Strategic Diplomacy (Part 7) – France

by Harry Drews

France is one of the intrinsically strongest powers on the Diplomacy board. This strength is due to a number of factors, some of which are: 1) the corner position occupied by France means that any attacks can come from only two basic directions, north and east; 2) the rule that Switzerland is impassable is of significant defensive value while it does little to hamper France’s offense; 3) two builds in 1901 are almost automatic and this guarantees France a good start; and 4) there is a great deal of flexibility in France’s builds options and direction of attack.

Our basic strategy as the French should be based on the realisation that if we allow England and Germany to ally then we are doomed. In addition, simultaneous conflict on the northern and Mediterranean fronts must be avoided at all costs. In simplified language, we must divide and conquer. Analysis of the French position can be logically grouped into consideration of the -three main sectors in turn: Italy, England/Germany, and the east.

Our ideal strategy as France is to postpone conflicts with Italy and first resolve the Anglo-German matter. This is a secure strategy because Italy alone cannot hope to mount a reasonable offensive against us unless a bare minimum of four units (the majority of which must be fleets) are available. In order to build up this armada, Italy needs time to capture some centres from Austria or Turkey. In the meantime, we as the French can turn our attention to the north and we will still be able to anticipate the Italian attack. In any fight with Italy the odds are on our side. Imagine that a funnel is placed between France and Italy. The narrow end rests on the French coast and the wide end opens onto Italy and the Central Mediterranean, We will have no trouble invading Italy if we so choose and yet Italy has a hard time making any inroads into France and Spain. This quirk in the design of the mapboard should be used to maximum advantage. If French fortunes should fall, the French defence against Italy can be stretched out for quite a while as long as we are not being attacked from the north at the same time.

The crucial task we face at the start of the game is to undermine any formation of’ and English-German agreement. Expend as much diplomatic sweat and toil that is necessary to ensure that France will be counted as partner in this critical marriage of’ interests. Whether we ally with Germany or England is not nearly so important as that we manage to prevent those two from allying with each other. Should the unthinkable happen, then it is inevitable that we succumb. At the very best Russia may come to our side and Italy may respect an agreement of neutrality. Temporary stalemates can be achieved. Sooner or later Russia will weaken or Italy will invade our sunny, southern shores and our position blows away with the wind. Let us assume, however, that fate is kind to us and a deal with either England or Germany is possible. Which one is preferable as an ally? England makes a good short term ally as Germany can be crushed with minimal effort (provided Russia plays into our hands). Supposing that the alliance with England is maintained after the elimination of’ Germany, then some sort of defence must be left against our friend England while we carry the fight to the shores of Italy. If no potent power has coalesced from the turmoil in the east then the conquest of our Italian neighbour will succeed. At this point we will have eleven centres: Belgium, Munich, Italy, Tunis and the homeland. Now let us be realistic about our future chances. Most likely we cannot take the necessary centres from Austria or Turkey. Too much time will be required and doubtless England will be coveting our inviting centres back home. Russia, of course, could be doing the gloating and be sitting in Austria too. The depressing conclusion is that an alliance with England is not the best means towards a French victory.

Suppose we backtrack a bit and the decision to stab England is made. Whether or not this stab should occur before or after the Italian adventure will depend on what has happened in the east. If Russia is threatening England in the north or there is no opposition at all in that area then most likely England will have been drawn away from our area and the chances for the stab by us have improved. If there is no early opportunity to slip the blade into England then we must bide our time and move into the Mediterranean in force. Unfortunately, no matter which country we attack first, England or Italy, there will be an interruption in the smooth flow of our expansion. All other things being equal, the assault on England is preferred because she is the more dangerous opponent and a few more centres are available on the continent which can be swept up into our net at the same time. Do not deceive yourself, however. England is a tough nut to crack and if she is not presented with threats in other directions a stalemate line can be thrown up in quick order against us.

Having examined the possibilities of an alliance with England to destroy Germany, let us now look at the other side of the coin. The comparative advantages of allying with Germany rather than England are immediately apparent. England can be most assuredly overwhelmed; Germany will usually be more receptive to an alliance with France than with England; and then because the three island centres can be logically claimed by France, we will have a secure base from which to launch an offensive against Germany or to secure our defenses while we venture into the Mediterranean. Our centre count will register twelve: Tunis, the England and Italian home centres as well as our own homeland, Add some German and/or Scandinavian and/or Austria centres and a very merry eighteen centre catch we have indeed. Furthermore, with Germany as our ally, the threat to ourselves is minimised and one of Russia, Austria or Turkey can cast a blow for French victory (unintentionally of course) at the German rear.

We are only left with the examination of the roles of the three eastern powers. Turkey is dangerous because any of her gains are irreversible from our viewpoint. Turkey can stealthily creep across half of Europe and block our bid for victory. All our influence must be used to suppress Turkish expansion. Clearly, Italy, Germany and Russia can serve as buttresses to contain the Turkish menace and care must be taken to avoid foolish French tactics which would open the floodgates. This is one of the flaws inherent in an Anglo-French alliance. Turkey can engulf Russia while Germany and Italy are being eroded. If we turn to Russia, we see that she can be of definite value as long as she is not blatantly on top of the pile in the east. Even worse than Turkish dominance is a working Russo-Italian alliance; should this horrible evil surface then the game is lost. Finally, we come to Austria. Her ascendancy to domination will most often prove to be the greatest blessing to France. Austria will attract the heat while we snatch the goodies.

Can we put a game plan for France together? Given a choice, ally with the person who seems to be the weaker of the English/German duo. An exception would occur if the Russian player seems to be very capable and has a strong potential ally in one of the other three eastern players. If this powerhouse is building in the east then invade Italy quickly to set up your front line trenches. The north can wait your later attention. If no quick winner in the east seems to be emerging then you can afford to pursue a northern policy as was outlined earlier. If you do have to rush into the Mediterranean early in the game then your chances of victory will be reduced but with a bit of luck you can settle for a draw and maybe even take those elusive eighteen centres. 

Reprinted from Paroxysm 9, June 1975.