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Foreign relations of France

A charter member of the United Nations, France holds one of the permanent seats in the Security Council and is a member of most of its specialized and related agencies.

France is a leader in western Europe because of its size, location, strong economy, membership in European organizations, strong military posture, and energetic diplomacy. France generally has worked to strengthen the global economic and political influence of the EU and its role in common European defense. It views Franco-German cooperation and the development of a European Security and Defense Identity[?] (ESDI) as the foundation of efforts to enhance European security.

Middle East

France's relations with Middle East have a long history. Since the days of the Thirty Years War France had been a friend and ally of the Ottoman Empire supplying weaponry and training and on occassion cooperating against the Holy Roman Empire. One advisor that was about to be sent to Constantinople in 1795 was a young artillery commander named Napoleon Bonaparte, but a few days before he was to leave the famous "whiff of grapeshot[?]" occured and it was decided he should stay in France.

Throughout the nineteenth century the French pursued a policy of shoring up the Ottoman Empire to prevent advances by France's rivals Austria and Russia into the Balkans. This finally culminated in the Crimean War where France joined with Britain to prevent the Russian overrunning of the Ottomen.

France also pursued close realtions with the semi-autonomous Egypt. In 1869 French workers completed the Suez Canal. A rivialry emerged between France on Britain for control of Egypt, and eventually Britain emerged victorious.

After the unification of Germany in 1870 Germany attempted to co-op France's relations with teh Ottomans and was quite successful. In WWI the Ottoman Empire joined the central powers[?], and was defeated by France and Great Britain. After the collpase of the Ottoman Empire France and Britain divided the Middle East between them. France recieved the areas of Syria and Lebanon.

These colonies were granted independence after the Second World War but Frane still attmpets to have close relations with them, trying to forge cultural and educational bonds between the areas. These efforts have met with limited success.

In the post WWII era Frencha relations with the Arab Middle East reached a very low point. The war in Algeria[?] between Muslim fighters and French colonists deeply concerned the rest of the rest of the Muslim world. The independence fighters received much of their supplies and funding from Egypt and other Arab powers, much to France’s displeasure. France also had taken a very pro-Israel stance since that state’s creation and was selling it weaponry and supplies and was considered, at the a time, Israel closest ally. Most damaging to Franco-Arab relations, however, was the Suez Crisis. It greatly diminished France’s reputation in the region. France openly supported the Israeli attack on the Sinai peninsula, and was working against Nasser, then a popular figure in the Middle East. The Suez Crisis also made France and Great Britain look again like imperialist powers attempting to impose their will upon weaker nations.

Another hindrance to France's relations with the Arab Middle East was its close alliance with Israel. In the 1950s France was, perhaps, Israel’s closest ally in the world. France had quickly recognized the state of Israel and for many years backed Israel at the United Nations. French arm shipments, including fighter jets, missiles, and helicopters had formed the backbone of Israel’s army in the nineteen-fifties and early sixties. In the 1967 war it was French Mirage fighters[?] that had guaranteed Israeli air superiority, while on the ground French small arms equipped the IDF soldiers. This support was consistent, and also deeply ingrained in the population. The support for Israel has been attributed to a number of causes, including guilt felt over the Vichy regime’s treatment of Jews, and a similar desire to reject any viewpoints that could have Nazi overtones. The right also had strong sympathies towards Israel as they saw the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be in many ways similar to France’s war with Algerian separatists.

This all changed dramtically with the Coming of Charles de Gaulle to power. De Gaulle’s foreign policy was centered around an attempt to limit the power and influence of both superpowers, and at the same time increase France’s international prestige. De Gaulle hoped to move France from being a follower of the United States to becoming the leading nation of a large group of non-aligned third world countries. The nations de Gaulle looked at as potential participants in this grouping were those in France’s traditional spheres of influence: Africa and the Middle East. The former French colonies in eastern and northern Africa came quite agreeably into these close relations with France. These nations had close economic and cultural ties to France, and they also had few other suitors amongst the major powers. This new orientation of French foreign policy also appealed strongly to the leaders of the Middle East. None of them wanted to be dominated by either of the superpowers, and they supported France’s policy of trying to balance the US and the USSR to prevent either from becoming dominant in the region. The Middle Eastern leaders wanted to be free to pursue their own goals and objectives, and did not want to be chained to either alliance block. De Gaulle hoped to use this common foundation to build strong relations between the nations. He hoped that good relations would improve France’s trade with the region. De Gaulle also imagined that these allies would look up to the more powerful French nation, and would look to it in leadership in matters of foreign policy.

