INSIDE OUT

INSIDE OUT - France has long sought to undermine Nato, but it cannot also have been Chirac's aim to cripple the EU as a force in international affairs.

by Andrew Neil is publisher of The Business and Scotsmannewspapers
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

France has long sought to undermine Nato, but it cannot also have been Chirac's aim to cripple the EU as a force in international affairs.

Saddam Hussein cannot win against a concerted Anglo-American attack, but whatever the outcome in Iraq, he has succeeded in wreaking severe collateral damage on three institutions - the UN Security Council, Nato and the European Union - which have been at the heart of international affairs for decades. His main ally in this destruction has been President Chirac of France.

The Iraqi tyrant has been skilful in sowing dissension in Western ranks, but he has been exploiting differences that could have undermined the three global institutions with or without the Iraqi confrontation.

Since the end of the Cold War a decade ago, we have been experiencing what the Economist calls 'a widening gulf of incomprehension between the people of America and the peoples of Europe'. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a new zero for the US: suddenly the peaceful prospects of the new world order were replaced with the belief that the world had become a dangerous place, requiring a forceful response, including the use of pre-emptive force. Europeans are not convinced.

The result has been what Robert Kagan, the noted American thinker, has called a maelstrom in transatlantic relations. 'After the Cold War,' he writes, 'Europeans and Americans no longer share a common view of the world.' This is especially true when it comes to the use of force.

America, which has the military power to project force, now takes what Kagan calls an 'increasingly belligerent Hobbesian worldview', whereas Europe, whose military forces are declining, takes an 'increasingly pacifist Kantian worldview' in which force must always play second fiddle to international law and transnational negotiations.

The first casualty has been Nato. The Atlantic Alliance has been struggling to map out a new role for itself. The most obvious was to build an 'out of area' capability, enabling it to project military power beyond Europe to wherever American and European interests were at risk, such as Iraq.

President Chirac's resistance to deploying military force to oust Saddam has ruled out that option. Indeed, France and Germany even opposed bolstering the defences of another Nato member, Turkey, in the run-up to war. As a result, Nato is a dead duck. Washington has concluded that, when it comes to the use of military force, America will have to look after itself.

There will be only crocodile tears in Paris at that: France has long sought to undermine and sideline Nato, regarding it as an American Trojan horse in Europe. But it cannot also have been Chirac's aim to cripple the EU as a force in international affairs - yet he has managed that as well.

The French president had no problems in herding Germany's lame-duck chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, into the peace camp. But, having breathed new life into the Franco-German alliance, he then assumed he could speak for the EU, as Paris and Bonn/Berlin have regularly done for most of the EU's existence. Chirac forgot that the EU was no longer a cosy club for west Europeans.

As Chirac and Schroeder spoke out loudly against war, they were appalled to read a letter signed by eight countries (EU members or about-to-become-members) led by Britain and Spain expressing solidarity with the US. Worse was to follow: 10 other countries - the newly emerging states of eastern Europe - joined the rebel Gang of Eight.

Chirac was so appalled that he indicated their refusal to toe the Paris line could jeopardise their hopes of joining the EU. The EU's aspiration to speak with one voice in foreign and defence matters has become a bad joke, with France's desire to lead a united Europe in such matters in shreds. As Kagan concludes: 'Europe is further than it was a decade ago from an effective common foreign and defence policy.'

It is unlikely to get more united as the EU expands to 25 countries: 'We are in danger of being swamped by pro-American new arrivals,' wrote an influential French commentator in Liberation. 'The Europe of Brussels is encircled by the Europe of Washington.' Powerful Parisian voices are now arguing against any further EU enlargement; that will split the EU even further.

The Security Council looks like being the third victim of the Chirac/Saddam axis. France's leadership of the peace party in the UN has only convinced a new generation of US foreign-policy makers that it is feckless. The Bush administration never much wanted to go the UN route in the first place, believing America's national security needs justify unilateral action.

The death of Nato, systemic divisions in the EU, the undermining of the UN Security Council - the world is paying a high price for Chirac's folie de grandeur. Our own dear prime minister persists in thinking he can bridge the gap separating Europe from America, though he can't bridge the divisions in his own party. Looks like mission impossible to me.

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