Defence Policy and the French Left's Accession to Power 1981-86
by W.S. McCallum © 1988
This essay discusses the salient features of French Socialist Party (PS) defence policy and its conduct during the 1970s prior to the 1981 Presidential Elections, concentrating on achievements during its first term in government from 1981-86, when for the first time a party of the French Left found itself in control of the world's third largest nuclear arsenal and governing the third largest arms exporting nation in the world. Examination is made of this position with regard to PS disarmament policy aims. The contribution of President Mitterrand and the PS government towards France's relations with NATO in the light of its Gaullist defence policy inheritance is also be examined.
The years leading up to the election of the PS alongside President Mitterrand in 1981 saw many changes in the French Left's approach to military policy. The advent of nuclear weaponry following World War II, and President de Gaulle's setting up of France's own "force de frappe" in the 1960s formed the main new military dimension with which traditional socialist values had to come to terms. De Gaulle's introduction of a nuclear deterrent further undermined any remnants of "fin de siècle" syndicalist pacifism which may have survived the two World Wars, the concept of a Republican "citoyen-soldat" à la Jaurès, and also rendered largely obsolete the old Jacobin notion of a democratic levy en masse of French citizenry in order to defend "la patrie". The French Left found itself having to come to terms with living in the nuclear age.
Prior to the creation of the PS in 1971, there had been widespread opposition to de Gaulle's introduction of a French nuclear deterrent amongst the French Left, based on the grounds of the streams of thought mentioned above. François Mitterrand reflected this broad feeling in his 1965 Presidential election campaign when he called for the "reconversion catégorique" in Point 16 of his 28 Propositions of the nuclear projects involved in the setting up of the "force de frappe", as well as the negotiated disappearance of both the NATO and Warsaw pacts (Politique p427). Both points were indicative of a broad leftist commitment to policies of disarmament, and the breakdown of Cold War East/West divisions in Europe. Even in the 1960s though, Mitterrand was astute enough to draw a distinction between desirable but distant possibilities and cold, current realities.
His work Ma part de vérité serves to illuminate the
manner in which Mitterrand was making such distinctions as early as 1969. On the
subject of the Atlantic Alliance, he placed himself and the rest of France
firmly in the Western camp, despite a hope for some distant dissolution of
East/West differences; "...vous avez tort de placer l'Alliance atlantique et la
construction européenne sur le même plan. L'Alliance atlantique, je la supporte.
L'Europe, je la souhaite." (p197)
His unwillingness to be tied down to the abstract world of principles was indicative of a will to adapt according to shifting circumstances;
"Pour tout socialiste la construction de la paix est inséparable de la trilogie arbitrage international, désarmement simultané et contrôlé, sécurité collective. Mais laissons là le septième ciel des grands principes. Je noterai seulement que je n'accepte pas les principes à tiroirs. Celui qu'on ouvre et celui qu'on ferme selon l'opportunité du moment." (p192)
In defence policy, as in other areas, Mitterrand demonstrated a tendency to adopt a pragmatic approach that would continue evolving with changing circumstances up to and after the 1981 elections.
From embracing nuclear disarmament in 1965, he had by 1971 turned to the acceptance of "la constitution d'une force de dissuasion minimale capable de menacer tout adversaire eventuel" as PS policy (op. cit. Catherine Nay, Les sept Mitterrand p189). Mitterrand pointed out in Ma part de vérité in 1969, one year after de Gaulle declared the "force de frappe" operational, that by the time a future socialist government was elected into power, the "force de frappe" would have become "une réalité irréversible" (p193), such was the rate at which the then current government was implementing it. A future socialist government would be faced with a "fait accompli" involving the cost of millions of francs, and the problem of how to dispose of all the radioactive bombs and warheads should the decision be taken to dismantle them. Mitterrand pointed out of the "force de frappe "On ne le (notre armement atomique) noiera pas comme des petits chiens." (p193)
By the time the various elements comprising the PS had coalesced in 1971, the then accepted realisation was that the "force de frappe" was not desirable, but existed nonetheless, and that there was the hope of marginalising it as a preliminary to it being disbanded. Hence the use of phrases like "dissuasion minimale" in relation to the level of deterrence. The emphasis was that the force was a necessary evil that would at least be kept under tight control prior to a further decision. The PS programme of 1971 promised to take "la décision d'interrompre la construction de la force de frappe", to stop underground nuclear testing and future weapons development, but shied away from mentioning the total abandonment of the existing nuclear strike force (Politique p17-p18).
Under the influence of the French Communist Party (PC) in 1972, the PS was pushed into adopting a harder line. The 1972 Programme commun between the two called for the "Renonciation à la force de frappe sous quelque forme que ce soit", and for an immediate halt to all French nuclear testing (op. cit. Henri Claude, Mitterrand ou l'atlantisme masqué p19). The influence of the PC showed in other areas too. The 1971 PS programme had mentioned in passing a future hope for general disarmament and for "l'arrêt... du commerce internationale des armes" (Claude p17). The Programme commun called specifically for the control of French arms exports, and for embargoes on undemocratic régimes such as Spain, South Africa, Greece and Portugal; it also proposed disarmament initiatives through international negotiations (p20). Not everyone agreed, a notable example being Charles Hernu, a future PS defence minister (1981-1985), who wrote an article for Le Monde in 1973 with the piquant title of "Voilà pourquoi un socialiste doit être pour la dissuasion nucléaire". Even Hernu, despite his pro-nuclear beliefs, was careful to keep his views within the framework of open party debate and admitted his unwillingness to be perceived as trying to split the PS on defence matters ( Charles Hernu, Soldat-citoyen p107).
Thus the official party line of both the PC and the PS until 1977 was that they renounced the nuclear deterrent, and on their becoming the government the development of nuclear arms would be stopped, the nuclear industry would be converted to purely civil uses and existing nuclear arms would be left until obsolescence overtook them and they would have to be dismantled.
All this changed when the PC dropped its own policy bombshell on 11 May 1977. Jean Kanapa, a party spokesman and advisor to Georges Marchais, affirmed that nuclear arms were "le seul moyen de dissuasion réel" and rejected conventional defence by itself as being inadequate for the maintenance of France's level of defence (op. cit. Nay p190). The PC had made this volte face partly as a move to distance itself from being seen publicly as the hand of Moscow in advocating disarmament. Support of a French deterrent was also portrayed as a good means of assuring that France would be able to neutralise any possible "imperialist nuclear blackmail" as Kanapa described it. In advocating what amounted to a left-Gaullist interpretation of nuclear national independence based on General Ailleret's 1967 doctrine of a "tous azimuts" defence the Kanapa Report ignored that the bomber force and land-based missiles of the "force de frappe", if not its submarine-based missiles, were still not capable of striking across the Atlantic at US targets and were designed to be used more effectively on targets to the east.
A change in PS policy was not immediate as a response, but did come in January 1978 at a party conference a mere nine weeks away from the Legislative Elections of that year. The conference moved the PS away from the terms of the 1972 Programme commun. Rather than take any decision itself upon election, the PS would call for a referendum and let the people of France decide whether the nuclear strike force would be developed or abandoned. Until such a time, a PS government would keep the submarine element in the "force de frappe" in operation, whilst discarding land-based missiles and the Mirage IVs of the strategic bomber force (Nay p192). This policy took the matter out of the hands of the government and would permit a democratic decision involving the nation as a whole, as opposed to one made by the elected government. From this provisional acceptance of the "force de frappe" made hurriedly prior to the 1978 Legislative Elections, the PS moved closer to a more open acceptance of it as they led up to the 1981 elections. It was an acceptance that would have come earlier but for the PC/PS coalition and the policy compromises it involved.