The end of the Algerian conflict in 1962 accomplished much in this regard. France could not portray itself as a leader of the oppressed nations of the world if it still was enforcing its colonial rule upon other nations. The battle against the Muslim separatists that France waged in favour of the minority of white settlers was an extremely unpopular one throughout the Muslim world. With the conflict raging it would have been next to impossible for France to have had positive relations with the nations of the Middle East. The Middle Eastern support for the FLN guerillas was another strain on relations that the end of the conflict removed. Most of the financial and material support for the FLN had come from the nations of the Middle East and North Africa. This was especially true of Nasser’s Egypt, which had long supported the separatists. Egypt is also the most direct example of improved relations after the end of hostilities. The end of the war brought an immediate thaw to Franco-Egyptian relations, Algeria ended the trial of four French officers accused of espionage, and France ended its trade embargo against Egypt.

In 1967 de Gaulle completely overturned France’s Israel policy. De Gaulle and his ministers reacted very harshly to Israel’s actions in the Six Day War. The French government and de Gaulle condemned Israel treatment of refugees, warned that it was a mistake to occupy the Palestinian areas, and also refused to recognize the Israeli control of Jerusalem. The French government continued to criticize Israel after the war and de Gaulle spoke out against other Israeli actions, such as the operations against he PLO in Lebanon. France began to use its veto power to oppose Israel in the UN, and France sided with the Arab states on almost all issues brought to the international body. Most importantly of all, however, de Gaulle’s government imposed an arms embargo on the Israeli state. The embargo was in fact applied to all the combatants, but very soon France began selling weaponry to the Arab states again. As early as 1970 France sold Libya a hundred Mirage fighter jets. After 1967 France continued to support Israel’s right to exist, but its support extended little beyond this.

De Gaulle launched the immense shift in policy from one favouring Israel to one favouring the Arab states for a combination of reasons. It was becoming obvious that the strengthening alliance between the United States and Israel would soon make France’s role as an ally mostly irrelevant. The US could always provide Israel with more money and with higher levels of military technology. For France to play an important role in the region it seemed supporting the Arab side would give it more leverage in the future. Trade considerations also came into play. The Arab states at the time had a combined population of over a hundred million, compared to only three million in Israel. As de Gaulle memoirs show he was personally quite sympathetic to Israel, but he saw it in the interest of France to distance the two nations. For the pursuit of political and economic ends de Gaulle crafted a new Middle Eastern policy that discontinued support for Israel and instead pursued close relations with the Arab states.

Also important was the increase in foreign aid spending by the French government. France increased its expenditures greatly to become second only to the United States in total aid amongst the western powers. By 1968 France was paying out $855 million dollars per year in aid far more than either West Germany or Great Britain. France paid the most per capita in foreign aid of any of the major powers, but the total amount still paled in comparison to that dispensed by the US. The vast majority of French aid was directed towards Africa and the Middle East. France also increased its expenditures on other forms of aid sending out skilled individuals to developing countries to provide technical and cultural expertise. .

The combination of aid money, arms sales, and diplomatic alignments helped to erase the memory of the Suez Crisis and the Algerian War in the Arab world and France successfully developed amicable relationships with the governments of many of the Middle Eastern states. Nasser and de Gaulle, who shared many similarities, cooperated together on limiting American power in the region. Nasser proclaimed France as the only friend of Egypt in the west. France and Iraq also developed a close relationship with business ties, joint military training exercises, and French assistance in Iraq’s nuclear program in the 1970’s. France’s relations with its former colony Syria were improved, and eroded cultural links were partially restored.

