Friday, December 15, 2006

Changes in French foreign policy on the horizon

This week's The Economist has a good overview of France's current military commitments around the world and how it continues to provide security in its African and Arab spheres of influence. The tail end of the article has a little bit about what to expect from the presidential candidates in terms of French foreign policy.

In a controversial article in October's French edition of Foreign Policy, François Roche, its editor, argues that France has been so preoccupied by a desire for glory and grandeur that it has failed to notice the huge gap between regions where its future interests will lie (Russia, China, India, Brazil and Mexico), and those where its diplomatic and military efforts are concentrated (Africa and the Arab world).

Could all this change under a new president? Whoever is elected may well order a full defence review, which would have to look long and hard at Africa. For his part, Mr Sarkozy, with his tough immigration policy, has a hard-nosed approach. In a bold speech in Benin earlier this year he declared that it was time to stop looking at the foreign presence in Africa as a zero-sum game of influence. France, he said, needed a more transparent, less paternalistic relationship with Africa. “Relations between modern states must not depend only on the quality of personal links between heads of state,” he added, in a thinly disguised jibe at Mr Chirac and the phenomenon known as Francafrique, “but on a frank and objective dialogue.”

As for the Middle East, both Mr Sarkozy and Ms Royal want to warm up relations with Israel, suggesting that under either France may temper its Arabist instincts. Israel knows this. Two days before meeting Mr Sarkozy in Paris, Ms Livni dined with Ms Royal in Jerusalem. To Israel's delight, Ms Royal has stuck by her unorthodox line that Iran should be stopped from enriching uranium even for civilian use. France has usually argued that its influence in the region depends on its credibility with Arab friends. The next president may put that doctrine to the test.

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