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Maverick's Setback to Disarmament

Author: David L. Phillips, Executive Director, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity
February 11, 2003
Financial Times


Sir, France's failure to see beyond the horizon has done more than set back the goal of co-operative disarmament. Its approach runs the risk of discrediting the United Nations, undermining European unity and endangering Euro-Atlantic relations ("Do not expect France to change its mind", February 7). The transatlantic tiff started when Dominique de Villepin, France's foreign minister, turned a special session of the United Nations Security Council on terrorism into a forum for criticising the US's approach to Iraq. Colin Powell, US secretary of state, was peeved. So was Hans Blix, UN chief weapons inspector, whose report to the Security Council was pre-empted by Mr Villepin's insistence that "nothing, nothing" justifies war.

France's maverick attitude has caused disunity in Europe and undermined transatlantic security co-operation. In supporting America's approach to disarming Iraq, the letter authored by eight European presidents and prime ministers and seconded by the so-called "Vilnius 10" was seen as a stern rebuke to France and Germany. France also caused a brawl among members of the North Atlantic Council by trying to obstruct Nato's assistance to Turkey in case it is attacked by Iraq.

Mr Villepin knows that his ill-conceived and poorly executed diplomacy has painted France into a corner. After Mr Powell's presentation last Wednesday, the split is no longer about whether Saddam Hussein is co-operating but whether it is possible for inspections to succeed without genuine Iraqi co-operation. Mr Villepin's more finely tuned recent language suggests some flexibility in supporting the ultimate use of force.

Time is running out. In the event of war, France does not want to create a diplomatic crisis by obstructing the will of the international community. Nor will it take kindly to accusations of advocating for Mr Hussein.

France also appreciates the importance of today's international security architecture in tackling other urgent matters, such as the fight against global terrorism and countering rogue states such as North Korea.

David L. Phillips, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Centre for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations.

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