France did not benefit much from these closer relations. In terms of trade France did receive some benefits from the improved relations with the Middle East. French trade with the Middle East increased by over fifty percent after de Gaulle’s reforms. The arms industries benefited most as France soon had lucrative contracts with many of the regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. The French trade with the Middle East was still not competitive with that of other Western powers, however. The United States, Great Britain and West Germany all sold far more to the Middle East each year than France, and none of these states pursued as strong a pro-Arab policy as did the French. Quite the opposite was true of the United States and Britain which firmly backed Israel and were opposed to many of the governments in the region, especially Nasser’s Egypt. The Arab states would almost always prefer the cheaper goods from an anti-Arab nation than more expensive ones from a pro-Arab state such as France, however. France was not as successful economically as Britain, Germany, or the United States and no amount of positive relations with the Arab world could overcome the greater costs of French goods. Throughout the subsequent decades France continued to have very large trade deficits with the oil exporting countries of the Middle East.

Not only did trade not benefit much, France’s positive relations with the Muslim world also has failed to protect it from Islamic terrorism, rather the opposite is true. France is one of the West’s most frequent targets of Islamic terrorism. Throughout the period since de Gaulle left power there have been a number of attacks. There have been hijackings, such as those of an Air France plane to Uganda in 1976, and one to perhaps be crashed into the Eiffel tower in 1994. Another plane was blown up over the Sahara in 1989, killing many French citizens. There have also been bombings in France such as those in 1986 or that against a Paris restaurant in 1982. Attacks have also occurred against representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in France. The close relations between the French government and the governments of a number of Arab states have not done anything to reduce attacks on French citizens. French relations with the secular regimes of the Middle East has even encouraged terrorism, as supporters of these governments have often been targeted by religious extremists.

In Middle East peace negotiations France also never managed to play an important role. De Gaulle had hoped that by taking a moderate path and not strongly supporting either side France could become integral to the peace process. In reality peace negotiations between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab powers have almost always involved representatives of the one or both of the superpowers, but France has been universally excluded. In the Camp David accords between Sadat and Begin US President Jimmy Carter played an immense role, the French played virtually none. The French foreign minister complained that a separate peace between Israel and Egypt would not benefit Middle East peace, but none of the leaders involved were particularly concerned about what the French government thought. This pattern has repeated itself frequently. The Oslo Accords, the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty, and others were all negotiated and written with no input at all from France. When France does try to intervene it is looked on as unhelpful by the US and Israel, and these nations have rejected all major French peace proposals. Chirac’s visit to the Middle East in 1996 annoyed the Americans and Israelis, but and had no lasting impact on the peace process.

France plays a significant role in Africa, especially in its former colonies, through extensive aid programs, commercial activities, military agreements, and cultural impact. In those former colonies where the French presence remains important, France contributes to political, military, and social stability.

France has extensive political and commercial relations with Asian countries, including China, Japan, and Southeast Asia as well as an increasing presence in regional fora. France was instrumental in launching the Asia-Europe Meeting[?] (ASEM) process which could eventually emerge as a competitor to APEC. France is seeking to broaden its commercial presence in China and will pose a competitive challenge to U.S. business, particularly in aerospace, high-tech, and luxury markets. In Southeast Asia, France was an architect of the Paris Accords[?], which ended the conflict in Cambodia.

Latin America
France supports strengthening democratic institutions in Latin America. It supports the ongoing efforts to restore democracy to Haiti and seeks to expand its trade relations with all of Latin America.

United States
Relations between the United States and France are active and cordial. Mutual visits by high-level officials are conducted on a regular basis. Bilateral contact at the cabinet level has traditionally been active. France and the United States share common values and have parallel policies on most political, economic, and security issues. Differences are discussed frankly and have not been allowed to impair the pattern of close cooperation that characterizes relations between the two countries.

Disputes - international:

Illicit drugs: transshipment point for and consumer of South American cocaine and Southwest Asian heroin

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