May 21, 2024
DUSTY SHELVES welcomes Mark Lottman as he examines Herbert Tint’s French Foreign Policy since the Second World War. Tint's book delves into a number of challenges that the French government had to deal with in the decades following WWII. Lottman sees the parallels with current domestic and foreign policy issues in the United States, and suggests there are lessons to be gleaned from France's history.

A core strength of the book lies its use of sources, ranging from interviews that Tint conducted with officials in the French Foreign Ministry to a collection of Charles de Gaulle’s speeches.

With the inauguration of President Joe Biden as the United States’ 46th President on January 20, 2021, the United States faces challenges both domestically and from abroad. While the situation may seem dire, other countries have weathered domestic crises while maintaining an active presence internationally. Herbert Tint’s French Foreign Policy since the Second World War does an excellent job examining the latter, though readers will need to turn elsewhere to understand the significance of France’s situation at home in the 1950s and 1960s.

Writing in 1972, Tint’s work was ahead of its time. His book, organized into two distinct sections, introduces readers to a variety of issues that the French government grappled with in the decades following the Second World War. Each subtopic, organized broadly by France’s diplomatic initiatives with different countries, is presented in a chronological manner. One can easily read about France’s dynamic relationship with West Germany from 1945 to 1972, France’s attempts at counterbalancing the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), or changes in foreign policy with France’s former colonies. The second part of Tint’s book describes in detail the diplomatic service. While this section is substantially shorter than the first, sitting at just 22 pages, Tint’s inclusion of it was worthwhile, providing readers a better understanding of the responsibilities of various departments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A core strength of the book lies in its use of sources, ranging from interviews that Tint conducted with officials in the French Foreign Ministry to a collection of Charles de Gaulle’s speeches. In the book’s acknowledgements, Tint thanks Mr. Victor Garès, France’s press counsellor at its embassy in London, for arranging interviews with French diplomatic officials and for helping Mr. Tint in the preparation of his book. This first-hand access to French public servants is complemented by a lengthy list of secondary sources, themselves ranging from theses to edited volumes on French foreign affairs. The variety and use of these sources enable Tint to evaluate France’s attempts at preserving and extending its influence globally. French Foreign Policy since the Second World War looks beyond any single issue, be it economic development or national security concerns, and instead focuses on how the interplay of these issues at times undermined or contributed to France’s pursuit of power and prestige on the international stage. For example, France’s involvement in the Suez Crisis in 1956 hurt their appeal with newly independent countries. Shortly after Egypt’s President, Gamel Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal, Great Britain, France, and Israel launched an invasion in Egyptian territory with the intent of deposing Nasser, though political pressure from both the United States and the Soviet Union led to their withdrawal. This abortive effort drew the ire of newly independent countries around the world who were wary of France and Britain’s colonial aspirations. Conversely, France’s decision to remain non-aligned amidst the bipolarity of the Cold War garnered support from other states wary of both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Despite the superpowers’ increasingly large roles internationally, as well as the financial support France had previously received from the U.S., the French government sought to define itself beyond any alignment with the Americans or the Soviets.

Tint’s assessment of France in the years after the Second World War paints a bleak picture: just prior to France’s parliamentary election in 1945, its first free election since 1936, over a third of French citizens said that food and transportation were their most pressing issues. With France trying to rebuild its economy and compete for a position of power in postwar talks, the introduction of the Marshall Plan and influx of money was a lifesaver. Even with financial aid from the United States, France’s foreign policy in the 1950s left much to be desired. France’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 marked the end of French Indochina, and France followed up its military defeat two years later with a political defeat in Egypt. As France continuously attempted, and failed, to maintain its empire, its foreign policies proved costly. France would become haunted by the expensive conflicts, unnecessary loss of life, and international embarrassment as it lost Morocco and Tunisia to peaceful independence movements and Algeria to its war for independence.

France’s foreign policy during the Cold War bears reviewing in light of America’s domestic political situation and the global environment the Biden administration will face.

