France presses for independence from US

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sun Nov 7 05:53:53 PST 1999

[Is there anything to this, or is it just posturing?]

New York Times - November 7, 1999


PARIS -- In a Europe that is increasingly concerned about unilateralism and resurgent isolationism in the United States, France seized the moment last week to urge the European allies to develop a more independent defense and foreign policy.

President Jacques Chirac, speaking Thursday at an international conference, warned that a world with only one superpower is not as secure and safe as a multipolar world in which Europe is one of the strongest poles.

He believes this, Chirac said, "because the present situation is causing difficulties in numerous countries, including the most powerful among them, the United States, where Congress too often gives in to the temptations of unilateralism and isolationism."

Another reason, he added, was that "the forerunners of what could someday become a new bipolar tension are already arising" between the United States and China.

French officials close to Chirac said that one of the main causes for concern in both China and France was the possible deployment by the United States of a limited missile defense shield to protect against attack by "rogue states" like Iraq or North Korea. Such a shield in the eastern Pacific region might also make China think it had to build more missiles to keep its own nuclear forces from being marginalized.

France, Germany and Britain all have strong reservations about amending the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow to permit more anti-missile defenses, and Russia has said that changing the treaty could destabilize the global strategic balance.

That is also the view of the European allies. "President Chirac has told President Clinton that it could open a Pandora's box that is in none of the allies' interest," one French official said.

In the view of French leaders since Charles de Gaulle in the early 1960s, the best insurance against both U.S. isolationism and the capriciousness of heavy dependence on the United States has always been an independent French or European strategic power.

Now Chirac and other French officials are capitalizing on the Senate's rejection last month of a global treaty banning nuclear tests to urge Europeans not to defer to U.S. leadership but to go ahead and build something that Americans have long been calling for: stronger European defenses.

The world needs "responsible involvement" by the United States in international affairs, Chirac said in his remarks, which were warmly received by many other Europeans present.

"He spoke for me and for all Europeans on that," said Karl Kaiser, a German foreign-policy expert who was an adviser to Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor.

Chirac singled out the United States for only one moment of praise: "I salute their impressive economic and technological dynamism," he said at a gathering organized by the French International Relations Institute. "I deplore the present American diffidence in several major areas as a result of decisions by Congress. I wish the United States would once more take on all its responsibilities on the international scene, and as soon as possible. But the world is a fragile place. It won't wait."

The Socialist ministers of defense and foreign affairs also took a strongly Gaullist line last week. "For my part, I believe that since 1992 the word 'superpower' is no longer sufficient to describe the United States," Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told the same audience on Wednesday. "That's why I use the term 'hyperpower,' which American media think is aggressive.

"Supposing Europeans really do want to become a power," Vedrine added, "the willingness of the United States to accept with anybody, and particularly with Europe, partnership that is anything but momentary or limited, and to move from unilateralism to multilateralism, remains to be demonstrated. We would like to believe it. This question underlies the whole question of the European common foreign and defense policy.

"We cannot accept either a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world, nor the unilateralism of a single hyperpower," he added. "And that is why we are fighting for a multipolar, diversified and multilateral world."

Defense Minister Alain Richard, speaking of lessons the Europeans learned from Kosovo, where only the United States was quickly able to mass the sophisticated precision-guided weapons needed for the NATO bombing campaign, urged Europeans to cooperate and build forces for similar missions.

He and some other Europeans complain that the United States has been warning Europe against trying to build multilateral defenses that would duplicate the alliance's.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list