For centuries Britain and France were rivals in international and imperial relations, often expending blood and treasure against each other. Since the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 this rivalry has been concentrated in the economic and diplomatic sphere rather than in clash of arms—the exception was the period 1940–2 when British forces fought Vichy France in west and north Africa and Madagascar and the Royal Navy attacked part of the French fleet.
Anglo-French rivalry has been no less intense in the twentieth century despite the virtual absence of military conflict between them. Yet, the degree of co-operation has also been remarkable, extending at crucial moments into the military as well as political and economic spheres. Indeed, Britain and France have been partners for most of the century, joined, sometimes against their instincts, by a mixture of fear of powerful opponents, shared beliefs, mutual admiration and mutual resentment, perceptions and misperceptions.
The period reviewed by this book begins with the estrangement of the two Great Powers at the time of Europe’s final ascendancy in world politics and terminates with each relegated to the second ranks, and with each striving to maintain and extend its respective influence within the developing European Union. The essays are not intended to provide a definitive history of the Anglo-French relationship in the twentieth century, rather they focus on key aspects and pay particular attention to the themes of rivalry and cooperation which are certainly not mutually exclusive. At the same time, important ground is covered sufficient to confirm the complexities of a bilateral relationship between two declining powers based for the most part on common ideological and political affinities.
This is the first significant collection on the subject of twentieth century Anglo-French relations to appear in more than twenty-five years and provides a fresh examination of this important area of International History which will be welcomed by students of contemporary international relations, history and politics.
Alan Sharp is Professor of International Studies and head of the School of History, Philosophy and Politics at the University of Ulster.
Glyn Stone is Associate Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the West of England, Bristol.