An important part in the shift by the PS away from the Programme commun was played by Charles Hernu. His concern lay in promoting France's dissuasive capacity and he thus found himself at odds with party policy until 1977 and the split with the PC. Along with Jean-Pierre Chevènement and the CERES faction of the PS which was equally favourable towards the "force de frappe" in conjunction with a more traditional style of defence comprised of a citizens' defence force (a "force de mobilisation populaire"), he came to the fore in 1978 (Mitterrand's France ch. 8. N. Waites p194). Previously, as chairman of the PS "Commission de Défense" from 1973 onwards, Hernu had made gains in bringing together some of the diverse and often opposing views that existed on defence matters within the party.
On the matter of deployment of the Pluton tactical missile in 1974, he had gained left-wing party support without difficulty by declaring opposition to the concept of tactical nuclear weapons. This opposition was not on any moral grounds, but rather because he saw tactical nuclear missiles as impractical from a military Jacobin point of view. Any use of such weapons would involve putting nuclear weapons in the hands of battlefield commanders, and would not easily be under the control of the government and high command in Paris. Also, as they could be used as a preliminary to a strategic exchange, the use of tactical weapons had wider, strategic implications.
Because of this, Hernu opposed the introduction of a "graduated response" for France's nuclear defence. There could be no delineation between an "arme nucléaire tactique" and an "arme nucléaire stratégique" - "...<<tactique>> est un mot; il n'y a pas d'artillerie nucléaire tactique; elle est forcément stratégique nullement un test d'escalade". (Hernu p168)He let the matter of strategic nuclear weapons lie largely undisturbed in his capacity as party spokesman up till 1977, until a policy could be formulated that would be acceptable to a PS congress majority. When the PC changed tack in 1977 Charles Hernu found himself well placed (N. Waites p196).
The January 1978 Special Convention on Defence allowed Hernu to propose a new position regarding the "force de frappe" that would seek to reconcile, or over-ride, certain factions within the PS, attract a public perceived as favouring deterrence, and gain the confidence of the military. The Convention resolved that nuclear weapons would not only be retained by a future PS government, but that the "force de frappe" would be modernised unless the two superpowers agreed on major arms reductions (N. Waites p200). This point was to be retained in Mitterrand's 110 Propositions, which replaced the PS's Projet Socialiste as the main party programme in the 1981 Presidential Elections:
"Point 105; Développement d'une stratégie de dissuasion et organisation nouvelle du service national réduit à six mois." (F. Mitterrand, Politique II 1977-1981 p308)
The 110 Propositions, more specifically the ones concerning defence, reflected Mitterrand's own concerns and he over-rode Hernu and Chevènement on certain matters. He replaced Chevènement's 1980 Projet Socialiste, with its emphasis on a break with the international order and non-alignment with the two superpowers with his own concerns about France's relationship with NATO (cf Point 106 below). (New Left Review 146; D. Johnstone; "How The French Left Learned To Live With The Bomb" p10.) Mitterrand also held much more concern than Hernu for the deployment of Soviet SS20 missiles in the European theatre from 1979. Hernu was not overly concerned with the matter on the grounds that the SS20s were only medium-range weapons and could not affect France's strategic nuclear submarine fleet, or "Force océanique stratégique" (FOST), which was the strongest pillar of France's retaliatory capacity. Mitterrand disagreed, and Point 8 of the Propositions expressed his concern for the abandonment of both the SS20s and the Pershing and cruise missiles that the US wanted to deploy as a response. The views of Mitterrand and Hernu on the subject of the SS20s were not necessarily incompatible, but it was Mitterrand's concern which gained predominance and was to play an important part in French foreign policy support for the US following the 1981 elections.
Mitterrand's concern for the SS20s was part of a wider interest in Western security, as opposed to the more nationalist, left-Gaullist, non-aligned views of Chevènement and the CERES group, and was laid down in Point 106 of his 110 Propositions (N. Waites p202-3). Questions about France's Atlantic Alliance role were mentioned by Mitterrand in Ici et maintenant (1980) prior to the Presidential campaign of the following year. Amongst various aspects discussed were the following;
"Pourquoi serions-nous membre d'une alliance qui nous entraînerait malgré nous dans un conflit dont nous ne voudrions pas? Pourquoi serions-nous membres d'une alliance qui n'assurerait pas notre sécurité? A contrario pourquoi ne serions-nous pas membres d'une alliance dont nous aurions besoin?" (p245)
Such concerns came to be embodied in Point 106 of the 110 Propositions:
"106. Définition claire de la portée et du contenu de l'Alliance atlantique." (Politique II p312)
One of the things Mitterrand questioned was France's claim under Giscard to an autonomous nuclear force. He called "hypocrisy" the way in which France was dependent on NATO's early warning systems, was orientated along NATO lines for a defence against a Warsaw Pact force attacking through West Germany, yet claimed defence autonomy (Ici et maintenant p244). He questioned such inconsistences and called for a Western summit conference to clarify such points. France would have to possess a greater awareness of its place in Western European defence,
"Mais si cette doctrine (the doctrine of an independent deterrent) se suffit à elle-même, pourquoi l'Alliance? Il serait plus honnête de dire à nos voisins qu'ils n'ont pas à compter sur nous s'ils sont attaqués. Plus honnête de dire aux Français qu'ils n'ont pas à compter sur les autres en cas de danger. Aucune de ces situations, je dois l'avouer, ne me convient. L'autonomie de décision exclut-elle la solidarité? La solidarité exclut-elle l'indépendence?" (Ici et maintenant p245)
Clearly for Mitterrand independence did not exclude the possibility of solidarity with Western allies. Such views were to lead to a strengthening of French defence in relation to the Atlantic Alliance, in stronger terms than either Georges Pompidou or Valéry Giscard d'Estaing were able to manage in the 1970s.
In terms of the involvement of the two superpowers in Europe, Mitterrand, like de Gaulle in the 1960s, presented an even-handed view in discussing relations with both the Americans and the Soviets prior to the 1981 elections. He pointed out that he had differences with the attitudes of both powers and that France should not bend too far under the influence of one or the other. He rejected the "imperialism" of both states that showed itself equally in the US involvement in Vietnam, and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In 1980, he expressed that he had no desire, like most French people, to see France playing the part of a satellite, following unerringly the policies of either country:
"J'ai refusé la fausse croisade des Etats-Unis en Asie du Sud-Est. J'agis de même à l'égard de l'URSS." (Ici et maintenant p239)
At the same time, he was just as unwilling to follow the US President Carter's call for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (p234), and pointed out the value of continued good relations with the USSR; "indispensable" as he saw them, to the "European equilibrium", although not relying on them to the extent that Giscard had done in his abortive discussions in Warsaw (p236).
It was with this "equilibrium" in mind that Point 8 of the 110 Propositions called for the opening by France of negotiations on European collective security, and proposed the abandonment of the deployment of SS20s and Pershings (Politique II p308). Mitterrand thought both the US and Soviet missiles posed a threat to the European "balance"; the Soviet missiles in particular posed a threat to France:
"J'admets que les Pershings soient insupportables pour les Russes. J'attends que les Russes- et les dirigeants communistes français- comprennent que les SS20 sont insupportables pour la France." (Ici et maintenant p235)
Therefore the elimination of both was desirable, a stance consistent with the "désarmement simultané et contrôlé" that Mitterrand had mentioned as part of the typical French socialist's defence triptych in the 1960s (cf p1). Mitterrand saw the SS20s as an additional threat to France - yet more missiles on top of the existing Soviet stockpile. The validity of this view will be examined further below. Any negotiations on the Euromissile question would hopefully provide the starting point for wider disarmament proposals: "Une négotiation globale et sans préalable" as Mitterrand suggested.(Ici et maintenant p235-6) One of the major features of such discussions was to be the opening of collective security negotiations on the reduction of the NATO and Warsaw Pacts, as mentioned in Point 6 of the 110 Propositions. Here lay an essential continuity in policy that stretched back to before the days of the 1965 Presidential Elections:
"J'ai été le premier en France à formuler en termes précis, avant même ma campagne presidentielle de 1965, un processus de dissolution des blocs militaires. Je ne suis pas plus attaché à l'alliance atlantique qu'un roumain ou un polonais ne l'est au Pacte de Varsovie." (Ici et maintenant p241-242)
Here, as elsewhere, Mitterrand placed importance on doing away with the heritage of the Yalta Conference and on pushing towards a nascent Europeanism in defence policy matters with the eventual dissolution of East/West divisions in order to reduce military tensions within Europe.
