A month after the inauguration of François Mitterrand in 1981, Reagan sends his vice president,George Bush, on a fact-finding mission to Paris. The same morning, the Presidential Palace of the Elysée announces that there will be four communist ministers in the newly formed socialist government. How will the number two from the White House, who was director of the CIA, react? His team advises him to be very careful. To intervene openly with French domestic politics would be ‘counterproductive’. ‘On the other hand, if the french President deals with the question himself, it will be necessary to say that this participation of the Communists will have a ‘negative effect’ on the bilateral relations. But above all, cooperation is necessary in many fields.Order now
Therefore, the first “red” coalition is formed in France, few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and URSS. It is therefore essential to understand the relation between Mitterrand’s France and Reagan’s US to comprehend the overall French foreign policy.
This essay will analyse François Mitterrand’s anti-americanism in his first mandate (1981-1988), by answering the following thesis question: “To what extent did François Mitterrand implement anti-american policies during his 7 years old mandate?”. This question will be answered by first taking a look at the roots of anti-americanism in french socialism, and by comparing and contrasting the pro and anti-american policies of the first left-winged President of the Vth Republic.
Anti-Americanism in French Socialism
As explained by Keohane and Katzenstein, there are two different tendencies in anti-americanism: ‘One systematic or essentialist, which is a form of prejudice targeting all Americans. The other refers to the way criticisms of the United States are labeled ‘anti-American’ by supporters of U.S. policies in an ideological bid to discredit their opponents’. It is important to note that Anti-Americanism is influenced by the country and the time period given. French author, Pierre Guerlain on the other hand, states that anti-americanism may sometimes fuse together and therefore making their analysis very hard, and is thus not only dependant on one tendency.
Anti-Americanism is rooted in the idea of french socialism, which structures itself around in the late 30’s, in a context of where socialism and fascism often fought. With the rise to power of the coalition of the Popular Front (Front Populaire) in 1936, the french left would show itself very critic towards its transatlantic friend. Coming back to the definition given by Keohane and Katzenstein, the anti-americanism is connected to the essentialist tendency. Indeed, in the late thirties, the USA and Europe were slowly recovering from the Great Depression of 1930. This economical crisis not only lead to a massive fall in world growth, but also a very important rise in unemployment throughout the American continent and Europe. (5 million people lost their job in France) Often seen by the french left as the result of a capitalist and an economy only based on speculation, political figures have been really critics towards the country of Uncle Sam. Édourad Daladier, member of the radical-party, which was part of the left coalition, stated that: “The lack of a strong-powered state and an economy based on equality leaves the Americans at the mercy of shareholders and prevents the workers from achieving the dignity they deserve”.
Therefore, the anti-americanism in France in the 30’s relies more on a critic on the liberal economic policies of the American society. In a context of rising fascism in Europe, France was circled by Spain, undergoing a civil war between the Republican and the Nationalists, Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany. Therefore, France sought closer relationship with soviet Russia, notably through the Franco-Soviet Treaty of 1935 which promotes mutual assistance and reciprocal aid in case of another European war.
When the left was in power in France, it greatly criticised the economic policy of the United States of America, and grew closer to Moscow for security. This paradigm impacted the French left for decades, including when François Mitterrand rose to power in 1981.
François Mitterrand’s anti-Americanism
As explained beforehand, french socialism finds its roots in systemic anti-americanism, which is scepticism towards the pro-capitalistic and economic american society. Few weeks before his death, he stated: “’France does not know it, but we are at war with America. Yes, a permanent war, a vital war, an economic war, a war without death …”, clearly opposing it to the strong stated French economy.
François Mitterrand has always been very concerned with national economic independence and with the independence of Europe. He has considered European construction as a counter-power to American influence and to its hegemony. Therefore, during his election campaign of 1965, he presented himself as a defender of Europe as a way of counterbalancing the economic power of the United States, and in 1981, he asserted the need to be able to discuss with the Americans without weakness for, he says, ‘that the United States of America, ultimately do not dominate the Common Market of Europe’. Once elected, he continues to denounce the protectionist measures adopted by Washington that had terrible consequences for the European economy.
It is on the monetary issue that the debate will be most heated between President Mitterrand and the White House. The first three summits of the seven most industrialized countries he attends (Ottawa (1981), Versailles (1982), Williamsburg (1983)) are all occasions for him to highlight the seriousness of the consequences of rising interest rates in the United States and strong dollar, and calling for a reordering of the international monetary system. This position of François Mitterrand is expressed in very harsh terms: ‘The United States makes us pay for their unemployment and their deficit. It is we who allow Reagan to continue a policy that crushes us. ‘ His fight for another economical system was another major point of contention between him and US officials.
François Mitterrand has been a huge critic of the American military hegemon. In particular, the overthrow of the Government of Salvador Allende, in 1973, and the American support of military dictatorship in latin America, Africa and Asia.
In the 1970s, he began to criticize the Atlantic Alliance more and more, considering as an extension of the American military and as an empire whose capital is in Washington D.C.
Other topics of tension will exist between Paris and Washington during the first term of François Mitterrand: the Franco-Soviet agreement on the construction of the Siberian gas pipeline (1982), the American attack against Libya on the occasion of which Mitterrand refuses the overflight of French territory by American planes (1986), the Middle East where Washington adopts an attitude which is considered to be too pro-Israeli in the eyes of Paris and far from the spirit of the Camp David agreement. In 1985,, he denounced ‘those who contribute to stifle the natural aspirations of peoples.’
In this respect, his position is not far from that held by de Gaulle: on the one hand, the Alliance must remain within a given geographical area and not expandable as the Americans would like; on the other hand, it can not mean submission to the United States but on the contrary equal rights and duties among its members. It is in the eyes of Mitterrand two essential conditions for France to fully play its role as a reliable and faithful ally able to decide freely what is good for its interests. This criticism openly expressed by François Mitterrand will give rise to a conflict during the 1983 Williamsburg Summit, a time of Franco-American tension, where the enlargement of the Alliance in Japan, which François Mitterrand refuses.
François Mitterrand, a President who defended a connection with the US
A strong military alliance
This critical ally status, he will administer the evidence dramatically during the debate on the euromissiles in 1982-83 and a bit later on the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) project. Among the 110 proposals of the Mitterrand candidate in 1981 are ‘the gradual and simultaneous disarmament of the military blocs’ and ‘in the immediate future the withdrawal of SS-20 Soviet rockets and the abandonment of the project to install US rockets Pershing on the ground European ‘. Once elected, he keeps repeating that the preservation of the balance of power between the two super-grands, which he does not feel at the moment threatened, is his main concern.
From 1982, he observed the first signs of imbalance with the rise of the SS-20: in these conditions he considers that the installation of Pershing 2 on European soil is the answer. This is what he clearly states on 20 January 1983 in the german Bundestag, which he confirms at the presentation of his wishes on 31 December, and on the occasion of his official trip to the United States. His stance on this Euromissile affair allowed it to administer to American officials the proof of its perfect loyalty. It earned him this comment from Kissinger: ‘Mitterrand was a very good ally, the best of all the French Presidents’.
Therefore, by looking at François Mitterrand’s anti-americanism and the definition given by Keohane and Katzenstein, we can see that he is a liberal critic of the United States, because of its unequal society and his pro-capitalistic ideas, but also its racism and conservative positions (death penalty, abortion, homesexuality). However, François Mitterrand defended an idea of french and european sovereignty, and fought the concept of an American hegemony. Therefore, this type of anti-americanism can be closer to the nationalistic one, also defended by General De Gaulle, which didn’t accept the idea that the US were the police of the world.
However, it is important to nuance the policy of Mitterrand. Pierre Mauroy, former French Prime Minister (1981-1984) stated that: ”François Mitterrand is a profound lover of America… he just fought for a world where every nations could have its own sovereignty and moral social justice”
In conclusion, we can therefore say that despite being a huge critic of the USA, he desired strong relations between Paris and Washington.