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Pol/Econ Diplomacy
Pol/Econ: Turning up their nose: America and France
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Wednesday, 11 July 2007 Written by Henry Midgley

Relations have been sour between the nations of Lafayette and Washington for a while now- Herve de Charrette moaned in the late nineties about hyper power whereas neo-conservatives know exactly who to go for when they assault spineless Europeans. But they have in recent years taken a real turn for the worse. Classic insults like the idea that all Europeans are Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys or that French Fries should be renamed Freedom fries have hit at the relationship- as have stunts such as that pulled by Fox host Bill O'Reilly when he asked his viewers to boycott French goods. Until now though there has been little evidence of any substantial impact of all this rubbishing of France in the statistics. Until now because a study has just been published dealing with exactly this- and its conclusions have some interest for students of international relations.

A recent study conducted about Amero-gallic relations it was pointed out that over the period 1999-2005 there was a measurable decline in American public perceptions of the French. The favourability rating of France fell from 85% to 35% in those years. But something else significant happened- if you look at French exports to the United States- they also fell. Ah says the cynic in the audience- that's because of a strong Euro- but actually French exports to the US fell by 15% more than other European exporters also from similar countries. There might indeed be reasons that this data might be out- the French basket of goods might have been hit harder than say the German basket of goods- but if true and more research needs to be done it poses some intriguing questions about the relationship between Foreign Policy and Economic policy in a globalising world.

For what has happened to France in America might happen to any number of other countries. For example America herself has seen her own popularity levels declining indeed cascading downwards over the period of the Bush administration- both in Western Europe and of course the Middle East but also over large parts of the world the Americans have a lower reputation than at any time since the Cold War. A comparative study that could isolate say the effects of low reputation versus say the currency effects isn't possible in the case of the United States because obviously there isn't another country quite like the US- but its interesting nonetheless.

It bears on a much wider question though- traditional rulers sought foreign markets to exploit- mercantilism it was called and hated by many of the great leading economists of yesteryear- Adam Smith the father of the discipline not least amongst them. And some colonies were acquired in the interests of acquiring both markets and resources. Many suspect that that is the reason that the United States acquired Iraq and has over the last thirty years maintained a very active interest in regimes in Latin America. But the dynamics of the world may be changing- for a country's wealth now if overly influenced by their exports- may well be influenced by their reputation and hence unpopular activities like the war in Iraq may yield longterm unpopularity and therefore the mercantalist justification for invasion may rebound on those who use it (if anyone does!)

Its an interesting ramification about the way that consumer society might affect international diplomacy- it may be that the world of the consumer binds the world together much more than the concert of the great powers or any of the artificies of alliance builders ever did- because it will economically punish those who behave in the eyes of the world badly and reward those nations that behave well- in which case international diplomacy may have to take into account the international community outside the chancelleries and inside the shopping centres.

However it must be restated that we do need more evidence!