Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Chirac Throws a Hissy Fit

Events of the past few months have shown the world body to be less a united force than a irrelevant debating club. As Secretary General Kofi Annan strives to achieve a semblence of unity of purpose, while all nations profess to be intent on achieving peace, there is no unity of means that the member states see as the action plan to achieve that aim. The nations of "Old Europe," Germany, France, and Belgium, seek power over the other states by a combination of brinksmanship and blackmail. Jacques Chirac blew his top over what he sees as "disloyalty" from the states of "New Europe," former Soviet Bloc nations that are seeking membership in the European Union and NATO.
President Jacques Chirac's warning to the new Europeans of EU and NATO enlargement that they cannot side too much with America and fit his definition of membership in the family of Europe has exposed, with an outburst of pure rage, a profound, long-term contradiction that could tear the EU apart from within.

While Europe has bandaged for the moment its wounds over NATO and Iraq at a Brussels summit meeting Monday night - offering up on paper a statement of unity that bears little resemblance to real policy - Chirac essentially told the East Europeans who will swell the EU's membership to 25 over the next three years that they risked being blackballed if they did not demonstrate more loyalty to a conception of Europe's role in the world that suits the French and German governments and not the United States.[...]

Confronting the United States, and marking out a line where European-Atlantic coalescence must stop, involves an attempt to re-establish their leadership in a Europe whose institutional future points toward the French and Germans being submerged by a new wave of entrants refusing to define Europe's raison d'être in a foreign and security policy automatically opposed to the United States.[...]

And Chirac threatened. He said it would take the vote of only one current EU member in a national referendum to block the entire enlargement process. As for Romania and Bulgaria - perhaps singled out as ingrates because they are grant-supported members of the French-funded organization of nations nurturing the French language - Chirac said, "If they had tried to decrease their chances for getting in Europe, they couldn't have done a better job."[...]

If it is only venting frustration at the cold prospect of France's diminished influence in Europe, not incompatible with the French president's personality, it is all the same a gesture that has brought Europe's future new pain and dizzying uncertainty.
So here we have the French President threatening nations with exclusion from the EU and NATO, with the plain effect he seeks to have over their votes in the UN as well. And what, pray tell, is the basis for France having any power at all? They lost the last two world wars, only to have their chestnuts retrieved from the flames by the U.S.A. After winning their war for them, we rebuilt their industrial base for them, and even granted them veto power in the UN Security Council. In today's world, why France has a veto and Germany does not, Japan does not, and India, with 20% of the world's population does not, is a mystery of geopolitics that contemporary events may set aright. Sixty years after we saved their buns the last time, the French show us no gratitude, so when the left out nations seek a realignment of power in the United Nations, we have little or no reason to resist any change that will diminish France's power. (Colin May over at Innocents Abroad sees this issue more or less the same way I do.)

It is possible that we are seeing a reignition of the Cold War, with "Old Europe" taking the role of the Soviet Union. As a nuclear power, France might just decide to take their propensity for blackmail to a new and more dangerous level. Or things might settle down in any one of a dozen different ways. For good or ill, we certainly live in interesting times.