globalization has fragmented the Third World by provoking divisions over issues as disparate as international justice, U.N. Security Council reform, and environmental improvements. (Defarges’s co-editor, Thierry de Montbrial, is a member of FP‘s editorial board).

But the United States’ worldview has hardly been static either, writes Montbrial in his preface. Although he provides plenty of hard-hitting criticism of the mistakes on both sides of the Atlantic in the run-up to the Iraq war, Montbrial concludes that a delicate new trans-Atlantic "balance" has been established, despite the tensions resulting from U.S. foreign policy. Europeans — the French included — must admit that Europe could not possibly take even symbolic action against the United States in the foreseeable future, no matter how foolhardy the hegemon’s course. But, by recognizing the usefulness of a relatively united and reasonably strong Europe, America has tacitly acknowledged that multipolarity exists.

Ramses 2005 demonstrates that, despite France’s largely negative, U.S.-centric definition of globalization, French scholars are capable of impartial and holistic analysis of the subject. But America’s presence looms in nearly all the essays, suggesting that however successful Europe’s "soft" power has been in engaging the world’s other poles, "hard" power of the U.S. variety still usually trumps. Of course, the French probably see it differently.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola