De Gaulle's Partial Withdrawal from NATO in Retrospect

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,094
He complained that NATO was dominated by the US. In retrospect, now that the US in the dominant world power, does his policy make sense? Was NATO used by the US and possibly also the UK to dominate western Europe?
Well, he was ostensibly right in that the US was the dominant power among its Atlantic allies. Does anyone question that? As for "domination", that depends a lot on what one means. The US never militarily dominated western Europe. Perhaps it could have, but then NATO would have looked a lot more like the Warsaw Pact, where the Soviets did precisely that against its own "allies"/satellite states, several times.

The US did maintain an alliance, and it was the Very Senior Member in all ways. But it was always a hegemonic system, not some kind of satellite system. It's European allies accepted the US' hegemonic status, meaning variable degrees of client-state situations for themselves. In particular over the key strategic issue of nuclear deterrence. The UK got by on its supposed "Special Relationship" (more a Real Thing in London than in Washington) – while the French maintained a somewhat more confrontational partnership.

One of the things the French have always been very keen on is things like the lessons history, in this case Thukydides. They have always recognized that any alliance between partners where a state hands over control of its military to an senior partner sooner or later tends to end up as something other and more unequal than an alliance between equals. (It's also part of why France insists on making all its military gear itself, or as near as.) Part of the problem is that the European dependence on the US for in particular nuclear deterrence has meant it has also been unclear to the US if it maintains an alliance of equals, or if in fact the Europeans are subjects the US and order around? And it has been bad for a lot of the European states as well, becoming reliant on Washington. In the end it has led to Trump's bizarre demands everyone and his granny should pay the US – which would be precisely the kind of relationship the French have always warned about. (Though right now it seems to be Iraq in the crosshairs, wanting the US troops to leave, and Trump making it conditional on them paying him loads of money for the fact that the US is in Iraq since 2003...)

So, during the Cold War it became apparent that no, France in particular was not to be ordered around by the US – and much umbrage was taken. And when push has come to shove post-Cold War, it transpired that for the most part the other US European allies could not be relied on to follow the US off any number of cliffs (Iraq 2003 most starkly) – the GWB neoliberal theory of "billiards" (the US is the biggest ball and so will move all other balls in its direction QED) was disproven, and possible even more umbrage was taken in the US.

Funnily enough during the Cold War, at the Cuban Missile Crisis etc., the French became known as "the foul weather friend" in Washington. De Gaulle was the first US ally to throw in behind the US and Kennedy over the Soviet missile deployment, when it was still completely unclear how the situation might end, WWIII included. So the French might have annoyed the US, but was also known for the fact that when the chips were down they would turn up prepared for war and asking how they could help. (That has subsequently been lost in the post-Cold War US aggravations over the French.)
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,405
Welsh Marches
'Trump's bizarre demands [that] everyone and his granny should pay the US' - that's actually a pretty bizarre way of describing the American wish that European should freeload slightly less off the USA when it comes to paying for NATO and their defence, the money would not be going to the USA; and in fact he has merely been repeating what the Americans have previously been asking for years, but in a characteristically Trumpian fashion. But is of course irrational to expect any rational discussion of anything that Trump does.

It has always seemed to me that De Gaulle's actions with regard to NATO were a classic example of empty gesture politics, which may well have worked domestically but looked rather ridiculous when viewed from abroad (as showing a certain desperation rather than acting from a position of any genuine assurance, as with his famous speech in Quebec). For all his excellent qualities, he could be rather silly when he tried to play at being Louis XIV.
 
Last edited:
May 2017
1,268
France
The OTAN in France ? Very good for our Economy and the management of the societies (analysis of the CGT).
.The end of the OTAN,the beginning of the unemployment and the progression of the powerty (analysis of the economists of the Comunist party,included Mr Herzog von Braben,teacher at ENA and Polytechnic).
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,405
Welsh Marches
I think the French themselves have passed their final judgement on this curious episode, by returning to sensible arrangements over NATO which suit France just as well as they suit everyone else.
 
