The major theme of Cold War France’s foreign policy was the reassertion of the country’s traditional great power identity. France did not aspire to unseat the two superpowers as the most powerful states in the world, but French leaders believed that their country could and should also take a place at the global high table. As Charles de Gaulle memorably put it on the first page of his memoirs, “France cannot be France without greatness.”
Forewarned by a number of other world leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron was well-prepared for the infamous Donald Trump handshake. On 25 May 2017 at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, the two world leaders met for the first time. With cameras clicking and video rolling, President Trump praised Macron’s “tremendous victory” in the 2017 French presidential elections that the “whole world is talking about” and expressed his eagerness to work with Macron on “terrorism” issues. Trump then extended his hand to the brand-new French president, which Macron gripped tight. An awkward, white-knuckled struggle ensued, with Trump wincing and trying to disengage multiple times before Macron released him. In the zero-sum game of testosterone laden death grip handshakes, the score: Macron 1, Trump 0.
Philip Nord’s After the Deportation is a compelling and ambitious account of ‘deportation memory’ in France. It revises the dominant silence-to-voice story that historians have nuanced and contested, but never fully dislodged. As the story goes, the French imagined deportees as anti-fascist, patriotic victims of the Nazi regime until the 1960s and 70s, when a younger generation questioned French complicity in the Holocaust along with French racism and colonialism. The student rebels of 1968 unearthed long-repressed memories about Jewish persecution and the Vichy regime that had been buried by both Gaullist and Communist accounts of French heroic martyrdom, and the earlier celebration of Resistance gave way to an emphasis on Jewish suffering. Although he does not question the turning points of this narrative, including the Gaullist myth of the Resistance, the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he treats them as important but insufficient explanations for the ‘repression’ or emergence of Holocaust memory in France.
Nicolas Blarel and Jayita Sarkar have written a valuable article on the intra-state politics of foreign policy. An extensive line of research in recent years has examined how domestic political competition (i.e. elections and parties), public opinion, and leaders can shape foreign policy. Yet bureaucracies within the state – what Blarel and Sarkar refer to as ‘sub-state organizations’ or SSOs—are often powerful actors, especially in technical domains that often escape the detailed attention of the public or politicians. The authors aim to revive an older research approach—perhaps most associated with Graham Allison’s Essence of Decision – that took bureaucracies seriously as actors in international politics.
Nationalism—the principle that a people sharing a common culture should possess their own sovereign state—is widely regarded as the most powerful political ideology in the modern world. But it is not the unstoppable force sometimes described by international relations scholars, who tend to pay more attention to insurgencies than to stable multinational states and empires. As Matthew Adam Kocher, Adria K. Lawrence, and Nuno P. Monteiro helpfully remind us in their analysis of Nazi-occupied France, nationalism does not always generate immediate, substantial resistance to foreign domination.
In the ongoing saga of contemporary populism, France’s Yellow Vest movement has sounded something like the other shoe dropping. In 2016, Brexit and Donald Trump’s election shattered prevailing political orthodoxies by mobilizing populations around a potent cocktail of xenophobia, protectionism, and sovereignism. Forces with a family resemblance to these movements are calling the shots in Italy, Hungary, and Poland. Yet while France had for years been a major breeding ground of far-right ideas, it seemed, in its May 2017 presidential election, to dodge the populist bullet: Emmanuel Macron’s triumph over Marine Le Pen was widely touted as a victory of hope, tolerance, and internationalism over fear, hate, and nationalist retrenchment.Continue reading
When Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election on 7 May 2017, many in Europe and North America breathed a collective sigh of relief. Macron’s victory seemed to confirm an incipient anti-populist trend that had been set earlier that year in the Netherlands and Austria. In the aftermath of the Brexit-vote and Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States, Macron seemed to have stopped the populist bonfire in its tracks, turning France—rather surprisingly—into a paragon of democratic wisdom, political moderation, and optimism.
Robert Jervis once claimed that “states sometimes fail to deploy threats that would benefit them and on other, probably more numerous, occasions employ threats that provoke rather than deter.” If so, the field of international politics has done a remarkably poor job of accounting for the latter types of threat. For one, provocation has remained an elusive term.
Making sense of the present is a difficult undertaking at the best of times. It seems more especially so at the current moment. The tumult of 2016 was of a kind not seen since the ‘spring of the peoples’ in 1848. Power no longer seems to be what it was and where it was thought to be. In the West, a wave of anti-establishment populism threatens to bring down the given order, and, in part, has succeeded in upending established verities. Elsewhere, the world seems in turmoil, too. Migratory movements along Europe’s soft Mediterranean underbelly are placing unprecedented strains on European societies and the continent’s political structures; a restless Russia is intent on a policy of imperial reconstitution, however partial; in East Asia, the rising power of China and a defensive United States are eying each other warily; and Islamist terrorism continues to widen the internal and geopolitical fault lines of the Middle East and to export violence abroad. The speed and spread of change has left commentators perplexed at how what, until very recently, appeared firm and unshakeable has proved brittle and shallow-rooted. Some see Western democracy imperilled and point to parallels with the 1930s. Others draw analogies with the inquietude of Europe on the eve of the First World War. Whether any such parallels exist today, we shall know for certain in a hundred years’ time. Perceived analogies are never exact. Often, indeed, they are misleading, and reveal more about contemporary sensibilities than about ‘objective’ realities. But rather than look back wistfully at the simpler times of the post-1945 world, it is worth remembering that instability and impermanence are the hallmark of international affairs. They are, as German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once observed, “a fluid element, which will coagulate temporarily under certain circumstances but which, at a change in the atmosphere, will revert to its original aggregate condition.”
The study of military effectiveness in political science has come a long way in a short period of time. When I started graduate school in the mid-1990s, most of the key works on the subject were written by historians and sociologists rather than political scientists. Beginning in the late 1990s, however, military effectiveness began to enter the mainstream of international security studies in political science. Scholars began to produce a series of works that detailed, inter alia, the martial shortcomings of dictatorships and Arab states, the battlefield virtues of democracies, the critical importance of the ‘modern system’ of force employment, and the link between civil-military relations and effective preparation for and conduct of hostilities. Lively debate continues on many of these subjects, particularly the relative effectiveness of different regime types and how civil-military relations influence adoption of the modern system. This debate has unfolded primarily in the context of conventional (interstate) war, but a related literature on effectiveness in counterinsurgency has been reinvigorated in the wake of U.S. occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq.