Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Pleven, René Jean (1901–1993)

French politician, minister of finance (1944–1946), minister of national defense (1949, 1952–1954), minister of justice (1969–1973), and premier (1950–1951, 1951–1952). Born in Rennes on 15 April 1901, René Pleven studied law and political science in Paris, receiving a doctorate in law from the University of Paris. During 1929–1939 he served as the Automatic Telephone Company's director general for Europe.

During the German occupation of France (1940–1944), Pleven served in the Resistance and as a diplomat for General Charles de Gaulle. Pleven also played a central role in the general's London Committee, which advocated an approach to postwar economic growth combining free enterprise with central planning by elite civil servants trained in France's finest schools. During 1944–1946 Pleven served as finance minister in de Gaulle's postwar provisional government. During 1945–1973 Pleven represented a district in his native Brittany in the Chamber of Deputies.

Pleven led the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (USDR) from 1946 to 1953, when François Mitterrand succeeded him. During the politically volatile Fourth Republic (1944–1958), Pleven served as premier twice, first during July 1950–March 1951 and then during August 1951–January 1952. He also served in several other ministerial posts, most notably as minister of national defense, first in 1949 and then during 1952–1954. Just as the 1950 Schuman Plan sought to restrain a resurgent Germany through the integration of Western Europe's coal and steel industries, Pleven, to achieve a similar aim in the military sphere, gave his name to an October 1950 plan to develop a European army made up of supranational military units under the command of a European defense minister accountable to a European parliament. The so-called Pleven Plan evolved into discussions of the European Defense Community (EDC), but by excluding the United States, it chiefly complicated the organization of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

While European efforts at economic integration enjoyed the blessing of the United States, the stakes in the realm of security were too high in the dark days of the Cold War. Although the question of rearming Germany was extremely important for Pleven and France, more immediately pressing was the war against nationalist forces in Indochina, which failed decisively in 1954 with the defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Although Pleven would remain politically active for decades to come, his most influential period was over, and his plan never came to fruition, instead eventually being subsumed by NATO and the Federal Republic of Germany's (FRG, West Germany) entrance into the alliance. During 1969–1973 Pleven served as justice minister but lost his Chamber of Deputies seat in 1973. He retired from national politics and died in Paris on 13 January 1993.

Maarten L. Pereboom


Further Reading
Fursdon, Edward. The European Defense Community: A History. New York: St. Martin's, 1980.; Hitchcock, William I. France Restored: Cold War Diplomacy and the Quest for Leadership in Europe, 1944–1954. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.; Rioux, Jean-Pierre. The Fourth Republic, 1944–1958. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
 

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