France and Germany: Europe's odd couple
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What the technocrats missed was the enormous symbolic value of combining forces of the two largest European countries, nations whose mutual suspicions lingered long after their last war ended in 1945. It looks as though the brigade will come into being, and its promoters stress that the key tactical operational concepts of the French and West German Armies are quite compatible.Skip to next paragraph
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A bilateral brigade may not commit French ports and airfields to receive essential American reinforcements in time of war. It may not guarantee the crucial depth of field to the front-line country that is a perilously narrow 150 miles wide. It surely will not build up the numbers of soldiers declining from sheer demography in West Germany and from the diversion of conventional budgets to nuclear programs in France. But it will send a powerful signal of enhanced French commitment to defend West Germany to the one audience that matters most, in the Kremlin.
Certainly the movement in bilateral relations is striking. Back in the 1960s the much-heralded French-West German rapprochement actually led to a standoff as President Charles de Gaulle pressed Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to choose between America and France, and Adenauer, not surprisingly, chose superpower America.
There things stood until the early '80s, when controversy over new Euromissile deployments broke out in West Germany and a cultural upheaval in Paris led the intelligentsia there to abandon its fascination with Marxism and turn to belated abhorrence of the Soviet gulag and repressions in Poland and Afghanistan.
The shift in France coincided in West Germany with the rise of a popular antinuclear movement, a recoiling from the hard-line rhetoric in the early Reagan White House, fresh realization by West Germans that they were living in the land with the world's highest concentration of nuclear weapons per capita - and Social Democratic skittishness about adding new American Pershing and cruise missiles to this arsenal.
This divergence between the two countries aroused French concern that the Soviet Union might dangle reunification before the Germans and tempt them into neutralism - and thus remove the glacis, or military buffer zone between France and the potential aggressor of the Soviet Union. Paris therefore strove for closer security cooperation with Bonn that would dampen West German enthusiasm for d'etente, ``anchor'' West Germany in Europe, and avoid its ``drift'' to the East, thus minimizing the dangers of the ``German uncertainties'' and lack of full national identity.
IRONICALLY, the French alarm was expressed by the Socialists, who had finally come into office and toned down their out-of-power radicalism - and chided their West German comrades not, as in the 1970s, for being too bourgeois and anticommunist, but for being too radical and gullible toward Moscow.
President Mitterrand, having recently brought the French Socialists to love the French bomb, now lectured the Bundestag and the West German Social Democrats that they should love the new NATO missiles.
Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), DGAP's sister organization in Paris, terms the French fears ``fantasies'' about what was actually a ``German return to adopt a normal attitude to national identity.''
But however exaggerated they may have been, they impelled Paris to abandon old taboos and act in ways that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. On the one hand, Paris still sought to some extent to win Bonn over to ``Eurogaullism'' against the US - but on the other hand it let West Germany draw France closer to unannounced pragmatic cooperation with the NATO military command.