France and Germany: Europe's odd couple
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With considerable fanfare, the proviso for security cooperation in the 1963 'Elys'ee Treaty of reconciliation was dusted off in the early '80s. The two countries' foreign and defense ministers began meeting several times a year and organized exchanges and joint training for young officers.Skip to next paragraph
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France saw to it that the remaining restrictions on West German conventional armament under the soporific Western European (defense) Union were lifted by 1984 (though West Germany wanted to and did remain bound to nonpossession of atomic, biological, and chemical weapons).
Various French officials and ex-officials floated trial balloons suggesting that France's ``vital interests'' could not be confined to soil west of the Rhine (the French-West German border) but really began at the Elbe (the East-West German border), and talked about Western Europe as a common ``defense theater'' that must be embedded in NATO. The biggest bilateral exercises ever staged since France left the NATO military alliance brought 150,000 troops together in West Germany last year, with even larger maneuvers planned for this coming fall.
What Bonn wants out of the relationship at this point is to restore as much automaticity as possible to France's commitment to help defend West Germany in case of Soviet attack; that automaticity vanished when France left NATO's military wing in Gaullist independence in 1967.
Concretely, Bonn wants Paris to discipline its nuclear dreams, return to the drudgery of Europe's urgent conventional requirements, and provide early in any war the operational reserves for counterattack that NATO's thin front line would need. Bonn would especially like to see a strengthening of the French Second Army Corps and First French Army in West Germany, and replacement of their antiquated or nonexistent tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery, and logistical support.
BY contrast, what Paris wants to do is to shield its glacis of West Germany from even the temptation to go neutralist, while still guarding France's nuclear independence and reserving its decision even on common conventional defense until the last minute.
Further, Paris wants to hold open the option of leaping from France's ``splendid isolation'' today to French leadership an integrated Europe tomorrow. That feat would require the support of the West Germans, the most powerful Western Europeans, but ones who are themselves barred from leadership because of the remaining memory of Adolf Hitler.
Moreover, in 1986 France promised publicly to consult with West Germany (time permitting) before firing any of its ``pre-strategic'' nuclear weapons that would land only in Germany. And following last fall's superpower summit in Iceland, one French presidential adviser even told an IFRI conference, according to an astonished fellow participant, that while ambiguity must be maintained in nuclear weapons, in the conventional area the time has come to take big steps toward an integrated command with West Germany along the lines proposed by Mr. Schmidt.
A French officer comments, ``De Gaulle was good for France in 1960. Now I think it's another position that we have to take.''
For the moment the impetus to further French-German rapprochement is there in the German elite's sense of crisis about the American guarantee and the French elite's sense of crisis about potential German neutralism. But is this double urgency enough to make Europe's heartland ``hang together''?
``The dialogue on the political level has become more active than ever before,'' says Bruno Racine, a foreign policy adviser in the office of French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.
``Relations between both armies have also reached a degree [of closeness] never attained in the past. We have built the basis for further progress.''
But Ingo Kolboom, West German co-editor of the DGAP-IFRI study of German-French relations says it's a ``delicate tightrope walk between French autonomy and German integration.''