Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Is It Time For France To Go?

Yesterday, following a round-the-table drubbing by his fellow EU leaders on the issue of Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac stepped before the cameras and proceeded to chastise Eastern European members, all of whom will be or are candidates for EU membership. His complaint against them was that they had blatantly and independently supported the American position on Iraq.

So angered was Chirac by this show of sovereign action on the part of these nations, that he told them that this would have been a good time for them to shut up, and that they did not have the same rights in the EU family as those nations that were already members. Apparently, Chirac thinks that the soon-to-be members should simply fermez les bouches and hold to the EU party line. But if that’s the case, then it would seem these nations have taken the correct stance, since more EU states have come out in support of the US than have backed the Franco-German position. It would seem, however, that for Jacques Chirac, the only legitimate EU position on Iraq is his own.

If this isn’t bad enough, Chirac went further and singled out Bulgaria and Romania as especially blameworthy. The reason he decided to pick on these two countries is simple: unlike the other Eastern European states which are scheduled to enter the EU in 2004, the status of Romania and Bulgaria is still under discussion. Their admission is expected to take place in 2007, but, as Chirac pointed out, a refusal by any EU member could block this. In other words, Chirac is threatening Bulgaria and Romania.

But as I noted, most of the rest of Europe’s governments have taken the same position as Bulgaria and Romania. Chirac, it seems, is engaging in diplomacy by intimidation. What’s next? Will the Bulgarian and Romanian leaders find horses’ heads in their beds?

Now, if we take a quick look through the French press, even moderate le Figaro, we find many commentators asserting that France has every right to dissent from the American position, that France is raising important questions about the dangers of the war and that Chirac’s position is representative of European public opinion. Personally, I agree with all these positions. France most certainly has a right to an independent foreign policy. Indeed, I was among the first to cheer the French for taking responsibility for intervening in the Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, the intervention has been a disaster thus far, leaving supporters of the Ivorian government to call for American intervention to protect them from the French.

But is France pursuing an independent foreign policy in the style of Charles de Gaulle, or is it pursuing a dictatorial and irresponsible policy? An independent foreign policy would consist primarily in France working in its own sphere of influence – countries such as the Ivory Coast or even Syria. Yet what France is now doing is attempting actively to obstruct American foreign policy. Similarly, France has decided that, while it deserves the right to act independently of the US and most of the other EU members, candidate EU countries should merely be silenced until they fall in line with the French position. This is a rather amazing stand to take when we consider most notably that the countries of which Chirac is speaking include one of the world’s first national democratic national republics – Poland – and one of the most successful pre-World War II democracies – the Czech Republic.

So, the question now is: What to do about France? Many have suggested that a new alliance of like-minded democracies should be formed, one that excludes France. That is a possibility, but it might take a fair amount of time, and any such alliance would take time to build and make its presence known on the world stage. My suggestion at this point is rather to work on an existing organization, that much vaunted source of peace and international legitimacy – the United Nations. And my proposal is simply that France be removed as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and replaced with Japan.

There are two objections which might be raised at this point. The first is that removing France might be a hasty decision. Ultimately, France is a democracy, and as such, it does share certain beliefs with the US. In addition, removing France from permanent status might destabilize Europe, as France would most certainly react with anger and lash out against the US and its allies. France might also begin aligning itself with rogue states providing them with nuclear capabilities to use against the US and its allies. In short, we might be cutting off our noses to spite our face.

However, as things now stand, I don’t believe these are sufficient reasons not to remove France from permanent status. After all, it was France and France alone that gave Iraq nuclear capacity. Certainly the US and Britain backed Iraq in its war against Iran, supplying it with arms, but it was France that provided the nuclear capabilities – a move strongly opposed by Britain and the US. Subsequently, it was Israel that bombed Iraq’s nuclear sites in 1981. Had Israel not done so amid criticism from around the world, Iraq would now most possess nuclear weapons.

In addition, France already seems to be working rather closely with rogue states, such as Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, ostensibly to build better relations with African nations and support continental peace efforts in the Congo. But all they really seem to be doing is granting international legitimacy to Mugabe’s corrupt regime, though by an odd twist, perhaps Mugabe’s trip to France will be an excellent occasion for a coup in his homeland, allowing him to stay in France.

As to shared concerns over democracy, the French version of democracy seems to be diverging increasingly from that of traditionally more stable democratic nations such as Britain or the US. In addition, to which, there are other democracies in the world that have shown themselves to be both stable and responsible.

Finally, in terms of France itself, we should note that this is a nation with only 60 million people. It no longer has significant military capabilities, and it seems largely out of step with most of the rest of the EU governments and can’t really be said to speak for Europe. As it stands today, two European nations – Britain and Russia – are already permanent members of the Security Council. It seems superfluous then to retain a third merely because we might fear some sort of Franco-German attempt to retake the continent. Of course the main means of resisting such a move would be to maintain good relations with Germany. And on this point, we must remember that it is Gerhard Schroeder, the Social Democrat, who has stood against the US. Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrats and likely the next Chancellor of Germany, has not time for anti-Americanism and has roundly criticized any Germans who think they can break the close ties between the German nation and the US. By contrast, there is no alternative French government waiting in the wings that will seek to improve relations with the US. Indeed, French opposition parties, including the Socialists, the Front National and the extreme left are more hostile to the US than is Chirac.

And this brings us to Japan. I’m suggesting Japan as a possible alternative for various reasons. First, it has a large population, certainly greater than that of France. Second, it already is the second largest financial contributor to the United Nations after the United States. Third, despite its recent economic problems, it remains a strong and relatively stable economic force. Fourth, it is a symbol of democratic success, a nation that became a democracy in a fairly short time through the concerted efforts of the US and the cooperation of other nations. Finally, Japan is situated in Asia and can serve as an Asian balance on the Security Council to communist China.

Some have argued that India, as the nation with the world’s second largest population should replace France. It too is a democracy, though it is not as internally stable as Japan and it has a tendency to align itself with non-democratic nations at times. In any case, India could also be a possibility, especially if the permanent member status is given to seven rather than five nations – though this might get a bit too unwieldy.

In any event, I do not believe that maintaining France’s position as a permanent member of the Security Council is justified. It has demonstrated an obstructionist intention, and a bullying attitude toward Eastern Europe. There are good reasons for keeping France’s permanent member status, but ultimately, France is not being removed from the UN altogether, just being downgraded slightly. This seems perfectly justifiable at this point.

But how to go about doing this? Well, France isn’t going to give up easily. Perhaps what’s needed is a global internet petition calling for France’s removal from the big five. It certainly would be one way for the “street” to be heard, and I imagine quite a few Ivorians would be willing to sign on.

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