Fourth-rank power or independent deterrent?
A report by former foreign minister Hubert Védrine claimed French influence would not be improved by reversing Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to return to Nato’s integrated command structure. In an open letter, former government adviser Régis Debray disagrees.
Dear Hubert,
It is worth taking seriously the views of someone as skilled as you at cutting through waffle, and that especially applies to your report, commissioned last year by President Hollande, on France’s return to the Nato fold. With media interest in inverse proportion to a subject’s importance, it’s unsurprising your report received little attention. Public opinion isn’t interested in defence or France’s place in the world, except when national pride is boosted by a victory, such as the recent advance through the desert in Mali, which sent the jihadis fleeing to the mountains with minimal bloodshed.
I learned a great deal from your report, but it left me puzzled. You indirectly exonerate (with a “yes, but…”) President Sarkozy for a return to Nato. You wouldn’t have supported that decision when he was in power, but now it seems more awkward to challenge than back it. You hold that no one in the EU would follow our lead, and that France should take the initiative decisively to avoid being sidelined. So I want to pursue a dialogue we began in May 1981, in our adjacent offices at the Elysée.
You contend that Nato’s pyramidal structure has now become just a forum without great significance, where each member has the chance to be heard, if it can shout loud enough: Nato is now weaker and doesn’t deserve the opprobrium of the past. I believe it is in better health than that. Its membership has more than doubled, from 12 countries in 1949 to 28 in 2013 (with a total population of 910 million). It was originally Atlantic-based, but is now present in Iraq, the Gulf, off the coast of Somalia, in Central Asia and in Libya, where it took charge of air strikes. It was originally military but has now also become political. It was originally defensive, but is now offensive, though it has no enemy. You believe the “benign neglect” of the US has altered the situation. The US has changed course and is now oriented towards the Pacific, with China rather than the USSR as its (…)
Régis Debray
(1The opening of prestigious colleges and universities to excluded categories of students, especially women and blacks, has not meant admitting many poor or working-class students. A recent study of the 146 most competitive colleges and universities found that only 3% of students came from modest social and economic backgrounds. (See “Class Rules: the Fiction of Egalitarian Education” by Peter Sacks, Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 July 2003). Henry Louis Gates Jr, chair of Harvard’s African-America n studies department, comments: “The black kids who come to Harvard or Yale are middle-class. Nobody else gets through.”
(2In the US a college is an institution of higher education for undergraduates that does not include schools of advanced graduate or professional preparation at a university.
A university is an institution that combines an undergraduate college with graduate schools of professional preparation. US students must normally complete four years of college before advancing to a graduate school of professional preparation.
(3The scientific prestige of an institution is ranked according to different criteria and certain public universities (Berkeley, Wisconsin, Michigan) and private scientific institutes (MIT, Cal Tech) would be well represented. But the wealth and social promine nce of Ivy League universities are fully convertible into scientific capital or resources since they are usually able to attract prominent professors and researchers, and therefore get more than their share of research grants.
(4See Steven Brint and Jerome Karabel, The Diverted Dream: Community Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900-1985, Oxford University Press, New York, 1989. Some 3 million students graduate from US secondary schools every year and 60% enrol in some form of post-secondary education.
(5Jacques Steinberg, “College-Entrance Preferences for Well Connected Draw Fire”, The New York Times, 13 February 2003.
(6See Caroline Persell and Peter Cookson, “Pensionnats d’élite: ethnographie d’une transmission de pouvoir” in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, no 138, June 2001; Preparing for Power: America’s elite boarding schools, Basic Books, New York, 1985.
(7US schools are mainly financed by local taxes so standards vary according to the wealth of the locality and the state. The federal government contributes only about 10% of primary and secondary school funding.
(8Figures from The State of College Admission, 2003-2004, National Association for College Admission Counselling, Alexandria, Virginia, February 2004.