Mitterrand himself summed up all the key points in 1979 rejection of both a Soviet and NATO set of blinkers; rejections of both additional US and Soviet missiles in Europe; friendship with Western allies, but not at the price of France's own defence independence; a hope for disarmament and a rejection of the nuclear arms of the superpowers:
"...je répéterai pour conclure : ni glacis atlantique, ni glacis soviétique, ni fusées de mort russes, ni fusées de mort américains. Solidarité avec nos alliés, oui! Soumission à leur décision, non! Amitié avec l'URSS, oui! Soumission à ses intérêts, non! Désarmement, oui! Surarmer, non!" (Politique II p96)
The emphasis placed on certain of these points was to alter following the 1981 elections, with some considerations overriding others. The "non" to the "fusées de mort américains" was to be largely invalidated by the importance that came to be placed on "solidarité avec nos alliés" in relation to a perceived Soviet missile threat in Europe. Whereas Mitterrand's concept of superpower "surarmement" was to remove France from the possibility of engaging in discussions on "désarmement" with the superpowers.
PS concern for disarmament at the time of the 1981 elections was not merely international. Nor was it concerned only with nuclear weapons. Both the Party and Mitterrand expressed concern over France's highly successful arms industry and its alacrity at exporting weapons to all areas of the globe during the years of Giscard's Presidency. By 1979, 40% of France's arms production total was exported, compared with a global arms export average of 17%. Of the 287,000 workers involved in the arms industry in 1979, around 100,000 were employed solely on export projects (Claude p146). Mitterrand was not in favour of France being an arms merchant to the world, and stated that the power of some military industrialists in France like Marcel Dassault was such that it served to undermine and adversely influence the ability of the government to make foreign policy decisions:
"C'est Marcel Dassault qui décide de la stratégie commerciale et militaire de la France suivant les intérêts de sa firme." (Le Monde 15/12/77)
Point 21 of the 110 Propositions aimed to check the industrial powers of firms like Dassault in influencing French foreign policy. Amongst nine industrial sectors that would be nationalised under a PS government, the aerospace and armaments industries were included (Politique II p310). Through a controlling interest in the firms concerned, it was envisaged that the PS would be able to control and limit arms exports.
No mention was made of reducing arms exports in the 110 Propositions, but this aim was actively affirmed by Mitterrand during his 1981 Presidential Campaign. He stated that "...l'exportation des matérials d'armements doit obéir à de nouveaux critères...", one of which was to aim to "...limiter les ventes d'armes..." and to shift the bias that existed in France's exports which caused arms to be its leading success (op. cit. Claude p149). What was preferable was that France should shift the balance in its exports to peaceful commerce:
"Une politique internationale doit être fondée sur un certain nombre de principes et leur respect est la condition de la grandeur de la France. L'un de ceux-ci sera de remplacer notre commerce de guerre par un commerce de paix." (op. cit. Claude p149)
Both Mitterrand and the PS in 1981 stressed that France should aim to export goods which did not further destabilise the third world with the threat of civil or international war in the way that arms do. The change that such a shift in economic emphasis implied was considerable. By the time Mitterrand was elected in 1981, the French arms industry was exporting more arms per capita than any other nation on earth. Under Giscard the success of the arms industry in terms of exports had come at the cost of spending in the public sector, and an increasing amount of technological research was military-orientated rather than for civil purposes (Claude p12-13).
The PS nationalised the arms industry following their election in 1981, and gave the government a controlling interest over MATRA and Dassault, amongst others. The result was not as expected however. Arms exports under the PS government continued rising between 1981 and 1986. From 1977-80, foreign orders for weapons technology amounted to 95.7 billion francs. For the 1981-1984 period, this figure (in constant value) grew to a level of 166.3 billion francs. For individual years, the figure stood at 27.4 billion francs (1977), 33.8 billion francs (1981) and 61.8 billion francs (1984). Between 1981 and 1984, the first three years of the PS term in government, France's arms exports nearly doubled (Claude p151). The arms industry became France's biggest capital goods export earner in 1983, with a surplus of 24 billion francs (N. Waites p205). Clearly this was not what was hoped for by those committed to PS policy-making prior to the 1981 elections.
This lack of reduction of France's growing arms exports was partly due to the economic depression of the early 1980s. At a time when other sectors of the economy were not performing quite as well, the new PS government was reluctant to tinker too much with arms exports. Mitterrand pointed out that workers' livelihoods were at stake in a TF1 interview (28 April 1984) - "Je ne peux pas mettre d'autres travailleurs au chômage, alors que les industries de substitution n'existent pas." (op. cit. Claude p152)
And although nationalisation of the arms companies was carried out, government influence on their business conduct was not pushed too far. Hernu, the Defence Minister; Pierre Mauroy, the Prime Minister; and President Mitterrand all declared themselves in favour of arms exports after some months in office. Mauroy stated on 11 February 1982 "Oui, je suis favourable aux exportations d'armements par la France, pour peu que cela ne soit dans les zones de conflit." (op. cit. Claude p150)
At the Bourget Aeronautics Convention in 1981, Mitterrand gave his support to continued arms sales by stating their importance in supporting the development of France's own defence technology; "...pour avoir les moyens (d'une défense nationale)...il faut avoir accès aux marchés étrangers." (op. cit. Claude p150) Here was a major reason for France's continued high level of arms exports.
Hugo Sada (Armées p183) points out the integral role arms exports play in the defence development of a European nation such as France. Lacking the high absolute levels of government defence funding that the two superpowers routinely pour into their defence programmes, France relies on exports as a source of capital for the research and development of its own new arms. The cost of research into new, high-tech weaponry is outpacing the amount of funding that the French government is capable of spending. If taken in constant terms, a given weapons system now requires far more research and development (R&D) costs and time (often a period exceeding ten years for tanks and aircraft) than an equivalent system of a few decades ago. R&D costs in the years 1976-1986 alone rose from 10% of the final cost of equipment production to 30% (The Mitterrand Experiment ch19; Jolyon Howorth; "Of Budgets and Strategic Choices" p311).
To fill the gap in government R&D funding, the French arms companies enlarge their markets, develop weapons to order for affluent clients like Saudi Arabia, and use the capital gained to keep technological innovation abreast of their American and British competitors. The PS government faced the untenable option of cutting back arms exports and having to fund a R&D gap of its own creation, or leaving the existing system to continue. They chose the latter, reasoning along the lines Hugo Sada describes:
"On allègue que l'indépendance de notre système de défense a pour prix l'exportation d'armes. Qui veut la France fort et autonome doit accepter sa conséquence commerciale." (Armées p235)
This commercial consequence of France's continued strength and autonomy did little to lessen global military tensions. In accepting a "commerce de guerre" as Mitterrand described it prior to his election as President, the PS, willingly or unwillingly, upheld France's role as one of the world's major arsenals. This failure to extend real control over the business conduct of the arms industry on the part of the government undermined those limits to arms exports that were imposed. In accordance with PS policy dating back to the terms of the Programme commun (1972), arms sales were halted to countries with oppressive régimes such as Chile, South Africa and Libya. Also, as a reflection of Mauroy's view that French arms should not be exported to "zones of conflict", arms sales to Argentina were also stopped temporarily during the Falklands War (1982).
What such considerations did not take into account is that zones of conflict shift. It had been acceptable to sell Exocet missiles to the Argentinians prior to the Falklands War, thus the embargo did little to save the lives of the men of the HMS Sheffield. Similarly, the embargo placed on Libya in 1981 did little to prevent the threat that Libyan Air Force, French-supplied Jaguar interceptors sold during Giscard's Presidency posed to French Air Force pilots in Chad. Once French-manufactured arms were exported, they could not realistically be expected to maintain a "cordon sanitaire" well removed from any war zone. Just as France found itself having exported arms to an ally's enemy during the Falklands War, so it found itself on the possible receiving end of its own weapons technology in Chad. Today's peaceful arms clients could become tomorrow's enemies, or might embroil themselves in a war in which the French government desired no involvement.
