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France: Factors Shaping Foreign Policy, and Issues in U.S.-French Relations

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Publication Date: May 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Topic: Government (Foreign relations)

Coverage: France


The factors that shape French foreign policy have changed since the end of the Cold War. The perspectives of France and the United States have diverged in some cases. More core interests remain similar. Both countries' governments have embraced the opportunity to build stability in Europe through an expanded European Union and NATO. Each has recognized that terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are the most important threats to their security today.

Several factors shape French foreign policy. France has a self-identity that calls for efforts to spread French values and views, many rooted in democracy and human rights. France prefers to engage international issues in a multilateral framework, above all through the European Union. European efforts to form an EU security policy potentially independent of NATO emerged in this context.

From the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States through the Iraq war of 2003 until today, France has pressed the United States to confront emerging crises within a multilateral framework. France normally wishes to "legitimize" actions ranging from economic sanctions to political censure to military action in the United Nations. Bush Administration officials have at times reacted with hostility to such efforts, charging that French efforts to ensure "multipolarity" in the world are a euphemism for organizing opposition to U.S. initiatives.

Trade and investment ties between the United States and France are extensive, and provide each government a large stake in the vitality and openness of their respective economies. Through trade in goods and services, and, most importantly, through foreign direct investment, the economies of France and the United States have become increasingly integrated.

Other areas of complementarity include the Balkans peace operations, the stabilization of Afghanistan, and the fight against terrorism -- all challenges where France has played a central role. A major split occurred over Iraq, however, with many countries either supporting or independently sharing French ideas of greater international involvement.

Developments in the Middle East affect French foreign and domestic policy. France has a long history of involvement in the region, and a population of 5-6 million Muslims. Paris believes that resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is key to bringing peace to the region and that the United States too strongly favors the Israeli government, a U.S. tendency that impedes peace, in the French view. Surges in violence in the Middle East have led to anti-Semitic acts in France, mostly undertaken by young Muslims.

This report will be updated as needed. See also its companion report, CRS Report RL32459, U.S.-French Commercial Ties, by Raymond J. Ahearn.


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