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France - Russian Relations - Cold War

The fundamental and basic element in De Gaulle's foreign policy was his strongly held and unchangeable conviction that the nation (the state and not the people) represented the permanent unit in international affairs. Its authority and sovereignty must under no conditions be watered down or weakened in any way. The conception of France as a nation is embued with almost mystical quality and De Gaulle is embodiment of this national spirit.

This explained De Gaulle's antagonism to the organization of NATO, his aversion to anything that smacks of integration. It is the reason why he has withdrawn French fleet from NATO control and Air Force and two French divisions. It is also national concept which has caused him to refuse permission for storage of American atomic weapons on French soil.

De Gaulle's government adopted a gratuitously anti-American line for its overall policy. France's flirtation with the Soviet Union was one such independent initiative. De Gaulle reasoned that while the United States and the Soviet Union were roughly equivalent in military power, the United States greatly exceeded the Soviet in economic and political strength. It was thus by far the most powerful nation in the world, and such power would eventually, and inevitably, lead to its exerting hegemony over less powerful nations. It was thus incumbent upon France to increase its own power (i.e., develop its force de frappe), and to assert its independence.

Numerous statements made in 1965 to effect that France and USSR are primarily responsible for European security, and De Gaulle's happy acquiescence of this echo to his own thesis, suggest this may constitute basis for expressing “common views” or “mutual interest”.

By 1965 realities of Franco-Soviet relations were that nether side can go very far without creating unpredictable and dangerous consequences to their rear: for the Soviets, too much truck with Gaullist ideas about “greater” Europe could have unsettling influence on Soviet position in Eastern Europe; for the French there are the obvious dangers of undermining French influence in FRG and French leading position in EEC.

From De Gaulle's standpoint, it would be risky to jettison all prospects for his continued popularity with certain sectors of German opinion by overt indications of his presumed desire to see Germany indefinitely divided. However, his 04 February 1965 press conference placed German reunification in realm of distant future where this could be acceptable to Germany's eastern as well as western neighbors.

While De Gaulle doubtless would be delighted to claim or jointly share with USSR credit for moves leading to an international settlement over Vietnam or better yet a “great power” concord on Southeast Asia, this vision of glory apparently shrank as events escalated far beyond the possible diplomatic impact.

De Gaulle intensified his anti-American offensive in 1966 by directly challenging the Southeast Asian policy of the Johnson administration during a tour of the region.

The Gaullist / Mitterrandist consensus was based on the idea that the US presence in Europe was an accident of history whose consequences could not be sustained forever. There would come a time when the USA would leave the continent to its own fate; the Europeans had better prepare for it.

Since 1966, France has had one foot in NATO and the other outside it. The country’s awkward position in the alliance defined in large part the Fifth Republic’s defense posture.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Soviet Union cultivated a "privileged" relationship with France. The high point of SovietFrench relations occurred during the administration of President Charles de Gaulle (1959-69). Following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, Soviet-French relations cooled, although state visits continued. During the leadership of President François Mitterand, first elected as part of a coalition government in May 1981, France pursued several policies objectionable to the Soviet Union, such as selling arms to China, militarily opposing Libya's invasion of Chad, working with West Germany to strengthen West European defense, and expelling a large number of Soviet diplomats and other personnel involved in technology theft and other forms of espionage.

Gorbachev's first state visit as general secretary was to France in October 1985. The visit provided a public display of the Soviet Union's interest in maintaining a special relationship with France and also served as an attempt to exacerbate intra-European rivalries. Nevertheless, the general trend of French foreign policy in the late 1980s toward greater cooperation with NATO frustrated Soviet efforts to maintain a privileged relationship. France's refusal in 1986 and 1987 to discuss a freeze or a reduction of the French nuclear forces (force de frappe, or force de dissuasion) further strained Soviet-French relations.

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Page last modified: 08-03-2022 19:38:05 ZULU