Such was the case with Iraq during the Gulf War. Having been elected in 1981, Mitterrand could not veto an ongoing contract with Iraq for fear of undermining France's reputation as a reliable arms contractor. Some doubt must have already existed given the PS election policy of French arms industry nationalisation and the possibly negative implications it held for France's customers. Mitterrand could not afford to renege on its existing contract with Iraq- it would have been bad for business.
Mitterrand's government could not reasonably expect to control the flow from France's Pandora's Box of arms exports without firmly placing the lid back on top. Even with embargoes placed, French arms could be obtained second-hand, just as it is possible to do with Soviet or American equipment - Libya is a notable supplier.
There was another source of possible weapons technology that Mitterrand did not exercise tight control of; namely civil nuclear reactor technology. Point 7 of the 110 Propositions called for;
"La non-proliferation de l'arme nucléaire et le renforcement du contrôle sur les centrales civiles." (Politique II p308)
The technology and materials used in nuclear power generation are applicable to the construction of nuclear weapons. Plutonium, a particularly useful material for making nuclear bombs, is an important byproduct that can be obtained from the waste fuel that all nuclear reactors produce. France, as a non-signatory of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), had been active in exporting civil nuclear technology during Giscard's Presidency. In those years, Iraq received a large nuclear research centre along with two French reactors and fuel in return for oil and an arms contract with France. The French also offered the Iraqis a specially formulated reactor fuel with the picturesque name "caramel", from which it was impossible to extract weapons-grade plutonium. The Iraqis insisted on normal fuel. Israel for one viewed the Iraqi nuclear programme as being aimed at building a nuclear capability, rather than being for peaceful purposes, which was the reason for their bombing raid on the Iraqi Tammuz reactor on 7 June 1981 (G. Prins (ed.) Defended To Death p245).
In the light of France's role in nuclear proliferation through the export of nuclear reactor technology, and the commitment expressed in Point 7 of the 110 Propositions, it is interesting that very little was done in this area. France remained a non-signatory of the NPT, and after his 1981 election, Mitterrand decided not to reunite the "Conseil de politique extérieure"(CPNE) formed under Giscard to monitor and control the sale of reactor technology. Perhaps this was a result of the Iraqi affair, which proved the council could be a hindrance as much as a help, but in not assembling an advisory group like the CPNE, Mitterrand deprived himself of an important means of controlling the exportation of France's nuclear technology (S. Cohen, La Monarchie nucléaire p204).
The PS government from 1981-86 did not experience any great success in reducing France's thriving arms exports. Nationalisation, after which a close control of arms companies was not implemented; and arms embargoes placed on four countries, did little to reduce the volume of arms being exported from France. The export earnings they made were too important in terms of France's economy, and its continued development of the defence technology which France needed for its own autonomy and security. Whilst the French government's defence spending remained so low -still only 3.7% of the GNP in 1988, compared with a figure of 6.8% for the USA- a high level of arms exports would be necessary if France was to maintain a modern defence force (Le Monde 14/7/88 p11). The price for France's security was its continuation as the world's third largest arms exporter and the abandonment, in any practical sense, of the disarmament objectives that had formed a constant part of PS policy since its creation.
On the question of international nuclear disarmament, the most important aspect that Mitterrand acted on following 1981 was the deployment of Soviet SS20s in the European theatre. But whilst his "non" to the "fusées de mort russes" in the address to the Bundestag during the Franco-West German summit from 7 July 1981 was firmly pronounced, Mitterrand backed up the West German government against its opposition parties by declaring France in favour of the deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles on West German soil. His former "non" to the "fusées de mort américains" had changed to a resounding "oui". Mitterrand's Gaullist, even-handed approach to dealing with the superpowers as described in Ici et maintenant (cf p4) gave way to a renewed emphasis on balanced collective security.
H. Claude (p35) points out that the "double menace" to French and European security posed by the Soviet and American deployment of missiles that Mitterrand had stated existed in Ici et maintenant (p235) in 1980 had now changed to a "menace unique" the Soviet threat. Formerly Mitterrand had called for collective negotiations before the US Pershing II missiles were installed in Western Europe in 1983, and had commented on the danger which they represented to the Soviet Union (Ici et maintenant p234). The Bundestag speech changed Mitterrand's emphasis from the bilateral nature of the threat posed by the deployment of Euromissiles to one centred on the equilibrium destroyed by the SS20s and stated that the US had the right to deploy its missiles in response in order to be able to bargain with the USSR from a position of strength (Claude p61).Of President Reagan, Mitterrand said in Le Point (20/7/81)"Il veut se mettre en position de force. Je l'approuve." (op. cit. Claude p51) In Stern (8/7/81), Mitterrand talked of his belief that "...il existe une suprématie de l'URSS en Europe et j'y vois un réel danger. Mais les Etats-Unis ont les moyens de rétablir le rapport des forces; et la France n'hésitera pas à compléter son armement de dissuasion." (op. cit. Claude p51)
Just as President Reagan was portrayed as having the right to bargain from a position of strength, so too should France strengthen its dissuasive capacity in response to the Soviet threat. Mitterrand elaborated on this reasoning in his book Réflexions sur la politique extérieure de la France (1986). He asserted, echoing the PC Kanapa Report of 1977, that it was necessary to maintain France's nuclear strike force ready to counter any outside aggression due to France's weakness in conventional arms "...les forces conventionnelles d'aujourd'hui, pas plus que celles de demain, ne peuvent adéquatement repousser une attaque conventionnelle soviétique de grande ampleur" (p22). The Soviet predominance in Europe this was Mitterrand's justification for support of Western allies such as West Germany in the face of internal opposition over the deployment of more US missiles in Europe. It was also the basis for a continued commitment to the development of France"s own "force de frappe" alongside the US nuclear umbrella.
To examine the validity of such a justification, an examination of the state of the military balance in Europe is necessary. The following figures are taken from the London-based, statistically (and politically) conservative International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and their report on the military situation in Europe at the time of Mitterrand's election in 1981; The IISS Military Balance 1981-2. In terms of total manpower in uniform in Europe (counting all the cooks, nurses' aids, dentists etc as well as the fighting troops), NATO had 4,933,000 personnel facing 4,788,000 Warsaw Pact personnel (a 1.031 ratio in NATO's favour). In terms of actual combat troops, NATO had 2,123,000 personnel vs 1,669,000 Warsaw Pact troops (a 1.271 ratio in NATO's favour. These figures do not take note of what the Soviets regarded as a very real military threat; China. Considering the good state of Sino-American relations in the 1980s and the deplorable state of Sino-Soviet relations since the 1950s, it was not inconceivable that a Soviet invasion of Western Europe would bring in China on the side of NATO. Fighting a two-front war the balance would be 1.841 to the Warsaw Pact's disadvantage (pp73, 124).
Such quantitative estimates ignored other factors: NATO's technological superiority and its higher percentage of professional troops, as opposed to the conscript nature of many Warsaw Pact divisions. Despite the Warsaw Pact's much cited 2.51 tank superiority over NATO (much of which consisted of designs dating back to WWII), NATO had a 101 numerical superiority over Warsaw Pact tanks in precision-guided ATG munitions (Defended To Death p179). Any Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe would have had to penetrate these quite substantial defences before reaching France. On the basis of such information it was difficult to see where Mitterrand obtained his "suprématie de l'URSS en Europe", at least in terms of conventional forces.
What then of the deployment of the SS20s and the balance of nuclear weapons in Europe? The Euromissile question was the one that prompted Mitterrand's support for the US deployment of Pershing IIs and cruise missiles from 1983 and spurred the PS government further in its resolution to develop the "force de frappe" for the future.
