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.


The on-line journal Re-Public has issued a call for papers on the "Sarkozy phenomenon." Anyone interested in contributing should have a look at the journal's Web site.