- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Sometimes the French-American relationship resembles nothing so much as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in one of those old musicals, a romance with no kisses. Being among the world's first democracies, the two should be like a couple of hot tomatoes; instead they're more like yesterday's mashed potatoes. The United States and France even managed to find themselves at odds over how to achieve that seemingly most uncontroversial of goals for Western countries, the promotion of democracy. Of the 108 countries who convened in Warsaw in late June for the first World Democratic Forum, France alone refused to sign the conference communiqu, the "Warsaw Declaration: Towards a Community of Democracies." Well. Charles de Gaulle would have been proud.
The conference was the brainchild of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, who got together at the NATO summit in Washington 18 months ago. So observers of French foreign policy might well expect to find here an instance of the well-known Gallic contrariness, particularly where American initiatives are involved.
According to news reports, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine upset the American delegation, under the fearless leadership of Mrs. Albright, when he dug in his heels against the so-called Warsaw Declaration. While the meeting was a well-intentioned effort (so the French acknowledged in a terse little statement), "the growth of democracy is a complex one. The specifics of each case should be taken into consideration. This is not a matter which allows sweeping generalizations." What's more, the French refused to accept the conference as part of an action plan, creating a right for others to intervene in a country's internal affairs for the sake of democracy. "The Warsaw Conference is to be considered as only the beginning for such an exchange, but not as a program of action," the statement said.
With all due respect to Mr. Geremic, who indeed deserves respect as someone who has worked hard to promote democracy and stability in Central Europe, it takes the hamfistedness of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to give you pause at the thought of promoting democracy, a cause to which she has promised to devote her last six months in office. Heavens, one might even find oneself agreeing with the French.
As noted by Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch in New York in an interview with the New York Times, U.S. efforts can even fuel "growing hostility." He said further, "The United States is increasingly viewed as a government that preaches to the rest of the world but is unwilling to be bound by international standards." This could be a reference to the objections of the United States to the International Criminal Court.
While the conference communiqu states many worthy goals and upholds the "universality of democratic values," it is particularly interesting to note that the four-and-a-half-page document was completed before the conference by a working group of seven countries, led by the United States. According to a State Department official, other countries were invited to comment and some 25 replied with their own suggestions not a single one of which was adopted by the preparatory committee.
A proposal by the South African government was reluctantly accepted to write in a commitment to assist in the eradication of poverty. There is no mention, though, of property rights, which as surely as anything contribute to economic and political opportunities. All of which is just fascinating given that the Warsaw Declaration does include a clause on minority rights which obviously does not mean minorities in terms of differences of opinion.
Interestingly, according to a French diplomat, the French foreign minister had indeed informed the Poles quietly one week in advance that France would not be signing the declaration. France, being a major European nation, was not disinvited of course, but it did suit the American purposes to express shock and horror when the French reservations became public during the conference. In essence the French objected on two counts: 1) that this looked too much like rich countries forcing democracy on their poor dependents and 2) that not all democracies are cut from the same cloth. Particularly the second point would seem to be confirmed by the list of participants itself which includes countries like Algeria, Azerbaijan, Haiti, Kuwait, Tunisia and Russia. China chose not to come, and Taiwan of course was not invited.
Why, France itself has its own distinctive style of democracy. Among all the leaders of the world, it was President Francois Mitterrand who delighted in being known as Dieu God. Guess no one is perfect.
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