An Uncomfortable Question in France: Are We Still a Great Power?


“We are present in the Pacific more than our British friends, and so far we’re more present militarily than our British friends,” said Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, who helped establish discussions between the French and Australian governments on the future of their relations a decade ago.

Mr. Tertrais dismissed the idea that France failed by overreaching, blaming instead the duplicity of the United States, Britain and Australia.

“If what is meant by overreaching is that we cannot resist a shock-and-awe offensive by three of our closest friends and allies, yes, that’s true,” Mr. Tertrais said.

While France’s military is dwarfed by that of the United States or China, it remains one of the world’s strongest, and is backed by a world-class domestic military industry, said Hugo Decis, a French analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

With 5,000 to 7,000 soldiers in the Pacific region, 20 to 40 military aircraft and seven naval ships, France is the only European nation with genuine military strength in the region. The French air force has also carried out exercises deploying Rafale fighters from France halfway across the world to the Pacific as a show of strength, Mr. Decis said.

France also has a seat on the U.N. Security Council, giving it a measure of hard power around the world. But for the great power that France once was, it’s sometimes just not enough.

“The decline of France is a theme that emerges often, especially during electoral periods, and is popular among the right and far right,” Mr. Decis said. “It’s the idea that France used to be extremely powerful and influential, and that the France of today is insignificant and contemptible. It’s obviously a narrative that can be questioned for a number of reasons.”


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