French Foreign Policy since the Second World War stands out in describing the economic pressures France was experiencing and outlining the development of France’s foreign policy. Particularly, Tint devotes over a quarter of his book to examining France’s relationship with the Soviet Union, a diplomatic relationship that often gets overlooked when focusing on Franco-German relations or France’s colonial pursuits. However, only one line in his book discusses the extent of the fallout following the Suez Crisis. Tint writes that a combination of the ongoing Algerian war for independence and the humiliation of the Suez Crisis contributed to a weakening of the French Fourth Republic. In 1958, following a coup in Algeria, the Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth, with Charles de Gaulle heading the country as President. France’s domestic instability and political disunity had effectively ended the Fourth Republic and consequently forced the French government to focus inward before resuming its efforts abroad.

France’s foreign policy during the Cold War bears reviewing in light of America’s domestic political situation and the global environment the Biden administration will face. While the international environment has unquestionably shifted from the bipolarity of the Cold War, interstate competition persists. The Biden administration may not have the aspirations for grandeur that President de Gaulle held on to, but it is in the U.S.’s interest to retain a position of influence in world politics and to reinvest in making America an appealing partner for other states. As Tint noted early in his book, antagonistic behavior towards states is likelier to prove costly than it is to prove rewarding to a country. Broad generalizations of the political institutions in a geographic region that is culturally rich and diverse, such as Africa, signal to other states that America is unaware or apathetic to the differences between the individual states comprising the continent. France continued to play a significant role in its former colonies’ and protectorates’ affairs, as seen with France’s first choice in purchasing resources like uranium. The U.S. can likewise seek agreements beneficial to itself while respecting the individuality of the sovereign states with which it is interacting.

The book’s most glaring weakness lies in its limited account of important parts of the domestic situation in France. Tint barely addresses the coup of 1958 that brought President Charles de Gaulle back into power and similarly touches sparingly on the student demonstrations in May of 1968 that froze the entire country. Instead, Tint focuses on global economic issues and France’s response to them, ranging from France’s need for financial aid in the immediate postwar period or the valuation of American, British, German, and French currencies. The police repression, nation-wide riots, and a strike of ten million workers in 1968 should have warranted more than a few passing lines. While de Gaulle remained in power for a few months after the riots, his career as head of the French state was clearly on its last legs. As the United States deals with growing polarity in American society and politics, it is crucial that elected officials focus on addressing domestic threats to the nation’s stability and basic governance. America’s security and international prestige rest as much on its domestic situation as it does the outcomes of its foreign policies.

While hindsight is undoubtedly clearer for Tint’s readers 49 years after he published French Foreign Policy since the Second World War, the shortcomings of his work cannot be ignored. Tint sought to evaluate France’s propagation and entrenchment of French influence around the world, though more thorough accounts of France’s domestic situation from 1945 to 1972 would have bolstered his findings. Nevertheless, his contributions on France’s foreign policies cannot be disregarded. Tint’s work records France’s transformation from a war-torn and recovering state, to the attempted reinvigoration of a fledging French empire, to an empowered France that tried to create its own identity beyond the orbit of the U.S. or U.S.S.R. American readers will find in French Foreign Policy since the Second World War a cautious warning of a country’s adapting foreign policy in the face of a dynamic global environment and persistent domestic troubles. Like France, the United States government needs to avoid burying its head in the sand or disregarding issues at home, which can be accomplished by maintaining and investing in existing partnerships with other states and focusing on threats to itself from within.

Mark Lottman is an Instructional Assistant in the Department of Political Science, Texas State University. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense.

Photo Description: Clockwise from Top Left: President Nixon and General de Gaulle in Paris, 1969; Funeral services for Konrad Adenauer Reception of the heads of state and government in the Godesberg Redoute from left (1st row): General Charles de Gaulle, Federal President Heinrich Lübke, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967; President Harry S. Truman, General Charles de Gaulle of France saluting on the South Lawn, 1945; Queen Elizabeth and Charles de Gaulle at a Gala Performance at the Royal Opera House,London, 1960; General de Gaulle attended the Betelgeuse aerial nuclear test on September 11, 1966 at Moruroa.

Photo Credit: Photos via Wikimedia commons, the Richard Nixon Foundation, Flickr/romanbenedikhanson and Background photo created by –

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