The Franco-German defence relationship is entering a new phase. As France prepares to rejoin Nato, Douglas Johnson considers a timely survey of this uncertain allianceby Douglas Johnson / March 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
On wednesday, 29th January, the French national assembly ought to have been debating the abolition of conscription. Instead it discussed an agreement on defence that had been signed by President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Helmut Kohl at Nuremberg ten weeks earlier. No one knew about this until Le Monde leaked the story on 25th January, although the government claimed that it had given instructions that the document should be made available to deputies immediately after it had been signed. Thus, in the words of the former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius, it had taken ten weeks for a document of 20 pages to travel the 500 metres which separate the Elys?e palace from the Palais Bourbon. There was therefore more than idle suspicion that the government had wanted to keep the document secret for as long as possible, the reason being that it recorded a radical change in French defence policy. The latter, in the words of Lionel Jospin, has been “Nato-ised” and France, instead of leading, is being led by Germany.
We are fortunate to have George-Henri Soutou’s study of the French-German alliance to help us to elucidate this controversy which might well become an issue in the run up to the parliamentary elections of 1998. For many years France and Germany had a common enemy and a common security threat. This did not prevent the existence of mutual suspicion; the Germans believed that the French used defence issues as a means of trying to achieve supremacy in Europe, and the French assumed that the Germans were cultivating the support of the US and even, at times, seeking an understanding with Moscow. This period came to an end with the reunification of Germany and the ending of the threat from the Warsaw Pact countries. Since then France has been seeking to reorder its defence arrangements with Germany and thus, in effect, the EU’s defence stance.
The Mitterrand-Kohl initiatives of 1990 and 1991 inaugurate a new period in this alliance, but this does not mean that the preceding years, which form the subject of the greater part of Soutou’s book, are of interest only to military historians. They illustrate the complexities of an alliance in which both parties are, at different times, revealed as confused and devious.
Soutou, who is the international relations expert of Paris-Sorbonne, has used all the available documents. But he is also a historian who…