TCS Daily

Parlez-Vous Frangais?

By Dale Franks - February 21, 2003 12:00 AM

Since the end of World War II, France has pursued two main foreign policy goals. The first has been to prevent intra-European conflict-and especially conflict with Germany-through the creation of a united Europe that, under French (or as it developed, Franco-German) leadership, would face the world with a common foreign and defense policy. The second goal was to serve as a counterweight to American power and influence, both in Europe and in the world at large.

Even though the French have not yet fully accomplished those goals, the extent of their progress towards the first has been an extraordinary diplomatic triumph for them. The French government has achieved such a complete rapprochement with Germany that the French and German governments are now pursuing a plan for common citizenship. The common European currency, the Euro, is itself a product of French policy, and several European nations have replaced their own national currency with it. The very structure of the EU itself, both politically and economically, now reflects the French idea of what a single European government should look like.

France has been no less keen to pursue the second goal as it has the first.

French resistance to American policy can be traced back to the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis. When Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, France, Britain, and Israel launched a military attack on Egypt to retake it. President Eisenhower disapproved of the move, as did the USSR. With both the US and USSR applying intense pressure, the British and French were forced into a humiliating withdrawal.

The US-UK relationship eventually weathered that storm. The Franco-American relationship has not. Since then, France has stayed on a determined course to liberate French-and European-policy from US influence in every sphere where France perceives its interest to lie. In doing so, France has not hesitated to resort to-dare I say it?-unilateral actions to accomplish its purposes.

France began to pursue this policy first by ordering NATO nuclear weapons out of France, and replacing them with France's own nuclear force de frappe, which was removed from NATO oversight. France then withdrew French naval forces from the alliance. Finally, in 1966 France removed herself from the NATO military structure, forcing NATO to move its main headquarters from Paris to Brussels, Belgium, and the Central European Headquarters from Strasbourg to Brunssum, The Netherlands. France stayed in NATO's political councils, however, which were, if nothing else, useful for sniping at policies supported by the United States. In all of this, France thought nothing of creating a military and political crisis for its NATO allies, as long as French policy could be pursued.

Nor did France evince much concern over yet another NATO crisis it created last month, when it refused to allow NATO to respond to a request for defense assistance by Turkey, the only NATO member state that borders Iraq. Only by moving the debate to NATO's Defense Planning Committee, of which France has not been a member since 1966, was NATO able to approve defense assistance to Turkey over French objections.

France is not a nation that gracefully accepts opposition to its policies, either. At this past week's EU Summit, France's president, Jacques Chirac, responded to letters of support for US policy on Iraq signed by EU-candidate states Romania and Bulgaria, by saying, " "Romania and Bulgaria were particularly irresponsible to [sign the letter] when their position is really delicate. If they wanted to diminish their chances of joining Europe they could not have found a better way." Chirac explained, "Concerning the candidate countries, honestly I felt they acted frivolously because entry into the European Union implies a minimum of understanding for the others." Translation: Failure to parrot the French policy line means your entry into the EU will be delayed.

France can also be insensitive to the wishes of full EU states, too. Despite EU sanctions on Zimbabwe, which included a travel ban on Zimbabwean travel to Europe, France, without consulting its fellow EU states, and over their objections when they learned of it, invited Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's dictator to a Franco-African summit recently held in Paris.

France also keeps a watchful eye on la Francophonie, its French-speaking former colonies, and recently sent thousands of French troops to Côte d'Iviore to intervene in that country's civil war and impose a settlement on both parties. It did not, of course, ask for UN approval to do so, much less the approval of Côte d'Iviore's government.

When all the above is taken into account, it becomes fairly obvious why France is so keen to use the UN as a forum to oppose American policy. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, France can simply veto any US policy suggestion with which it disagrees. This gives France disproportionate power at the UN to prevent Security Council approval of any US-backed plan for forcing Iraq's disarmament that involves overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the French government has flatly stated in recent days that it will veto any UN resolution that authorizes the use of force against Iraq.

Of course, on the subject of Iraq, France's hands aren't entirely clean. France built the Osirak nuclear reactor for Saddam Hussein's regime, a reactor that could have been used to produce fissionables for Iraq's nuclear weapons program. If it had been up to France, and had the Israelis not intervened, Iraq would have had at least a small nuclear weapons arsenal before the end of the 1980s. Even today, many of France's dealings with the Iraqi regime are questionable. France has 272 applications under the UN Food for Oil program that are valued in the billions. Perhaps if the French were actually selling food, that wouldn't be very troubling. It appears, however, that what the French are actually selling to Iraq are things like medical supplies that have dual use in chemical and biological weapons production, high-speed switches that can be used to control nuclear warheads, and fiber optic equipment that can be used to build military communications centers. With this in mind, it's not surprising that France isn't keen to their dealings with Saddam Hussein examined by more skeptical eyes in a post-Hussein Iraq.

France, it seems, has odd notions about what it means to be our ally. Perhaps it's time for us to consider whether she really is one.

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