France holding up American plans at the UN

Developing Just Leadership

Mohamed Zitouni

Sha'ban 25, 1423 2002-11-01

Occupied Arab World

by Mohamed Zitouni (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 17, Sha'ban, 1423)

Almost one month after the US and Britain published the draft resolution that they wanted the UN Security Council to pass to justify their planned war on Iraq, the French government has become the main obstacle to their success. Having the power of veto in the UN Security Council, it is insisting on a two-resolution process: first a resolution approving the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, and then, if the inspectors judge that the Iraqis are not cooperating with them, a second resolution authorizing military action.

The US draft abrogates the judgement of whether or not the Iraqis are cooperating to Washington, and authorises military action without further reference to the Security Council. It also has many other terms designed to make war inevitable (see Crescent International, October 16-31, 2002).

Few details about the Franco-American negotiations are emerging, but there are signs, mainly from the French side, that they are virtually deadlocked. Le Monde, writing about a telephone conversation between the French president Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush, spoke of a “dialogue of the deaf”, which ended with the two presidents agreeing to leave the task of reconciling their positions to their foreign ministers.

The fact that the French are not alone in Europe in opposing the US plans was emphasised in a recent meeting between Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was re-elected in September by a narrow margin; commentators believe that his public opposition to US military intervention in Iraq may have been the decisive factor. Chirac and Schroeder both stressed that their positions on Iraq were “similar.” However, Germany has no seat at the Security Council.

Unfortunately, the French position owes rather less to idealism and a sense of right and wrong than to its own self-interest, and a deep concern for the growing power of the US. On October 8, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, head of the Republican Gathering Party, indicated that “the real objectives of US foreign policy are to seize the second-largest series of oil wells in the Middle East.” He added that he thought that the greatest problem was not “so much Iraq as American unilateralism.”

How long the French will maintain this public opposition remains to be seen. Responding to demands that France explicitly veto the proposed US resolutions, instead of negotiating on their basis, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin replied that such a decision would deprive France of “influence, of the ability to weigh in on the development of international issues.” He meant that if the French government chose to oppose US positions openly, it risked the same ostracism as Washington has imposed on Germany, and might push the Bush administration to abandon the UN altogether, designating it a “failed” institution, as Bush has threatened to do.

Addressing the French Senate on October 9, de Villepin showed that all the different sections of the French political elite are preoccupied with the geopolitical implications of the US war offensive. Villepin identified France’s three “responsibilities”: the elimination of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction,” the preservation of stability in the Middle East and Europe, and defence of the “fundamental role of the UN.”

Villepin identified the importance of the Middle East in imperialist terms, calling it an “essential strategic zone” due to its oil riches and its geographical position at the crossroads of “major transportation lanes.”

He also noted that the “internal cohesion” of European states would be threatened by “an illegitimate handling” of the crisis that flew in the face of public opinion. He did not cite recent poll results, which clearly show the gulf that exists between the French government’s position, as it tries to woo Washington, and popular opinion. According to a poll by the Ifop agency, 65 percent of the French population oppose a war in Iraq even if the UN approves it, and 70 percent think that the US has an “overly dominant” position in the fight against terrorism.

The opposition to Washington’s war policy became more explicit in Villepin’s discussion of the UN. Only a few days after the US government announced its new foreign policy framework based on “pre-emptive” wars, Villepin declared: “[France] refuses to sanction any unilateral or pre-emptive action; it is persuaded that a new international order must be based on dialogue and cooperation. If the world today needs a strong America, it also needs a strong Europe.”

This critical attitude is not limited to Villepin. Figaro, a right-wing newspaper close to the current government, published an article on October 10 describing French attempts to “restrain American liberty of action in Iraq” and to frustrate the “clan of warmongers that makes up the administration of George W. Bush.” It identified the stakes in the current negotiations as “the fate of the Iraqi population” in the hands of a dictator possessing “weapons of mass destruction,” “regional stability,” “control of the world’s principal reserves of petroleum,” and “the world order.”

According to Figaro, France may soon rally Russia and China, the other two members of the Security Council opposed to the war policies of the US and Great Britain, to its position on UN resolutions. At the end of the article, however, the journalist concedes that the question of war will be decided not by the UN but by White House fiat. Bush is now armed with a congressional resolution authorizing him to declare war on Iraq when he sees fit, the writer noted, and takes his instructions from a group of counselors who have promoted the doctrine of pre-emptive war and have long been pushing for an attack on Iraq.

France’s political line is evidently based on the hope that the White House will back down in the face of UN opposition: a hope that ruling circles are having an increasingly hard time getting anyone, including themselves, to take seriously. In the mean time, European ruling circles opposed to the US’s war on Iraq, notably in France and Germany, are being given yet another proof of their military weakness vis-a-vis the US.

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