The new French Foreign Minister recently used a word that has been used several times by the United States this year, that is, the word “war” for which Bernard Kouchner asked the world to prepare in order to end Iran’s nuclear program.
Despite that Kouchner’s statements came as a surprise for those responsible for French foreign policy over the past two decades; it was not dissonant. In fact, such statement reflects a qualitative shift in the French strategic vision of the era of Nicolas Sarkozy. The obvious irony here is that Sarkozy, who was one of the pillars of Chirac’s era, unequivocally seeks to endorse a radical break with the Chirac era with regard to France’s domestic and foreign issues. We could even say that Sarkozy aspires to change the rules and fundamentals of French diplomatic philosophy that was established by the founder of the Fifth Republic of France and liberator of France, General Charles De Gaulle, and which has been maintained by Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and his successor, the Gaullist, Jacques Chirac.
Today, France is so distant from the eloquent speech of former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin that he had delivered at the Security Council [chamber] in 2003, in which he provoked fear towards the prospective war on Iraq, in an open confrontation with the American administration that started the war. That day, De Villepin spoke in the name of “Old Europe’s conscience” and its enlightening values and in the name of peacefulness that is based upon the guidance of international law and its institutions.
This was the France of yesterday. Today, however, it rears in a new and unfamiliar face, in which it plays a different role in the international arena and in a context of close alliance with the United States; a role that is similar to that played by the government of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the recent war in Iraq. Sarkozy’s speech during the inauguration ceremony entailed such strategic shift. In his speech, Sarkozy identified combating the “Iranian nuclear bomb” as one of the priorities of his foreign policy; however, it lacked the contextualisation of this objective within a framework of international legislative regulations and mechanisms. In fact, he hinted, in the context of the speech, at the new standard framework of French diplomacy which is “imposing respect for human rights” and “maintaining joint humanitarian security”. On another occasion, Sarkozy spoke about the “Iranian danger” in his lengthy speech that was prepared meticulously and delivered in front of French foreign ambassadors in August. He clearly pointed out the possibility of a military strike to prevent the “Iranian nuclear bomb”. There is no doubt that the matter of the “Iranian challenge” was one of the priorities on the agenda of the first meeting between US President Bush and Sarkozy, which took place two months ago in a friendly familial atmosphere that could endorse the new spirit of relations between France and the United States, which has not been trouble-free due to radical differences in the geo-political vision and the nature of stances towards international issues throughout the post-World War II era. Even though it is true to say that the Sarkozy government has not qualitatively changed France’s position towards the Iraqi issue and showed obvious interest in helping the United States to escape the Iraqi ordeal, both countries have adopted a common coordinating approach to Middle Eastern causes, namely, key issues in Lebanon and Palestine since the early days of the new French era.
The imminent “Middle East Peace Conference” initiative is nothing but the actual outcome of this orientation.
Sarkozy brags that he is the first French President to be deemed a “friend” by Israel. Moreover, an absolute majority of French-Israelis (of dual nationality), whose votes were traditionally granted to socialists, supported Sarkozy. In the meantime, he believes that he could employ traditional French-Arab relations to play an active role in the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict in coordination with US administration. According to this new strategic orientation, Sarkozy is clearly keen on saving France from the limited role that had been designed for it by the rules of the international game in the region: the last-minute intermediary that is given the task of helping to absorb the shocks of regional crises through investing in the privacy of relationships with Arab leaders.
As for French policy with respect to the Middle East, this is based on two new entries: the pursuit to consolidate European-American partnership as a condition for active unanimity in international issues on one hand and rebuilding the strategic French vision upon alternative standards of values that surpass the restrictions of international laws.
It is evident that the selection of the prominent socialist figure, Bernard Kouchner, as French Foreign Minister is not only because of openness to the leftist trend but rather reflects the new strategic orientation since Kouchner was the first official in the French administration to come up with the idea of humanitarian intervention to defend oppressed peoples, threatened minorities or to confront universal dangers that exceed the limited local and national scale. Kouchner was infamous for his position during the Balkan wars. Besides, he was one of the supporters of the American war against terrorism. He deviated from his party’s position as he chose to support the United States in its occupation of Iraq.
We do not need to point out the fact that such vision agrees with the tenets of new conservative Americans (the majority of whom come from a leftist background). Although the intellectual background is different, the right of humanitarian intervention, as emphasized by Kouchner in some of his published writings, is an extension of the standard reference for human rights and a personification of universal ties that were created by the dynamics of globalization. Hence, this requires that he would review the international legal system so as to suit the post-national state era.
The concept of “anticipatory war”, which was crystallized by neo-conservatives, emerges from an internal American dialogue and presents the priority of preserving important American interests upon the international legislative code that was conceived at a stage governed by the balances of the Cold War whilst global peace today can only be achieved via American superiority. It’s true that the two backgrounds are intellectually and ideologically contrasting, yet they have converged today in administrating the most dangerous existing international crises. As history has taught us, tragedies of the world usually result from ideological defiance that denies the wisdom of reality even if it appears as powerless and humiliated.