Thursday, March 13, 2003
Entente Cordiale? - 13th March 2003, 22.50

How will the relationship between Britain and France change under the pressures of the Iraqi crisis?

We are already aware that France has acquired an unpopular reputation in the United States and has destroyed any amity that the present Republican leadership extended to their country. A balanced article in Insight magazine by Kenneth R Timmerman explores that subject.

Unlike, the United States, Britain, or more precisely, Blair has championed the United Nations route in order to gain a (supposed) legal and moral foundation for an invasion of Iraq through a vote on the United Nations Security Council. This diplomatic strategy had two advantages: it agreed with Blair's beliefs in collective security and it would allow a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party to support the government.

However, the adamant decision of France to veto any vote, no matter what the outcome or the evidence, has undermined Blair's political dominance in the United Kingdom and has undermined his arguments that the United Nations was the most useful tool for promoting collective security in the West. From De Villepin's statement that France was working towards a "framework for inspections with a work program and a precise calendar", it is clear that the 'six tests' added to the new resolution were structured as a compromise by drawing upon the French proposal and providing a more amenable alternative for the undecided. They may even have been structured as a compromise for the French and with communication from their UN diplomats.

Jack Straw, Britain's Foreign Secretary, used intemperate language in responding to the French 'Non', a mixture of exasperation and certainty that war is all but upon us. Here it is in full:

"What I however find extraordinary is that without even proper consideration the French Government decided they will reject these proposals adding to the statement that whatever the circumstances France will vote no. When we negotiated resolution 1441 we not only placed obligations and responsibilities on Saddam Hussein but we also placed obligations and responsibilities on members of the security council as well. And those obligations were to see through the process of disarmament – hopefully something we continue to pray for by peaceful means. But if not that that would have to happen by way of what the resolution called serious consequence – which everybody knew meant, sadly, the use of force. What we are seeking to do is by this suggestion, these proposals of these tests, to ensure that even at this late stage there is a means by which Saddam can show reasonably that he is coming in to compliance with his obligations going back to 1991. And whatever the difficulties we face – and particularly the kind of statements which we are hearing from across the Channel – we will continue to work for this peaceful end. But I have to say, such statements rejecting the obligations on all of us, obviously make that process more difficult."

Both Blair and Straw view the international community with the same communitarian spirit that they have applied to civil society. They view France as an anti-social neighbour who is increasing the insecurity of the community and, in their eyes, the gallic cock should be served with some form of restraining order. The disillusionment of the Blair administration with the current global institutions may well lead them down radical paths in their desire to collectivise security around the globe and they may find fellow travellers in the neo-conservatives of the New American Century. Needless to say, the French are at the height of their influence and it is just about to fizzle out unless they drop troops in Baghdad itself (and they are so inflated by their influence that I wouldn't put such a catastrophic misjudgement past them).

But America should be warned: they may not wish to establish an empire but Britain's leaders may see the Pax Americana as the solid foundation for a future international order.


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