May 2017
1,268
France
I have passed two months in the old headquarters of the USAirforce of Châteauroux (Indre).As i was a little nostalgic of the music of Elvis and the 50s,i have often spoken with the old habitants of this city of the Berry.Their position was unic:they were happy to work with the Americans,because each friday afternoon they were received with tea and coca cola for saying what they wanted to say and proposing new solutions for their profesional activities.The management of the American bosses was for them a new construction of social relations that they have never seen before.As there was after years of privations,a big misery,Americans closed their eyes in front of the affairs of traffic and robberies which were very frequent…..And when we think that we have lost all that because US weapons transited by France towards Vietnam...
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,094
'Trump's bizarre demands [that] everyone and his granny should pay the US' - that's actually a pretty bizarre way of describing the American wish that European should freeload slightly less off the USA when it comes to paying for NATO and their defence, the money would not be going to the USA; and in fact he has merely been repeating what the Americans have previously been asking for years, but in a characteristically Trumpian fashion. But is of course irrational to expect any rational discussion of anything that Trump does.
You want to normalize Trump?
Trump also threatened sanctions against Iraq and said that if U.S. troops were required to leave the country, Iraq’s government would have to pay Washington for the cost of a “very extraordinarily expensive” air base there.

He said if Iraq asked U.S. forces to leave on an unfriendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
 
Jul 2019
160
Pale Blue Dot - Moonshine Quadrant
I think de Gaulle, as a French nationalist, was reacting to the growing American hegemony – and with good reason in my opinion.

As a military and a strong anti-communist, man he was certainly aware of the threat of the Soviet totalitarian system so reminiscent, in form if not underlying economic theory, of the recent German totalitarianism he has so fiercely fought. But he was also unquestionably aware of, and resistant to, a dependence on the United States. Not only did his pride rebel against that but also his experience with past failures of collective security where western leaders acquiesced in the Nazi takeover in Austria and Czechoslovakia. France had been seriously weak before and he did not want to enable that again.

I also suspect that the American history of seeking to stay out of European conflicts caused him to question the military reliability of a NATO dominated by the United States. He probably even anticipated that NATO might become a vehicle for the extension of American economic and political power – which it has increasingly become after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Additionally, if one factors in the often under-recognized economic aspect, de Gaulle recognized an American weakness that its own leadership was busy denying (and usually denies to this very day). By the middle 1960s when he made his NATO decision de Gaulle, under the influence of the towering economist Jacques Rueff, had recognized that the peg of the 35 American dollars to an ounce of gold was fraudulent, despite the protestations otherwise of American leaders. In 1971 President Richard Nixon was forced to the same conclusion as he stared into the Fort Knox facility increasingly stripped of gold.

De Gaulle and Rueff clearly recognized that the U. S. could not afford what it was trying to do; and that had clear implications for French security. Thus, they sought to end the dollar standard under which America was exporting its monetary inflation under the false promise of gold redemption. French domestic troubles in the spring of 1968 ended their effort, as France was forced to inflate the franc for a time in order to pay the overall wage increase it had agreed upon under the threat of the general strike. Had they succeeded American recklessness over its finances and its infatuation with power might have been more restrained.

Neither de Gaulle nor Reuff were anti-American; they were pro-France and both had open eyes about the trends in American finance. Both were cognizant about the enervating effects of currency debasement. Too often in the past currency debasement had sown the ground for weakness and social decay leading an authoritarian political system in response – a threat rattling around in the heads of not a few Americans today.

Thus, it was a very legitimate French patriotism that caused de Gaulle to worry about the longer term implications of NATO.
 
Jul 2019
1,054
New Jersey
You want to normalize Trump?

No, he just said that Trump was justified in asking NATO member states to honor their agreements and spend the percentage of GDP on defense that they've promised. Perhaps he's ruder and cruder than appropriate, but the substance of his demand is eminently reasonable. It's only controversial because people start frothing at the mouth whenever Trump's name is mentioned.
 
Last edited:

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,405
Welsh Marches

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,978
Dispargum