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At the Heart of Things? French Imperial Defense Planning in the Late 1930s

Martin Thomas
French Historical Studies
Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring, 1998), pp. 325-361
Published by: Duke University Press
DOI: 10.2307/286632
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/286632
Page Count: 37
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At the Heart of Things? French Imperial Defense Planning in the Late 1930s
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Abstract

During the 1930s the protection of its far-flung empire posed numerous difficulties for France. Faced with widespread internal dissent across French North Africa, the Levant mandates, and Indochina and determined to utilize colonial troops for the defense of the metropole, French military planners attached limited importance to questions of imperial defense per se. This article sets the formulation of French imperial defense within the wider framework of general staff planning. Analyzing the work of specialist imperial defense planning committees such as the Comite consultatif de defense des colonies and the Haut Comite militaire, it suggests that France's schemes of empire defense were always unbalanced. This disequilibrium was the product of several factors investigated here. Apart from the understandable preoccupation with the Axis threat in Europe, the French Army staff was reluctant to plan the defense of empire on a truly global scale. This resulted in piecemeal, poorly coordinated strategic planning. Indeed, French imperial defense schemes were at their best in those overseas territories where Ministry of Colonies and Ministry of Marine influence was strongest, notably, in the sub-Saharan federations of Afrique occidentale francaise and Afrique equatoriale francaise.

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