au revoir, petite france

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    Au Revoir, Petite France
    In one blow, Chirac shattered the U.N., NATO and the EU.

    By Paul Johnson
    The Wall Street Journal
    March 22, 2003

    LONDON--Last weekend's Azores summit foreshadowed a new era in geopolitics. It reminds us of the old wartime meetings between Roosevelt and Churchill in which the two leaders planned the next phase of the war against Hitler. As President Bush left the meeting assured of a French veto of the resolution, the world finally moved on from the stalemate of the previous two weeks at the U.N.

    We shall see much more of this kind of diplomacy in the future, in which deals are struck on a bilateral or trilateral basis to suit the needs of the moment. Roosevelt and Churchill's meetings were often attended by one or more government heads, whose presence was deemed relevant to the subjects discussed.

    At the heart of the new diplomacy will be, of course, what Charles De Gaulle then (and Jacques Chirac now) bitterly called "Les Anglo-Saxons"--America and Britain, whose common culture and attachments to freedom and democracy make them not just allies, but "family." Building on this sure foundation, the U.S., as the sole superpower, will make its arrangements with other states on an ad hoc basis rather than through international organizations.

    We have to face the ugly fact: Internationalism--the principle of collective security and the attempt to regulate the world through representative bodies--has been dealt a vicious blow by Mr. Chirac's bid to present himself as a world statesman, whatever the cost to the world. France is a second-rate power militarily. But because of its geographic position at the center of Western Europe and its nominal possession of nuclear weapons, which ensures its permanent place on the U.N. Security Council, it wields considerable negative and destructive power. On this occasion, it has exercised such power to the full, and the consequences are likely to be permanent.

    The first body Mr. Chirac has damaged, perhaps fatally, is the U.N. The old Security Council system will have to go: It is half a century old and no longer represents reality because three of the world's most important entities--Japan, Germany and India--have no permanent place on it. More important, however, the United States, whose support for the U.N. is essential to its continuance, has lost confidence in its usefulness in moments of real crisis, as the Azores summit showed. The Security Council will now be marginalized and important business will be transacted elsewhere. Indeed, it may prove difficult to keep the U.S. within the organization at all.

    Mr. Chirac's heavy hand has also fallen on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. By trying to manipulate NATO against the U.S., its co-founder, principal member and chief supplier of firepower, France made a fundamental mistake. Both the U.N. and NATO were originally created precisely to keep the U.S. committed to collective security and the defense of Europe, and to avoid a U.S. return to isolationism. America's victory in the Cold War meant that there was no longer a case for keeping a large proportion of its armed forces in Western Europe.

    It now makes much more sense, militarily and geographically, to base America's rapid-reaction force for the European theater in reliable Britain, and on this basis construct practical bilateral deals with all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, whose freedom and democracy depend on U.S. goodwill. In this new system, France will become irrelevant. We will see then what Germany will do. My guess is that it will come to its senses and scuttle quickly under the U.S. umbrella.

    The third organization Mr. Chirac has damaged is the European Union. Although under French pressure the EU has been scrambling toward monetary and constitutional union, the Iraq crisis--which has split the EU into a dozen fragments--shows that it has made no progress at all toward a common foreign policy. The only country that joined the Franco-German axis is Belgium. Two of the five major members, Italy and Spain, sided with the U.K., as have most of the newcomers and aspirant members--thereby earning the East Europeans personal abuse from Mr. Chirac. This is the man who likes to be called "the first gentleman of Europe."

    The crisis demonstrated plainly enough that the EU's armed forces do not exist and, on present showing, never will. Mr. Chirac could not hold off the Anglo-American option of force because he could not make a significant contribution. Anglo-American commanders have learned, from their experience in the Balkans, not to trust the French forces. So, having no "war card" to play, Mr. Chirac played the "peace card," the only one he possessed. As a result, a dozen or more EU members, or would-be members, are now rethinking their commitment to the EU. The U.K. is wondering, for instance, whether its future is with Continental Europe. Once again, for the British, the Channel has proved wider than the Atlantic.

    Mr. Bush has a busy time ahead. Not only must he and Mr. Blair devise a workable post-war settlement for Iraq (and plan the next move against terrorist states like North Korea and Iran), but America has to construct a vision of a safe world which can get by without NATO and with a marginalized U.N. It is high time that America began the "agonizing reappraisal" that the former U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles once threatened.

    In it, America must think hard whether it can offer a viable alternative to European states that no longer wish to commit themselves to a European Union dominated by a selfish and irresponsible France. Today, in 2003, I see no reason why this reappraisal should be agonizing. On the contrary, it is welcome and overdue, and can be constructive and exhilarating.

    Mr. Johnson's latest book, "Napoleon," was published last year in the Penguin Lives series.

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