Tuesday, July 30, 2002

France speaks

Yesterday an interview with the new French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin appeared in Le Monde. In general, I find M. de Villepin to be a thoughtful fellow, far superior to his predecessor.

During the interview, the topic of France’s position on an Iraqi invasion was raised. De Villepin skirted the question, as only foreign minister can, but his avoidance of the issue suggests to me that France wants to keep its options open and play some role in an invasion if only to maintain a place at the international table.

Additionally, de Villepin spoke highly of Colin Powell and with understanding regarding the impact September 11 had on the US. But he also said something that tends to underline the European problem regarding international affairs. Talking of Europe’s differences with the US, he noted, “We Europeans have a conviction: that a politics of security alone is insufficient in creating a peaceful and stable international order.”

This certainly is Europe’s conviction, but it always strikes me that it’s not much more than conviction. Still this conviction encompasses the strange dissonance at the heart of Europe today. The force of de Villepin’s statement is that the US focuses primarily on security, while Europe has a broader view that includes political, social and economic development.

But when one looks at Europe and the US, I tend to see exactly the opposite situation. The Europeans focus on social and economic matters to the almost complete exclusion of security issues. At the same time, the US is the single largest contributor to a host of humanitarian organizations, followed by free enterprising Japan. Though the EU and its member states combined are the largest single aid donors in the world, the Europeans spend relatively small amounts on defence while the US maintains both a massive defence expenditure and a competitive international aid budget.

De Villepin is a smart and competent man with a genuine respect for the US, but his statement regarding security tends to obscure the truth of the matter. It’s Europe that prefers not to talk about security, because security really means war, and that’s a subject many in Europe’s political classes would rather forget.

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