In the Reagan administration's campaign to the European public, the deployment of cruise and Pershing II missiles was portrayed as a necessary response to the escalation in numbers of Soviet nuclear weapons in the European theatre - a means of restoring the "balance" of nuclear arms in Europe. This message was one Mitterrand was active in spreading during visits to West European neighbours such as West Germany. Yvon Bourges, the last Defence Minister to hold office under Giscard, did not see the USSR as having military dominance in Europe, unlike Mitterrand: "Il est vrai que l'appareil militaire de l'URSS a considérablement augmenté. Mais je ne crois pas que l'on puisse dire qu'il dépasse celui de l'Occident et en particulier celui des Etats-Unis." (op. cit. Claude p89)
Charles Hernu, Mitterrand's Defence Minister from 1981-85, correctly saw the SS20s as a mere drop in the strategic bucket (N. Waites p202). They constituted 151 missiles out of a Warsaw Pact total of 2,411 deployed in the European theatre in 1981. Another 79 SS20s were also deployed, but were not within range of Europe, being stationed along the USSR's Asian border. The SS20 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) was not a new weapon, being the top two stages of the SSX16 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM); a design dating from 1972, with the booster rockets of the lower stage removed. The SS20s were deployed as a replacement for the obsolescent Soviet SS4s and SS5s deployed in Europe. Although having three nuclear warheads, as opposed to the monoblock warheads of the SS4 and SS5, the SS20 was estimated as having 19% less explosive yield (Defended To Death p317-8).
Against the Soviet force of 2,411 nuclear delivery systems in Europe, NATO in 1981 had 5,892. Neither of these figures accounted for the actual number of nuclear warheads; a figure that was higher. Multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVed missiles) were used more extensively by the US. On top of this total the US proposed the deployment of 108 Pershing II missiles and 116 cruise missiles from 1983. The Pershing II had a number of advantages over the SS20. It was a redesign of the Pershing 1A with state of the art guidance systems. It had a circular error probability (CEP - - the maximum range it can fall off-target) of 120 feet against the SS20's CEP - of 1,500 feet. The Pershing II also had a single shot kill probability (SSKP) against a "hardened" missile silo target of 0.99 (1 = a certain kill). The SS20's SSKP was 0.17 against an equivalent target (Defended To Death p107).
Even without the Pershing IIs NATO would have retained nuclear superiority in Europe as it had throughout the 1970s (Defended To Death p114). The Soviet SS20 was a replacement for two different systems, the SS4 and SS5, which had been in service since 1959 and 1961 respectively. The Pershing II was a powerful new addition to NATO's European nuclear arsenal (Defended To Death p318-321). Mitterrand's "suprématie de l'URSS en Europe" was, like President Kennedy's "missile gap" in the early 1960s, a myth. The deployment of 151 SS20s by the Soviet Union from 1979 did not significantly increase the threat already posed to France by the 2,411 other launch systems already in service.
Mitterrand's view however was different in a Europe threatened by Soviet military "supremacy", France had to maintain a strong defence. Considering the "inadequacy" of conventional forces at holding off any Warsaw Pact invasion, France would have to rely on a nuclear defence a panoply of arms powerful enough to restrain any potential adversary from attacking. Briefly, this is what Mitterrand's principle of "suffisance" implied for France, or what D. Johnstone described as the "tear off an arm theory". (New Left Review 146 p14) France should have the ability to inflict damage on an aggressor out of all proportion to any benefit that aggressor could possibly gain from launching an attack. But Mitterrand was at pains to point out that France was not pursuing the nuclear arms race and trying to compete alongside the two superpowers.
"Dissuasion minimale", a term used by Mitterrand and the PS since the 1970s, was a key term in understanding the role of France's nuclear force. French deterrence was not about stockpiling thousands of nuclear weapons like the Soviets and Americans. Mitterrand opposed this "surarmement". France aimed for a minimal dissuasive capacity and did not seek to rival the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers (Réflexions p26). A nuclear force of a hundred or more nuclear devices would suffice, unlike the total of 10,000+ devices that the superpowers felt secure with.
"La course aux armements est pour elle (la France) qualitative : il s'agit de garantir, en fonction des progrès technologiques, et des contre-mesures toujours plus affinées de plus forts, invulnerabilité de sa défense et sa rapidité, sa précision, sa puissance de pénétration dans le système averse, au sol et dans l'espace." (Réflexions p22- my italics.)
France would hold to the maxim "small is beautiful" and work to refine its "force de frappe" to maximum effectiveness within existing budgetary constraints. This development would encompass many areas. One was the continuation of French underground nuclear tests in the Pacific "autant qu'ils seront utiles aux intérêts stratégiques" (Réflexions p31); a position still held by the PS administration in 1988. Considerations of French security meant that the PS commitment to freezing nuclear weapons development and to halting underground testing expressed back in its 1971 Programme was irrelevant.
France's FOST was another area of development, including the extension of port facilities and additions to the fleet. Approval for the development of the neutron bomb-equipped Hades missile was also passed by the PS administration (D. Johnstone p29). Scheduled for deployment in 1992, the Hades was a short-range weapon and could only reach East Germany. Its proposed deployment was a rejection of any former call for nuclear-free demilitarized zones in Central Europe of the sort envisaged in the 1971 PS Programme and, like the Pluton a decade before, was some cause for concern for the West Germans, on whose territory it would probably have been used had France involved itself in a war in Germany (Claude p19). The anti-nuclear feeling of the 1972 Programme commun with its "décision d'interrompre la construction de la force de frappe" was also now a thing of the past. The PS was committed to the course charted for it by Hernu and Chevènement at the January 1978 Special Convention on Defence following the break with the PC in 1977.
Part of that course was the decision that France would not reduce its nuclear force in size unless there were major superpower reductions first. Mitterrand elaborated on this in Réflexions France could not contemplate any French nuclear disarmament unless the superpowers lowered their level of "surarmement". Although Mitterrand stated that "...le désarmement demeure pour nous prioritaire...", France could not be party to, for example, a 50% reduction in nuclear arms alongside the US and USSR. As France already had "dissuasion minimale" as a guiding principle, such a reduction would lower the number of its nuclear missiles to fewer than a hundred. The Soviet Union and the United States would still retain around 5,000 nuclear devices each. France would be left with half a nuclear force, whilst the superpowers would still be "surarmés". Mitterrand would not tolerate such a step as it would lessen France's level of security and undermine the strategic balance between France and the superpowers even further.
"...le désarmement a pour objet d'accroître la sécurité et non de la réduire, que la sécurité repose sur l'équilibre de toutes les forces au niveau le plus bas..." (Réflexions p39- my italics)
US and Soviet nuclear forces were not at their lowest possible levels for the minimum of nuclear defence required to assure them security, therefore they would have to be drastically reduced before France could enter into any negotiations. This "you first..." approach precluded any French involvement in the Geneva negotiations during Mitterrand's Presidency from 1981. It was up to the two superpowers to put their houses in order first.
"Au surarmement nucléaire, la France oppose le principe de l'équilibre des forces au niveau le plus bas et attend, sans trop s'y fier, des négotiations de Genève une réduction significative des potentiels militaires." (Réflexions p35)
In order to regain an "equilibrium" in Europe, France would have to forego the "arbitrage international" and "désarmement simultané et contrôlé" which Mitterrand mentioned in 1969 were inseparable for any socialist from the construction of peace (Ma part de vérité p192). In the immediate future, negotiations would be bipartite between the two superpowers, and their arms reduction agreements would have to precede any French involvement in the process. In 1988 the PS was still talking of the need for "un désarmement équilibré et contrôlable" (Dossiers et documents p72). France could not afford a "désarmement simultané". Mitterrand did not, as he pointed out, accept the "principes à tiroirs" of the typical French socialist.
