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Foreign alliances of France


Foreign alliances of France

Foreign alliances of France
Frankish-Abbasid alliance 8th–9th c.
Franco-Scottish alliance 1295–1560
Franco-Polish alliance 1524–1526
Franco-Hungarian alliance 1528–1552
Franco-Ottoman alliance 16–19th c.
American Indians 17-18th c.
Anglo-French Alliance 1716–1731
Franco-Spanish alliance 1733–1792
Franco-Prussian alliance 1741-1756
Franco-Austrian alliance 1756–1792
Franco-Indian alliances 18th c.
Franco-Vietnamese alliance 1777–1820
Franco-American alliance 1778–1794
Franco-Persian alliance 1807–1809
Franco-Russian alliance 1892–1917
Entente cordiale 1904–present
Franco-Polish alliance 1921–1940
Franco-Soviet Treaty 1936-1939
NATO 1949–present
WEU (1948) 1954–2011
Regional relations
France-Asia relations
France-Americas relations
France-Africa relations

The foreign alliances of France have a long and complex history spanning more than a millennium. One traditional characteristic of the French diplomacy of alliances has been the "Alliance de revers" (i.e. "Rear alliance"), aiming at allying with countries situated on the opposite side or "in the back" of an adversary, in order to open a second front encircling the adversary and thus re-establish a balance of power. Another has been the alliance with local populations, against more powerful European colonial powers.

Strategic "Alliances de revers"

One characteristic of French alliances are a desire to ally with countries which are neighbouring or on the other side of an enemy, what is called "Alliance de revers" (i.e. "Rear alliance") in French diplomacy.[1] "Alliance de revers" is a classical realpolitik policy of French diplomacy.[2] This seems to derive from a geopolitical view of the world which gives great importance to the relative geographical positions of countries, rather than their political proximity or antagonism.[3]

Over the centuries, France has constantly been looking for Eastern allies, as a counterbalance to Continental enemies.[1] Throughout French history, this was especially the case against Austria-Hungary, Spain or Prussia:[1] the Abbasid–Carolingian alliance (against the Umayyad Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire), the Franco-Hungarian alliance and Franco-Ottoman alliance (against the Habsburg Empire), the Franco-American alliance (against Great-Britain), the Franco-Russian Alliance (against Germany). In particular, the desire to counter German power has been a major motivating force leading France to create Eastern alliances.[3] Even soon after the Second World War, good relations between France and the Soviet Union were again seen by Charles de Gaulle as an "Alliance de revers" to counter Germany and counterbalance the influence of Great Britain and the United States.[4][5]

Franco-Ottoman alliance

The Franco-Ottoman alliance (16th-19th century) was a classical "Alliance de revers" against the Habsburg Empire, established in 1536 between the king of France Francis I and the Turkish ruler of the Ottoman Empire Suleiman the Magnificent. The alliance was purely geopolitical, and disregarded ideological differences: the alliance has been called "the first non-ideological diplomatic alliance of its kind between a Christian and non-Christian empire".[6] It did cause quite a scandal in the Christian world,[7] and was designated as "the impious alliance", or "the sacrilegious union of the Lily and the Crescent"; nevertheless, it endured since it served the objective interests of both parties.[8] The strategic and sometimes tactical alliance lasted for more than two and a half centuries,[9] until the Napoleonic Campaign in Egypt, an Ottoman territory, in 1798–1801. The Franco-Ottoman alliance was an important chapter of Franco-Asian relations.

Franco-Swedish alliance

Autochthonous alliances

American continent

Further information: Franco-Indian alliance

France also has a strong tradition of alliance with autochthonous populations in order to resist a powerful opponent. In the American continent, France was the first to identify that cooperation with local tribes would be strategically significant, before England also started to adopt this strategy.[10] An important Franco-Indian alliance centered on the Great Lakes and the Illinois country took place during the French and Indian War (1754–1763).[11] The alliance involved French settlers on the one side, and the Abenaki, Ottawa, Menominee, Winnebago, Mississauga, Illinois, Sioux, Huron-Peton, Potawatomi etc... on the other.[11]

The French easily mixed and inter-married with the Indians, which greatly facilitated exchanges and the development of such alliances. Through these alliances with the Indians, the French were able to maintain for over 150 years a strong position in the New World at the expense of the British, who had much more difficulties in making Indian allies.[12]


Further information: Franco-Indian alliances

In India, the French General Dupleix was allied to Murzapha Jung in the Deccan, and Chanda Sahib in the Carnatic Wars, in the conflict against Robert Clive. The French succeeded in the 1746 Battle of Madras, and the French and Indians fought together and vanquished Anwaruddin in 1749, but failed in the Battle of Arcot in 1751 and finally surrendered in 1752.[13] The French again had a success at the capture of Fort St. David in 1758 under Lally, but were finally defeated at Masulipatam (1759) and Wandewash (1760).[13]

In 1782, Louis XVI sealed an alliance with the Peshwa Madhu Rao Narayan. As a consequence Bussy moved his troops to Isle de France (now Mauritius) and later contributed to the French effort in India in 1783.[14][15] Suffren became the ally of Hyder Ali in the Second Anglo-Mysore War against British rule in India, in 1782-1783, fighting the British fleet on the coasts of India and Ceylon.[16][17] Between February 1782 until June 1783, Suffren fought the English admiral Sir Edward Hughes, and collaborated with the rulers of Mysore.[17][18] Suffren fought in the Battle of Sadras on February 17, 1782, the Battle of Providien on April 12 near Trincomalee, the Battle of Negapatam (1782) on July 6 off Cuddalore, after which Suffren seized upon the anchorage of Trincomalee compelling the small British garrison to surrender. An army of 3,000 French soldiers collaborated with Hyder Ali to capture Cuddalore. Finally the Battle of Trincomalee took place near that port on September 3. These battles can be seen as the last battles of the Franco-British conflict that encompassed the American War of Independence, and would cease with the signature of the Treaty of Versailles (1783) establishing peace and recognizing America independence.

Tactical alliances

Further information: Franco-Persian alliance

Some French alliances were purely tactical and short term, especially during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon Bonaparte had launched the French Invasion of Egypt in 1798 and fought against the Ottomans to establish a French presence in the Middle East, with the ultimate dream of linking with a Muslim enemy of the British in India, Tippu Sahib, in order to oust the British from the Indian subcontinent.[19][20] After having failed a first time, Napoleon entered into a Franco-Ottoman alliance and a Franco-Persian alliance in order to create an overland access for his troops to India.[21] Following the visit of the Persian Envoy Mirza Mohammed Reza-Qazvini to Napoleon, the Treaty of Finkenstein formalized the alliance on 4 May 1807, in which France supported Persia's claim to Georgia, promising to act so that Russia would surrender the territory. In exchange, Persia was to fight Great Britain, and to allow France to cross the Persian territory to reach India.[22]


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