- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

French and German collusion since the Security Council passed Resolution 1441 has widened the intra-European rift within NATO and the European Union (as well as within the Security Council), and has seriously jeopardized the trans-Atlantic relationship. We find the underlying cause in the rude distinction Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made recently between the old Europe and the new, describing as it does two different visions of the future place of Europe in the world.
The German government's conduct is not hard to explain, being a combination of free-rider pacifism and old-fashioned leftist anti-Americanism. But, the French president's conduct is of a different kind. At the bottom lies his vision of the emergence of Europe as a rival to America's global preeminence.
Jacques Chirac is often compared to Charles de Gaulle, whose vision of France as a balancing force against United States and Soviet claims to hegemony during the Cold War caused consternation in Washington. But, when the chips were down, successive U.S. administrations believed that France could be counted among its closest allies. In the 1990s, this continued to be the case, with Washington increasingly seeing France as a reluctant but solid ally in the post-Cold War world and a ready partner in the war on terrorism. Who can forget the Sept. 12, 2001 headline in Le Monde: "We Are All Americans"?
But once the ink had dried on Resolution 1441, it became apparent that what France meant by disarmament, the United States saw merely as containment. Where Washington sees less than full and immediate compliance, as the resolution requires, Paris sees "progress" and speaks of the importance of the inspections "process." This attitude shifts the burden of proof and responsibility for disarmament away from Iraq and onto the inspectors to catch Saddam Hussein red-handed. (Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, termed this "the clearest admission yet that Iraq is not cooperating.")
France's public position is that Saddam Hussein is not an immediate threat because the presence of arms inspectors means that he is being "kept in a box." France denies the logical counterclaim that inspections never work absent a cooperative government, which Paris acknowledges privately the Iraqi regime is not. Paris ignores the nature of Iraq's danger to the world because it sees Saddam as incapable of becoming an adversary in the war on terror. Lastly, France believes it is positioning itself as the power that gets to set the date of war, if it comes to that, because it feels that its veto on the Security Council and its leading position in the European Union afford it that right.
While holding on to the adversarial public presentation of Gaullism, Mr. Chirac has discarded the subtlety behind de Gaulle's worldview and has jeopardized his country's standing in Washington and the Europe of tomorrow. Mr. Chirac is operating on the mistaken premise that France is able to overturn America's leadership in the enforcement of international stability and security.
Mr. Chirac resents American hegemony, but he seems unaware of the fact that it could remain palatable to his country provided America decides to balance its own power against the legitimate interests of other states, rather than imposing its will on the world. The way to increase the likelihood of this outcome is not to play into the hands of the Bush administration's predisposed unilateralists. Rather, it is to acknowledge the imminent danger of a tyrannical regime in possession of weapons of mass destruction capable of hitting the capitals of Europe, and to lend support to the principled multilateralists in the Bush administration.
France has badly overplayed its hand, believing erroneously that the leading role it shares with Germany in Europe extends to foreign policy. This may have been true once, but with the center of Europe's power shifting eastward, Franco-German policies are looking increasingly "old." Consider the open support for America and its policies toward Iraq expressed by 18 European democracies, including Britain, Spain, Italy and many of the "new Europe" countries (meaning former communist states). Directly rebuffing France and Germany, these countries have made it clear that on the vital issue of security, "Europe" looks to America for guidance, leadership and support.
Mr. Chirac revealed his displeasure a few weeks ago by characterizing the countries of the new Europe as "infantile" and "poorly brought up" for having "align[ed] themselves too quickly with the American position." Ironically, the growing influence of many of these countries is due to the French belief that a strong Europe can only exist if it expands to the east operating on the mistaken premise that these countries would equate their national interests with those who are uncomfortable with America's power. Indeed, it is not so much NATO and the European Union that are in danger of marching to irrelevance, but the once-dominant Franco-German voice within those anchor institutions of the Western order.
But, Americans have no cause to worry. In the end, France's maladroit strategy has ensured that the trans-Atlantic knot will remain securely tied.

Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic is assistant managing editor of the National Interest and a columnist for the Russian daily Izvestia.

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