Wednesday, March 19, 2003
For everything else, there's France - 19th March 2003, 19.55

Now that the diplomatic route has died, the media have used the two day period of remission to mount a quick post-mortem on the winners and the losers, in between journalese from the boys in the desert. It has provided most newspapers with the opportunity to 'bash the frogs' and indulge in screeds about how they have been defeated. Such a perspective has even been adopted by defenders of France on the left. John Lichfield in the Independent writes,

The invasion of Iraq will go ahead. The Security Council, seat of France's authority in world affairs, will be marginalised by Washington. Franco-American relations have been ruined for a generation. The EU is fractured into two camps, and not necessarily to France's numerical, or political, advantage. France will clearly be among the losers in the second Gulf War. Whatever moral and historical stature M. Chirac can claim as leader of the peace party, he would prefer to have avoided being thrust into such an heroically exposed position.

Lichfield argues that Chirac is a hero because he stuck to his guns even though he knew that France would lose out and that it would jeopardise or undermine what the gaullists had been working towards for decades. It isn't convincing but the article pinpoints how a whole herd can suddenly spring to a single conclusion: that France will suffer a severe diminution of power and influence following this diplomatic crisis.

It is clear that if the war is short and successful, France will be left out of the postwar settlement in Iraq and the Middle East. However, as Blair has already stated that the United Nations will play a role in the reconstruction, the UNSC will continue to maintain its function within the diplomatic circus, although it will now decline from its pretensions of governance in global security. France, as a member with a permanent veto, retains its own influence within this council.

The Bush administration has hinted that it no longer views France as an ally and this may be viewed in hindsight as a huge mistake. To quote that soul most beloved of American neo-conservatives: "In Victory: Magnanimity". If America chooses to freeze France out and deliberately sets out to curb her power, it may find that this second rate power starts to explore the limits of unilateral power at the expense of US interests. A France that is ostracised may prove more dangerous and unpredictable to both the United States and Britain than one that is channelled and contained.

Further Thoughts - Having ruminated on the possible treatment of France by the Allies, it is probable that punishing that country will prove detrimental to US interests. The United States has to send a clear message that countries which follow a diplomatic line contrary to their interests will pay a price, namely, a level of distrust. That is understandable. However, the diplomatic treatment of France requires the transmission of this message and also the maintenance of diplomatic ties within the Western community.

Instead of freezing ties with France, which are fairly poor, the United States should privilege those nations which are Allies through technology transfer, immigration policies, greater openness in its domestic markets and support for their interests in international institutions . Countries like France, Belgium or Germany are left at the basement level as far as their status with the United States is concerned whilst allies are rewarded. If the US were to choose this policy, they would avoid the unnecessary conflicts that would follow ostracising the 'peace coalition'.


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