With Jacques Huntzinger, a pro-nuclear advocate, as the PS planner of international relations policy from late 1981, Party statements in this area reflected many of Mitterrand's views. Peace, Security & Disarmament (25 May 1982), issued by the PS, called for negotiations to restore deterrence through bans or limits on destabilising weapons systems ( D. Johnstone p16). This was putting forth Mitterrand's concern for a European strategic balance in another context. Only with a low, balanced level of nuclear forces, comprised of weapons that did not increase the ability of either side for a rapid pre-emptive strike, could deterrence function effectively as it had in the past. Mitterrand had, from his initial support for the "force de frappe" in 1971, developed into a firm believer in deterrence by the 1980s. It was France's only way of counteracting Soviet military "supremacy". France's defence thinking rested on it, as he pointed out in his Bundestag speech (20 January 1983) -
"Une idée simple gouverne la pensée de la France - il faut que la guerre demeure impossible et que ceux qui y songeraient en soient dissuadés." (Réflexions p192-3)
This was one of the major reasons why Mitterrand rejected President Reagan"s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) in 1986. SDI was, for Mitterrand "...un facteur de destabilisation du système dissuasif fondé sur la vulnerabilité des territoires et des forces..." (Réflexions p65). It would undermine not only the USSR's nuclear defences but also France's nuclear territorial defence and upset the existing nuclear balance of terror.
Considering Mitterrand's "you first..." position on nuclear disarmament, France was unlikely to play a positive part in the Geneva negotiations, even if the USA had been prepared to invite France to the conference table. France's refusal to have its nuclear forces included alongside British missiles as part of the NATO total was an obstacle to initial negotiations. Mitterrand was firm in asserting France's independence on this matter - "La France décidera, et elle seule, des affaires de la France" was how he later put it in 1986 (Réflexions p50). With such a position, it was also unlikely that the two superpowers would make a great effort to seek France's involvement in discussions.
The failure of the US Geneva proposal (30 November 1981) over the question of France's missiles being included with the NATO total did not prompt a great deal of official French comment. Later, in September 1983, Mitterrand took the opportunity to elaborate on France's position on disarmament in the United Nations General Assembly but France did not contribute a great deal even indirectly through the UN towards the Geneva negotiations. France's representative abstained from the UN's 14 November 1985 Resolution calling for the hope to a solution to problems at Geneva (Claude p178). The Soviet Union's 15 January 1986 disarmament proposal fulfilled PS disarmament conditions of a superpower reduction of nuclear arms levels before including France in negotiation. The official French response to this on 3 March 1986 did not involve any marked support for the Soviet Union's move, nor did it mark a change in Mitterrand, who continued speaking of relying on France's deterrent as the best means of defence (Claude p187-191).
During the PS government's 1981-1986 term, very little in concrete terms was achieved towards fulfilling the disarmament goals expressed in Points 6, 7 and 8 of Mitterrand's 110 Propositions. Point 6, calling for "le désarmement progressif et simultané en vue de la dissolution des blocs militaires dans l'équilibre présérvé des forces en présence" (Politique II p308), was one that the PS administration had not made any gains in achieving by 1986. Mitterrand's post-1981 descriptions made in West Germany to the Bundestag and the media, of Europe as being under the menace of the Soviet bear; and his comments on massive Soviet military superiority resulting in the need for the US to counter this with the deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles did little to lessen nuclear arms escalation or reduce East-West tensions. Mitterrand's statements were aimed to actually reinforce the existing military blocs.
Concern expressed in Point 7 for "la non-proliferation de l'arme nucléaire et le renforcement du contrôle sur les centrales civiles"(Politique II p308) was not translated into concrete action after the 1981 elections. No controlling agency for monitoring the export of reactor technology, as there existed under Giscard's administration, was formed despite France's role in this area and France remained a non-signatory to the NPT. Any "...ouverture d'une négotiation sur la sécurité collective en Europe conforme à l'initiative du Parti socialiste pour une conférence sur la réduction des forces et des tensions"(Point 8) was precluded by Mitterrand's argument for France's "minimal dissuasive capacity" and the necessity for massive superpower nuclear arms reductions as a precondition to any future action by France.
This lack of fulfilment of the PS's former peace and disarmament sentiments created a gulf between the French Left and the rest of the Western European Left which by and large was not in government in the early 1980s, with the former being perceived as "a bastion of anachronistic nationalism and the main obstacle to a unified European socialist approach to nuclear disarmament", rather than being the dynamic, progressive force for disarmament that was unrealistically hoped for in 1981(D. Johnstone p18). The European Left were confronted with a nation lead by a "socialist" party, with all the stereotypes that word conjures up, openly proclaiming support for nuclear deterrence and continuing the development of its nuclear forces as its best hope for defence, whilst at the same time calling for an end to the "surarmement" of the superpowers. Outside the Left, there was also the view that the French were being obstinate in not throwing their support behind the Geneva negotiations and their refusal to have French nuclear missiles included with NATO's total.
Much of the European Left's disappointment in France stemmed from Mitterrand's active support for the Atlantic Alliance and his good diplomatic relationship with the United States, which was somewhat at odds with the image he presented in Ici et maintenant.
Mitterrand's good dealings with West Germany and the United States did serve to settle some of the concerns he expressed in Ici et maintenant for the ambiguities of France's position under Giscard in relation to the Atlantic Alliance. During Mitterrand's Presidency from 1981 he confirmed France's continued role alongside other Western European nations as part of what A. Duhamel described as "une politique atlantique mais autonome" (La Republique de M. Mitterrand p170). Although Mitterrand, through his support for the US deployment of Pershing IIs in West Germany, closer defence ties with West Germany, and a good working relationship with the USA, dispelled any uncertainty about France's Atlantic Alliance links, he stated quite clearly that France was not likely to rejoin NATO. France might express solidarity with NATO on matters of West European collective security, but this did not exclude France's right to follow its own independence on defence matters. The USA might have France's support on the Euromissile question and its right to bargain from a position of strength at Geneva, but France would not submit to having its "force de frappe" included with US missile totals in disarmament proposals. The cornerstone of French defence policy since de Gaulle- France's insistence on its right to retain its own defence autonomy- remained firmly in place. Of NATO, Mitterrand said "Nous en sommes sortis et n'y reviendrons pas. On ne laisse pas décider pour soi quand la vie et la mort sont en jeu." (Ici et maintenant p242)
This did not mean France would avoid contact with NATO. Mitterrand was stronger in his involvement with NATO's members, and his comments on its affairs, than Giscard had been. His open support of the USA on the deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in his Bundestag speech went further than Giscard, who had been careful not to make any statement in favour of their deployment on the grounds that it was a NATO matter, and partly on account of any opposition it might have provoked within France. Giscard was wary of accusations of pro-Americanism, both from the Gaullist camp and the PC (Claude p53). Mitterrand, on the other hand, was prepared to support the US military presence in Europe in the name of Western European collective security.
His attitude had intensified since his earlier days in the 1960s when he had advocated the negotiated disappearance of the NATO and Warsaw Pacts in order to create a united Europe (Politique p448), but pointed out that NATO was still needed for the immediate future (cf p1). Any such future hopes had receded by the time of his 1981 110 Propositions, the relevant points of which were aimed at placing French defence goals within the context of present East/West divisions. France's concern now was for a clearer definition of its role in the Atlantic Alliance (Point 106) and the hope for immediate negotiations on collective security in Europe (Point 8). Point 106 emphasised France's position in the Western Alliance and the need to work with it in the face of the Soviet threat to Western Europe. In his support for additional US missiles in Europe, Mitterrand showed his belief that the USA had a strong part to play in the defence of Western Europe. He later pointed out in 1986 that without the USA backing up Western Europe, the Soviet threat would be that much greater -
"Indemne de toute obsession anti-soviétique, je continue de croire que le pire danger pour nous, comme pour nos voisins d'Europe occidentale, serait présentement que l'Amérique s'éloignât des rivages de notre continent."(Réflexions p9)
Western Europe's defence lay in the continuation of the collective security that NATO provided. "La sécurité collective" was the third part of the typical French socialist's defence triptych mentioned by Mitterrand in 1969 (Ma part de vérité p192). Out of "arbitrage internationale", "désarmement simultané et contrôlé", and "sécurité collective", it was the last point that Mitterrand came to adhere to the most strongly during the first five years of his Presidency. For want of greater success in the first two areas, Mitterrand turned to the third for the defence security it offered France. Talk of the USA withdrawing its forces from Western Europe undermined the existing alliance system. Western Europe had to stand by the USA or European security would be diminished and would undermine the maintenance of peace.
