Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sarkozy's Foreign Policy

An interesting series of comments to an earlier post about Sarkozy's American vacation prompt me to speculate a bit about the emerging shape of Sarkozy's foreign policy. It is of course too early to say much. To give some structure to my remarks, let me organize them under three heads: France and the less developed world; France and Europe; France and the United States.

1. France and the less developed world. I think that Sarkozy made an important speech at the University of Dakar. It has been much maligned, particularly for one unfortunate passage (the text is here; a critique of the passage is here; a previous comment of mine on this is here). Without denying that old prejudices may linger in the words of this speech, I think a more generous (and hopefully not too generous) reading is possible. Apportioning blame for the current underdevelopment of former colonies is not a useful exercise for political leaders, Sarkozy is saying. Historians can busy themselves with that sort of thing. The stark fact that confronts us now is that underdevelopment is a problem for both the developed world and the undeveloped world. It leaves you poor, he is saying to Africans and others, and us to cope with flows of immigration that we cannot support. Hence it is in our mutual interest to accelerate your development. It is not wise policy for you to rely simply on your command of raw materials over which developed countries are competing ever more intensely. You must prepare your future and insure against the depletion of those natural bounties by developing industrially, and the best way for you to do that is to set aside your justifiable anger over past wrongs and work with us in ways over which we are prepared to negotiate. His proposed Mediterranean Union offers a similar exchange to North Africans. Let us move beyond extractive exploitation of your resources, in other words, to explore mutually advantageous arrangements for economic cooperation.

2. France and Europe. At one time France's chief interest in Europe was as a means of containing Germany. Later, the rhetorical "Europe" became a "force multiplier"--more imaginary than real--in the perennial French obsession with maintaining France's own influence in the world generally and vis-à-vis the United States in particular. France believed that it could lead Europe and through Europe exert greater influence in the world. The death knell of that policy was sounded when Chirac, maneuvering during the run-up to the Iraq War, told the nations of Eastern Europe that they had manqué une bonne occasion de se taire. The bluntness of the language did not diminish the magnitude of the blunder--or, worse, the volume of laughter with which it was greeted. Sarkozy has thus far sought to redefine France's relation to Europe in terms of cooperation rather than domination. He has sought to persuade the Germans and others that there is mutual advantage to be had in broadening the mandate of the European central bank to include growth, unemployment reduction, and trade expansion in addition to pure price stability. He has proposed Europe and not simply France as the partner in the Mediterranean Union he seeks. And he has stressed the importance of coordinated European policies on immigration and security.

3. France and the United States. Both Ron Tiersky and Chris Bickerton have noted that the moment is ripe for a transformation of Franco-American relations. What sort of change does Sarkozy have in mind? I don't think he aspires to the "special relationship" that has lately proved especially unprofitable for Britain. Nor does he see France in the role of Greece, saving the crude and uncouth Romans from themselves. My guess is that he believes that American unilateralism cannot be sustained; that the emerging world order will be one of regional blocs; and that in this emerging order, Europe, with its advanced economies, has more common interests, but at the same time more intensely competitive interests, with the United States than with either the undeveloped blocs or the semi-developed blocs. His thinking, I believe, is shaped more by perceptions of economic interest than by cultural, historical, or military considerations. He is not a philosopher of history like de Gaulle or Mitterrand. He is surrounded by global thinkers, but thinkers whose global strategies have more to do with mergers and acquisitions than with the ebb and flow of power and cultural influence. He wants to do business with the United States, not vie with it for the role of beacon of liberty or civilizing force, notions that probably seem just a little ringardes from inside a Microsoft McMansion on Lake Winnepasaukee.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting post, and thinking about Sarkozy's foreign policy is timely I think. I would take issue a bit with your rendering of France's relation to Europe and Sarkozy's version of it. The point about Chirac was not so much that he was laughed out of Brussels for telling the new members to shut up. Rather, the war in Iraq presented Chirac with an oh-so tempting opportunity to renege on his European compromise (made since 1995, on the back of Mitterand's intrasigeance) and to return to the well-worn Gaullist positions of anti-Americanism and France as a leader and beacon for the rest of the world that chafes under US hegemony. Ditto for Tony Blair, who decided to raise the special relationship with the US above the recently forged relation with other European states (particularly France) in security and defence cooperation. The context for Sarkozy is one where the "turn to Europe" has already been made, and little remains of the Gaullist foreign policy consensus. But will Sarkozy resist the temptation to play the Gaullist card when he can? That depends more on French society than it does on him I think. If he feels the attachment to grandeur, independence etc is still more powerful than any new-fangled post-Gaullist internationalism, then I think he'll do what Chirac did in 2003.

