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There is no shortage of examples that can be applied in a discussion of French foreign policy and the influences of cultural and social characteristics in the formulation of that policy. Two that stand out involve nuclear weapons and the wars in Iraq.
Especially when the conservative Gaullists are in power in France, French foreign policy emphasizes its independence from the United States, the North Atlantic Alliance, and any other external influence. Nowhere was this more evident than in its 1954 decision to develop its own nuclear weapons capabilites independent of the United States and the "nuclear shield" the larger superpower was extending over its West European allies. President Charles de Gaulle, the former titular leader of the World War II French Resistance, its most famous war hero, and the individual for whom the Gaullists are named, resented the notion that any country, especially the United States, would protect France. More importantly, he seriously doubted whether the United States would in fact come to France's defense in the event of an invasion by the Soviet Union. De Gaulle's response to his concerns was to (a) pull France out of NATO's unified decisionmaking apparatus, and (b) develop what it called "the Force de Frappe," or Force of Dissuasion. For the remainder of the Cold War, France would take pride in its independent nuclear force and in its 1966 withdrawal from NATO's unified command structure.
A second example from which lessons can be drawn involves France's stance on the two Iraq Wars. A former colonial power in the Middle East, France considers itself uniquely-- along with Great Britain -- qualified to understand that region. It also, once again, strongly resents U.S. leadership in foreign affairs. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Iraqi provocation was so blatant, so illegal in terms of international law, and so brutal in its execution, that it felt compelled to join the U.S.-led coalition. It consequently contributed 18,000 troops, including 60 jet fighters and bombers.
When the United States was preparing to invade Iraq in 2002-2003, France was adamantly opposed. France was so opposed to the U.S. move towards war that it threatened to use its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block a prospective U.S.-sponsored resolution of support for the coming invasion. During the months leading up to the war, many of America's European allies opposed the U.S. plans, but France and Germany in particular led the political opposition.
While France had legitimate reasons for opposing the United States on Iraq, its position, as with its independent nuclear force and withdrawal from NATO's command structure, was influenced in no small part by its intense pride in French independence and in its sense of cultural superiority -- a sense that has even seen the French Government oppose imports of U.S. movies and television as threatening to French culture and identity. In fact, France officially opposed U.S. company PepsiCo's proposed purchase of French yogurt maker Dannon because of intense French pride in its own yogurt.
France's sense of national pride and of cultural superiority has strongly influenced its foreign policy for many years.
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