The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 16      April 25, 2011

French gov’t in 3 shooting
wars at one time
French imperialist troops are today engaged in three shooting wars at the same time: in Libya, the Ivory Coast, and Afghanistan. Paris hopes its more aggressive stance as the strongest military power in Western Europe will be a counterweight to Washington’s influence there and bolster its position against its competitors.

“It’s hard to imagine that Paris would have intervened militarily [in the Ivory Coast] if it didn’t believe that its interest in preserving influence over a former colony was critically at stake,” said the Wall Street Journal in an April 8 editorial. “In the age of humanitarian intervention the national interest has become the motive that dare not speak its name.”

On April 4, French tanks, helicopters, and soldiers attacked forces loyal to Ivory Coast ruler Laurent Gbagbo—who refused to acknowledge losing the November presidential election—and successfully overthrew him a week later, under the guise of carrying out a United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

With 259,000 regular troops and 419,000 in its reserves, the French Army is the largest in Europe, ahead of its closest rivals, the British and German armies. In 2008 President Nicolas Sarkozy increased spending by $1.8 billion a year as part of a five-year plan to transform the French military into a smaller but more combat-ready, better-equipped fighting force.

“We’re planning for one war and a half,” said Francois Heisbourg, a member of the presidential commission that helped develop Sarkozy’s plan. The aim, he said, is to be able to send 60,000 troops, 70 combat aircraft, and a full naval group anywhere from the North Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

French military intervention in Africa, especially in its former colonies and those of Belgium, is nothing new. French troops intervened in Africa at least 19 times between 1962 and 1995.

From 1954 to 1962 the French imperialists fought a brutal war in Algeria in a futile effort to prevent its people from winning independence. French forces routinely used waterboarding and electric shocks to torture those accused of opposing colonial rule. To justify the execution of prisoners it often claimed they were “killed while trying to escape” or “committed suicide.”

After its colonies gained independence, Paris viewed Françafrique as its exclusive sphere of influence. Africa remains a key source of oil and metals for French capitalists.

Paris maintains military bases in Djibouti, Gabon, and the islands of Reunion and Mayotte off Africa’s eastern coast, as well as troops in Senegal and the Central African Republic. Washington at the same time has been increasing its military presence in Africa.

The French government is also extending its military reach elsewhere in the world. In 2009 Sarkozy opened a new French military base in the United Arab Emirates, its first permanent one in the region. The base is located on the banks of the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.

Paris is flexing its muscle amid simmering trade and financial disputes among the European imperialist powers and Washington. All are jockeying for position and competing for markets, lucrative arms contracts, and natural resources around the globe.

“The Paris leadership is getting on the nerves of many in Berlin,” according to the German web magazine Spiegel Online. The French and German governments—each seeking to assert its primacy in the European Union—have openly clashed over EU trade, financial, military, and nuclear policies.

London-Paris relations are not so smooth either. “Britain mistrusts French ambitions in Europe; France mistrusts Britain’s ties with America,” said Newsweek in November. “By and large, the cordiality has been kept for state occasions.”

For decades the French government, although formally a NATO member, refused to be part of the command structure of the U.S.-led military alliance. Even after rejoining the command in 2009, Paris is not part of NATO’s nuclear planning structure and maintains its own nuclear arsenal.
Related articles:
Egypt: mass protests demand rights, justice
Army attacks workers’ freedom to organize
Next week: Egyptian workers leaders speak out
From Libya to Gulf states, London pushes war and exports to shore up faded power  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home