November 19, 2004


FROM: TIM LEHMANN, Assistant Director

SUBJECT: French-American Relations

Before visiting Great Britain this week, French President Jacques Chirac gave an interview to British journalists that suggests Washington should not expect a significant rapprochement with Paris anytime soon. In addition to continuing to argue for his vision of a "multipolar" world to check the U.S., Chirac also made it clear that, at best, help with Iraq would be grudgingly given. Indeed, "with America as it is these days" - that is, with George W. Bush reelected - there would be little reason to expect better transatlantic cooperation.

Fortunately, political opinion in France isn't completely monolithic. I would like to draw your attention to a recent op-ed written by Bruno Tertrais in the Parisian daily Libération, on how French-American relations can be improved now that a second Bush term has become a reality.

"Europe, Transatlantic-style"
Bruno Tertrais
November 8, 2004

One rarely gets a hangover without having drunk too much. World opinion got drunk with the prospect of a Kerry victory, in order to forget the nightmare of an America choosing this time clearly and without ambiguity George W. Bush. Now the world must face up to things. The "Bush moment" cannot be considered as an unfortunate moment to let pass - Bush is not all of America, but he represents the majority of America.

As with all traumas, after phases of shock, denial, and anger comes acceptance. This is particularly true for Europe, for the five international projects that awaited the reelected president concern us directly. If we want this reenergized Bush administration to take into account our interests in the managing of these issues, we must rapidly inject a serious dose of realism and lucidity into our foreign policies.

The first issue is of course Iraq. The political deadlines are clear: elections in January 2005 and a constitutional statute in December 2005. We have an interest that this process unfolds as favorably as possible, because the scenario of an explosive civil war would implicate Turkey and therefore Europe. Rather than focusing on the unrealistic hypothesis on an American retreat in the short term, we must reflect on the best manner of contributing to this institutional process that will be imperfect and transitory, but will also be a decisive step in the evolution of this country. It is not an American retreat that will permit institutional consolidation, but rather institutional consolidation that will permit an American retreat.

The second issue is Iran. After more than two years of crisis on its nuclear program, the IAEA is preparing to decide whether or not it will submit its dossier on the subject to the U.N. Security Council at the end of November. If we do not want to revisit the misunderstandings of the winter of 2002-03, we must prepare ourselves seriously for the following steps. Are we ready for sanctions against Iran? If yes, of what kind, for what goal, and with what deadlines? Would we accept the legitimacy of the regime of mullahs if it renounced definitively its military nuclear options? Inversely, would we be ready to close our eyes on the maintenance of a know-how in this domain if the regime renounced terrorism and adopted a constructive attitude in the handling of crises in the region? Europeans must ask these questions now, since if we do not we will approach a new transatlantic crisis and only the Iranian regime will profit.

The third issue is the Middle East after Arafat. This must be the occasion of a European reflection on our implication in the handling of the conflict. If we believe that the policy of the Bush administration is unbalanced, Europe must nonetheless face up to reality: its involvement as an arbiter in the conflict is not perceived as legitimate by one of the parties present. America is not exactly impartial, but if we want to play a role other than the banker of an ineffective and often corrupt Palestinian Authority, we must adjust our position. The closing of the Arafat era is a historic occasion for this point of view.

The fourth issue is North Korea. This small faraway country is surrounded by a halo of mystery and only rarely interests the EU. But why shouldn't we feel ourselves concerned by the negotiations that involve six nations and have been unfolding for 18 months? The response is simple: because, as with Iran, this is where the future of nuclear proliferation is happening, and because any increased instability in the region would have massive economic repercussions around the world. We must be prepared to contribute the moment it comes to a global handling of the North Korean question, including financially.

Finally, the "war against terrorism." Here is a real and legitimate divergence between America and the majority of Europeans. The majority of American opinion, and the majority of elites, believes that the threat of terrorism is of a nature that threatens the foundation of Western societies, and that it is necessary not to reduce but to defeat terrorism. We prefer to see it as a nuisance and live with it, against which no victory is possible. This difference could one day be broken (let's hope not) by a major act of terrorism in Europe, Madrid having not been our 9/11. In the absence of such a foundational event, we must set aside this difference of perspective, but also recognize that we face a terrorist problem the magnitude of which surpasses by far what we have experienced in Europe, and which cannot be treated merely as a problem of information and police. This implies doing away with the incantations on the stability of the Middle East that, in addition to being inaudible in Washington, have not proved particularly effective in promoting democratic ideals. On the contrary, they have encouraged the obstruction of Middle Eastern societies and violent disputes.

It is not at all certain that Bush will be magnanimous in victory and present an olive branch to the European countries most opposed to his policy. But it is also quite certain that he is not a priori ideologically opposed to Europe (contrary to certain members of his administration). If we show clearly our will to act together on these five projects in a constructive spirit, while respecting the singular perspective of an America that believes itself "to be at war," we will be heard by the White House, and our own interests will have much more of a chance of being taken into account. Inversely, if we go on talking about "multipolarity" (which is currently illusory), and give the impression of putting into effect all our energies toward the promotion of dubious initiatives (lifting the embargo on the sale of arms to China, for example), we will not advance these interests.

Certain Europeans secretly congratulate themselves on the reelection of Bush in the name of a strategy similar to the revolutionary vote: they hope that Bush's American conservatism will help construct a stronger and more unified Europe. They are going to be tempted to exaggerate transatlantic differences to the benefit of strengthening a European singularity. It is not at all certain that this strategy would be effective. Contrarily, it is quite certain that it will be dangerous: the enemies of liberty and democracy only rarely make a distinction between Americans and Europeans and, above all, when they do so, they know perfectly well how to play on our differences. We can choose to try to construct a European fortress on the field of the ruins of transatlantic relations, but this would be a Faustian bargain. Without the cooperation of the U.S. in the Balkans, the Middle East or in Asia, we would sooner or later pay the price for the instabilities that we would have allowed to develop.

It is not a matter of denying the political and cultural divergences that separate the majority of Americans from the majority of Europeans, but of recognizing that the importance of common challenges and the necessity of managing them together implicate and transcend personal and ideological preferences. Bush's reelection is a sort of test for Europe: does she prefer to get drunk on her differences or confront reality? The "Bush moment" is, for us, a moment of truth.

Bruno Tertrais is head of research at the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS) and a research associate at the Centre d'études et de recherches internationales (Ceri).