Chirac And The General's Legacy

PARIS: It takes a Gaullist president to undermine the foreign policies France has pursued ever since the presidency of General Charles de Gaulle. Of course, this is not an out-and-out insubordination from de Gaulle's world and European vision. But in many ways President Jacques Chirac is distancing himself from his hero's foreign policy ideas and structures.

Even though the post-ideological and nationalist tenor of today's global politics appear to confirm many of the things General de Gaulle prophesied in the 1960s, the world nowadays is sufficiently different from the one in which he lived that it is hard to say with certainty how the General would react to current events. Yes, the General treated Franco-German reconciliation as of primary importance in building a new and secure Europe. So in this respect, President Chirac is following in de Gaulle's footsteps. But it is hard to believe that the General would have approved of the scheme for a single European currency which Chirac openly supports.

That surrender of national sovereignty, indeed, seems very different from the heart of de Gaulle's grand vision for France. Moreover, the veto that the General wielded powerfully to protect French interests in Europe (remember his famous "NON" to British membership in the early 1960s) also seems to be something President Chirac is willing to sacrifice.

Last year's brazenly chauvinistic resumption of nuclear tests in the Pacific in the face of international opposition was certainly vintage Gaullism. But in other areas of national security, President Chirac is distinctly un-Gaullist. Consider his announcement, after the completion of the nuclear tests, that France was willing to give up such measures "for ever." Consider his talk about "concerted deterrence," and of the "europeanization of defense." Even if one is skeptical about the feasibility of both notions, the impulse behind them is a long way away from the independent security posture for France that de Gaulle cultivated. Certainly the advent of an all-volunteer French army appears to thwart the General's notion of inculcating national esprit and grandeur.