David Messenger's analysis of French policy and Spanish Republicanism in early postwar France seeks to contribute to Cold War scholarship by arguing for an understanding of the particularity of France's journey into the West's Cold War alliance. Rather than reading the Cold War backward into the 1944–1947 period of French/Spanish/Allied relations, Messenger suggests that we need to consider it in its own right, as a product of the preceding war period.
Messenger's examination of French-Spanish relations during that era is far more than a diplomatic history. He takes a transnational approach, focusing on the texture of the debate within France, and between the French and their Anglo-Saxon allies, about the course the relationship with Francisco Franco's Spain should take. The book's sources are wide—archival material in France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as a range of relevant newspapers in the three languages. Ultimately, in reviewing the vexed question of French policy toward Spain during this liminal period, Messenger provides a spirited challenge to analyses of the French Fourth Republic that center on the “politics of disappointment.” He argues that in fact the mixture of “moral intent” and “realpolitik” the French had to confront during this period was adroitly handled.
Messenger's book follows a broadly chronological structure. He begins with a section examining how wartime activity framed competing postwar discourses of “realpolitik” and “justice.” The movement of refugees from France to Spain after 1942 created an opportunity for Charles de Gaulle's Algiers-based French Committee of National Liberation (Comité Français de la Libération Nationale, or CFLN) to expand on former Vichy-era relationships with Spain as a means of bolstering its own claim to be the legitimate authority of France. Later, when the CFLN became the provisional government of France, Messenger argues, there was already a well-tested basis for a governmental relationship with Franco's regime. At the same time, the majority of the domestic French press framed the entirety of the Spanish issue in images and vocabulary borrowed from the French Resistance, representing the future of Spain as an integral part of a new justice-based politics for postwar Europe. In the book's second section, Messenger addresses French government efforts in 1946 to forge a policy toward Spain that might reconcile these two approaches without alienating France's Western allies. In this process, France was drawn into the politics of the Spanish Resistance and its exile groups in France. French officials increasingly adopted more publicly anti-Franco positions, becoming de facto the most assertive pro-Republican member of the Western alliance. The story revealed here is of a sustained if quiet effort on the part of the French government to support Spanish Republicanism, framing the issue internationally as one in which a dictatorship in Spain had to be seen as incompatible with a newly constructed postwar democratic Europe. In the final section, Messenger reviews French policy toward Spain from 1946 to 1948, tracing the movement toward a normalization of Franco-Spanish relations, with an end to border closures and further unilateral French initiatives. By 1948, it was evident that any isolated attempts to weaken Franco's hold in Spain that were led by France without its allies would likely have the reverse effect of strengthening the Spanish regime and dividing the opposition. In formulating policy vis-à-vis Spain, France had clearly now become an ally with relatively little influence over its Western partners.
The scope of the book is broad, and inevitably some aspects of French domestic politics are given slightly less weight than one might have expected—for example, the impact of the dismissal of ministers affiliated with the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Français) from the government in 1947. A sharper editorial eye might also have eliminated some of the occasional typographical mistakes and infelicities of expression.
These are, however, minor grouses. Messenger's achievements in the book are considerable. His transnational approach has generated rich material on such areas as French links with Spanish exile movements, consistent French intervention in political prisoner cases, and French support for anti-Franco opposition groups. His thesis that France should be regarded as a special case in the developing Western alliance is supported by a careful analysis of the mixed inheritance of the war for French-Spanish relations, the unusual nature of postwar French domestic politics, and what he rightly identifies as the specific rhetoric and images around Spain that influenced many of those involved in policymaking: “the context … was very different from that of [France's] allies. The real difference between French and Anglo-American anti-Franco activists was in the ability of French anti-Franco activists to draw upon images and themes unique to France” (p. 35).
Messenger's analysis of Franco-Spanish relations during this transitional period provides an interesting perspective on how and why, “as France moved towards its role within the western alliance, it did so awkwardly, with both the significance of Resistance rhetoric and imagery about an idealized new world competing with a realistic assessment of France's role as a member of the Alliance and European leader” (p. 141).