Anonymous said...

as usual, an illuminating and insightful take on the current state of affairs between france & the USA -- AG qui devient l'oracle de boston !!

i am glad you (metaphorically) have my back, it will help in planning for future interactions with france --

Anonymous said...

Art and Chris -

I take some of your points but I'd go even a bit farther in what I said yesterday.

I do think that Sarkozy aspires to a special relationship with the U.S., a clean break (rupture) here also. But certainly not a relationship of the Blair-traditional Brit kind, but a (new) French one, a willing-to-deal-and-be-helpful-to-each-other partnership. (By "new" I have in mind that de Gaulle's rel to America was "special" in its way.) And not Greece to Rome, but today's France, with all its baggage (including its particular geo-strategic situation and relationships with other countries, to today's America. Sarkozy is already looking past Bush; he's thinking of his five (ten) years in office. (although I'm sure he wants to help extricate the U.S. from Iraq in a decent way: this will be a good thing in itself and also help turn American public opinion toward a more positive view of France, a year's long project at the least.
I'm not sure at all that Sarkozy thinks the emerging world order will be one of blocs in any way strictly defined - across the Atlantic, there will be a European Union and there will be national European policies, and there will also be a transatlantic relation, and a U.S. Superpower policy.

I would also not say that Sarkozy has no historical perspective, that it's basically all economic interests and dealing with world crises. His Dakar speech was, I completely agree with Art, not nothing. His book on religion, clearly written by himself, is quite thoughtful. He's not a philosopher of history but I think that anyone in such a position who keeps saying that he's not an intellectual should be watched. This fellow is just beginning, and there's already a great deal to say, as our discussion is demonstrating.
Finally, I agree with Art that beacon of liberty or civilizing force are not high in his geo-strategic vocabulary. But I do think, to rephrase an earlier point, that he wants a quite serious and new influence for France. And among the European leaders who could galvanize things, le pouvoir est a prendre. It's not going to be Angela Merkel, despite her many qualities, and Gordon Brown must be careful and I don't think he has the ambition anyway.

Of course I realize that this is mainly speculation, but we're laying out a framework for discussion here.


Anonymous said...

One point I would add is that we should not forget the extent to which whatever foreign policy Sarkozy maps out for himself, much will be dependent upon the evolution of domestic French politics. De Gaulle built his whole 'grand projet' on the back of an expanding and modernizing French economy. The outbreak of workers' militancy and student demos of 1968 was a serious blow for de Gaulle and to his focus on international politics. I think Sarkozy, if things go badly in France, may find himself relying upon more traditional French foreign policy tropes, in the hope of suring up domestic support. Or he may just act with more caution, if it turns out that the old Gaullist card is really no longer viable. But a crucial variable will be his evolving relationship with French society.

Unknown said...

Thank you all for your comments and very pertinent points. I agree with Ron that "this fellow is just beginning" and that ambition could carry him a long way. It is a rather fluid moment in world affairs. And the "new special relationship" that Ron proposes could begin as soon as dinner in Kennebunkport this Saturday. It wouldn't surprise me if Sarko has a joint venture to propose to Bush in exchange for his lobster. Something in Africa, perhaps. And while Chris is right that domestic politics limit his margin for maneuver, the dynamics are different when France is proposing and the US is the junior partner. And then, too, Sarko stands at 68 percent domestic approval, Bush at roughly the same in domestic disapproval, so the moment is propitious. In which case Ron will have been right that this vacation was not just a vacation.