"Quiconque ferait le pari sur le <<découplage>> entre le continent européen et le continent américain mettrait, selon nous, en cause l'équilibre des forces et donc le maintien de la paix. [...] C'est pourquoi la détermination commune des membres de l'Alliance Atlantique et leur solidarité doivent être clairement confirmées..." (Réflexions p193)
This was what Mitterrand told his Bundestag audience on 20 January 1983. The prospect of the future disappearance of NATO and the Warsaw Pact advocated by Mitterrand during the 1960s had receded and become a call for the immediate collective support of the alliance by the 1980s, even though France itself remained outside NATO's formal membership.
France's own defence dealings under Mitterrand with the US initially stalled slightly in 1981 when he confirmed the inclusion for four PC members in minor ministerial posts. President Reagan halted the sale of super-computer technology to France due to their presence in the PS government. Mitterrand acted vigorously to regain Reagan's confidence in the PS administration, impressing Reagan with his concern for Western security at meetings in Washington, and arranging to hold the first NATO foreign minister's conference in Paris since before France's NATO withdrawal in 1966. Reagan was eventually sufficiently impressed to reauthorise the contract for eight CRAY-1 supercomputers to France in August 1982 for use with its FOST. Military hardware deals between the USA and France were extended with the US purchase of the French GTE Thomson RITA communications system (N. Waites p206).
Any conflict of foreign policy interest between the USA and France that was not of overriding importance to the PS administration was marginalised in the interests of good relations. Neither the PS nor Mitterrand officially passed unfavourable comment on Reagan's declaration of an arms embargo against Nicaragua in May 1985 (Claude p242). Mitterrand's opposition to false crusades in the third world expressed in Ici et maintenant, whether they be Soviet or American, and his urging of a "troisième voie" free of superpower interference for Latin America, was not brought out for a repeat airing at that particular time. The arms sales made to Nicaragua in 1981 by France were not likely to be repeated considering the growth in US hostility to Nicaragua, and Mitterrand's pre-election comments on how he never quite got on with the Americans also became a thing of the past ("Mes relations avec les ambassadeurs américains à Paris ont toujours eu un ton piqué." Ici et maintenant p242).
At least they became a thing of the past over minor policy matters such as Nicaragua. When more fundamental differences arose that were central to French defence independence, Mitterrand was not prepared to back down before the Reagan administration. His refusal to have French nuclear weapons used as a bargaining chip at the US-Soviet Geneva arms limitations talks has already been mentioned. Mitterrand also refused to allow the USAF strike force which attacked Libya in 1986 to pass over French airspace or use French Air Force facilities, not only on the grounds that it would be crossing French airspace, but also to protect France against any possible terrorist reprisals that such assistance might have provoked. That the strike force was forced to operate from British airfields proved that Mitterrand was not quite as pro-American as some of his opponents believed. France under Mitterrand was still far from becoming the US aircraft carrier that the UK was popularly portrayed as being in the socialist press.
Mitterrand was also firm in his rejection of the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) that Reagan proposed, for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, SDI would have undermined independent French deterrence. Any co-operation with the USA in setting up SDI would have led to the validity of France's "force de frappe" being called into question. French reliance on this hypothetical American defence "umbrella" would have lessened France's defence independence (Réflexions p53). Then there was the problem posed by the hole in the umbrella that experts estimated would let through 5% of incoming missiles, that is if the USA could conceivably overcome the immense technical problems of putting such a particle beam defence system into space (Réflexions p56-7). Mitterrand was categorical in his rejection of SDI -
"...l'I.D.S. renforce-t-elle ou non la sécurité de la France et celle de l'Europe? Je pense que non." (Réflexions p60)
France's relations under Mitterrand with the US from 1981-85 can thus be summed up as good, but differences arose when France felt its independent deterrent or its defence autonomy in general threatened by US policy proposals.
Mitterrand also moved France towards closer links with West Germany than had existed since the early 1960s under de Gaulle. Mitterrand's support for Helmut Kohl's newly-elected Christian Democrat Union (CDU) government in 1983 went beyond the comments on standing firm with the USA he made in his 1983 Bundestag speech. In 1983, the French Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), consisting of five army divisions, was set up for deployment in West Germany in case of a Warsaw Pact invasion (J. Howorth p315). A greater number of joint Franco-German military exercises were organised, personnel exchanges increased, as did the beginning of joint arms manufacturing projects and the organization of a Franco-German brigade which was hindered by the lack of a common language and equipment. J. Howorth described these activities as not adding up to a great deal, but from 1981-6 and later there has occurred a greater level of Franco-German military co-operation than that which Giscard had tentatively moved towards in the 1970s. Mitterrand described the RDF in 1986 as occupying an important position in NATO's forward defences (Réflexions p98). The occupation of such a position would not have been possible a decade before. General Méry's 1976 proposals for greater ties with NATO were not received favourably by Giscard's supporters. Gaullist sentiment remained too vigorous then for such proposals to be implemented.
The Economist (12/3/88) defined Mitterrand's military and foreign policy during his first Presidential term as "Walking away from de Gaulle". In terms of France moving closer towards co-operation with NATO members on defence matters, this assessment is correct, although it should be pointed out that de Gaulle's withdrawal of France from NATO membership in 1966 was by no means a total break with its members. French military forces remained in West Germany after 1966; French forces still exercised with NATO troops; and the "force de frappe", which was declared operational in 1968, still relied on NATO's early warning systems (as Mitterrand had occasion to point out) (B. Ledwidge; De Gaulle p319). Giscard's Presidency furthered co-operation slightly due to Giscard's concern for France to build up a "politique mondiale" and push back some of the military isolation that Gaullist nationalism implied. Giscard and military leaders such as General Méry facilitated co-operation with NATO but were restrained by the presence of Gaullist supporters amongst Giscard's ranks ( A. Duhamel; La Republique de M. Mitterrand p73).
Mitterrand then, was not taking a new line in dealing more closely with the Atlantic Alliance but was instead continuing the swing back towards NATO that had begun in the years immediately following de Gaulle's last Presidential term. That Mitterrand strengthened ties with NATO was partly due to budgetary considerations. As Howorth points out (p306), when Mitterrand and Hernu assumed control of France's independent defence in 1981, the realisation of the financial costs that such independence entailed made itself known very early on. If France was to maintain its "force de frappe" in a period of economic depression with a diminishing financial resource base, then conventional defence spending would have to be reduced. Purchasing costs for new equipment were continually rising; the increase in R&D costs alone from 1976-86 was 20%. The relatively slow increase in government defence spending could not meet this growth. Under Giscard, defence funds increased 6.9% (1976-81). Under Mitterrand, the extra amount of money allocated to defence spending shrank to an average growth level of 1.9% (1981-86). In comparison with the rest of the state budget, defence allocation was also falling. In 1981, defence comprised 17% of the state budget. By 1986, it had fallen to 14.9% (J. Howorth p311). To finance continued R&D costs for the "force de frappe", France's conventional forces felt the effects of the shrinking budget.
The 1984-88 Defence White Paper planned for France's conventional forces to be reduced by 35,000 men over five years; forces that Mitterrand had already deemed inadequate for France's defence. The White Paper assigned 30% of all equipment credits to nuclear weapons. The Economist (12/3/88 p19) pointed out that equipment costs by 1988 consumed half of the French military budget, but planned conventional equipment funding suffered as nuclear weapons took the lion's share of the funding. Prior to the White Paper, 17 billion francs worth of conventional force credits assigned under Giscard had to be annulled, involving the suspension of contracts for AFVs, 25 Mirage jets and artillery batteries. From 1983-4 defence economies were made to restrict the use of oil consumption used by units on exercises, such was the lack of funds (N. Waites p207).
The PS government could not afford to continue the level of funding required to maintain conventional forces and develop the "force de frappe". France's conventional forces suffered in favour of nuclear weapons. The Navy for example enjoyed a slight increase in spending under the 1984-88 White Paper, but most of the money was designated for France's FOST. The conventional fleet suffered, with budgetary plans for building a new aircraft carrier postponed until 1986 (J. Howorth p309). With this "intractable resources problem", as Howorth described it (p307), Mitterrand was not merely being magnanimous in seeking closer collective security ties with the Atlantic Alliance considering France's shrinking conventional defence resources, defence co-operation with neighbours such as West Germany was a valid and necessary option for future defence plans.
In terms of Mitterrand's emphasis on France's "force de frappe" however, he was not "Walking away from de Gaulle". Like de Gaulle, Mitterrand considered an independent French nuclear deterrent to be France's best means of defence. Mitterrand's support of it held not only in the face of the SDI proposal, but also had to endure internal complaints from the French military General Delauney's 1983 resignation over the budgetary cutbacks proposed for conventional forces in favour of the "force de frappe" (Cohen p209); complaints about the delays in updating France's tank force which led to the dismissal of General Arnold, the commander of the First Tank Division; and a plea from the Navy Chief of Staff in 1985 warning of the perils of neglecting France's conventional fleet in favour of the FOST (J. Howorth p 309).
The centralisation of the control mechanisms of the "force de frappe" undertaken by Mitterrand and Hernu also accorded well with de Gaulle's conception of how the force should be commanded through tight Presidential control, with the President alone reserving the right to "press the button". Tactical nuclear missiles such as the Pluton which were deployed from 1974 were taken from the control of front line commanders and brought under direct Presidential control. Just as for de Gaulle; "l'engagement des forces nucléaires ne peut reposer que sur la décision d'un seul" (19/7/64), so too for Mitterrand the control of France's nuclear force was a Presidential concern. He pointed out in an April 1983 TV interview that; "la pièce maîtresse de la dissuasion, c'est moi" (both op. cit. Claude p194). For France's deterrent to be credible, it needed to be capable of responding swiftly and massively to any nuclear pre-emptive strike the all or nothing response originally proposed by General Ailleret in 1967 under de Gaulle (Le Point 21/12/87 p27). This could not be done swiftly if the decision to launch the nuclear counterstrike was made collectively, or if the high command in Paris did not have direct control over front line tactical nuclear weapons.
Therefore Mitterrand and Hernu implemented a more centralised command structure. Hernu, as mentioned previously, was not in favour of the "graduated response" theory for the "force de frappe" which had been accepted in the 1970s with the introduction of tactical nuclear missiles. The Pluton tactical missiles of which Hernu had opposed the introduction in 1974 on the grounds of their dubious tactical purposes were relabelled "prestrategic", an interesting piece of jargon designed to reaffirm the centralised all or nothing nature of the weapons. Neither their range nor their capabilities were enhanced; the new designation served to indicate that they would be used as part of a general French nuclear retaliatory strike, rather than in the limited tactical nuclear exchange that the "graduated response" doctrine permitted. The emphasis now was on France's nuclear force acting as a coherent whole exercised under Presidential control: a massive nuclear retaliatory capacity which would render an invasion of France impossible, rather than the prospect of a "limited nuclear exchange" that the "graduated response" doctrine allowed - "...notre force de dissuasion ne peut être réellement dissuasive que si elle s'exerce massivement et immédiatement, dès le moment où nous serions menacés..." (Politique II p91)
Therefore the "autogestion" and decentralisation advocated by the PS in other policy areas definitely did not apply to the "force de frappe", except in terms of it being a force solely under French control.
Both during the PS term of government from 1981-86 and afterwards during "cohabitation", the "Union pour la Démocratie Française" (UDF), attacked this centralised control structure on the grounds that it was impractical and inflexible to control front line tactical ("prestrategic"?) nuclear weapons from Paris in wartime conditions. They urged a decentralisation and a return to the "graduated response" doctrine of the 1970s. Following the PS 1986 election defeat, Mitterrand held off any devolution of Presidential control of the "force de frappe" that Jacques Chirac envisaged. From 1986-88 Mitterrand conducted "une véritable croisade" against the strategy of graduated response which his Prime Minister advocated (Le Point 7/3/88 p39). The "force de frappe" was to remain a unified force under direct Presidential control until the PS was reelected into government in 1988 -
"On ne peut pas séparer arbitrairement, tel ou tel élément de la stratégie. Parmi les moyens de celle-ci se trouvent les armes tactiques que les socialistes appellent préstratégiques pour bien démontrer qu'elles ne sont pas séparables de la force nucléaire stratégique. Elles font partie de toute stratégie, elles ne peuvent être le prolongement d'une bataille classique ou conventionnelle." (op. cit. Nay p199)
After an absence of two years from government, in 1988 it was interesting to look back and view the achievements of the PS between 1981-86 in the area of defence. Centralised Presidential control of the "force de frappe" remained in spite of UDF opposition. France's overall commitment to nuclear deterrence also largely remained an undisturbed area of policy debate. A 1987 SOFRES survey indicated that 53% of the French population were in favour of a French nuclear deterrent as a means of national security; only 30% opposed the principle of a French nuclear deterrent; a not insubstantial minority, but still a minority (Le Point 15/ 6/87 p42). As it was not an electorally divisive issue, the PS retained its stated commitment to nuclear defence in the 1988 Legislative Elections in the belief that this was what the majority of French citizens desired, and also in the belief that this was what was necessary for the continued security of both France and Europe. Their 1988 Party pre-election statement reasserted "le role indispensable de la force nucléaire française pour la sécurité de l'Europe" (Dossiers et documents du septennat p77). In doing so, the PS showed a broad agreement on defence matters with the UDF and other parties of the French Right that allowed Mitterrand and Chirac to attend NATO summit meetings between 1986 and 1988 without a great amount of disagreement.
On the subject of disarmament, in 1988 the PS was largely back to the point where it had started following its election in 1981. Once more the dilemma of winding down the arms export industry and cutting back on a major export earner and provider of R&D funds that the government could not provide from elsewhere faced the PS. The Party restated its aim to channel exports to Third World countries into peaceful, aid-orientated goals;
"...pour les socialistes, il convient de lier désarmement et développement. Chaque économie réalisée sur la course aux armements devrait être consacrée au développement des pays les plus pauvres..."(Dossiers et documents p73)
How the PS will achieve this aim without detrimental effects
to France's security remained to be seen. Concerning European nuclear
disarmament, the position of the PS was largely unchanged by events at Geneva.
Prior to its election the PS restated that no inclusion of French nuclear forces
into negotiations could be contemplated "tant que le paysage stratégique global
n'aura changé" (Dossiers et documents p77). The "double zero option"
agreed upon by the USSR and the USA for European disarmament in 1988 was not
sufficient for a French response. The PS demanded a 50% reduction of superpower
nuclear arms levels before France would act on reductions (Dossiers et
documents p73). The 1987 SOFRES survey indicated broad support for not
acting on negotiations at Geneva: 61% of those surveyed amongst the French
population thought that the "force de frappe" should be retained at the current
level of development. Only 18% replied that France should reduce its nuclear
arms levels as a response, and 9% urged that nuclear armament should be
increased (Le Point 15/6/87 p42). On policy proposals of nuclear
disarmament, along with conventional, chemical and bacteriological disarmament
(Dossiers et documents p73), the European Left in 1988 was still waiting for
some lasting achievement from the PS and President Mitterrand in their
furtherance of "la tradition socialiste ...de la paix, du désarmement et de la
sécurité collective." (Dossiers et documents p71)
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