By Alan W. Dowd
After blocking a UN resolution that would have done nothing more than restate the previous 16 on Iraq’s disarmament, French President Jacques Chirac condemned the US-led attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime because it was “undertaken without the approval of the United Nations…which is the only legitimate framework for building peace in Iraq.” Echoing Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that "Military action can in no way be justified.”
Of course, if the UN is the sole source of legitimacy for military action, Moscow and Paris have some explaining to do. After all, on the very same week that coalition forces attacked Saddam’s regime, hundreds of French troops poured into the Central African Republic to protect French interests after a coup. France didn’t ask the UN for permission. And this was anything but an isolated case of French unilateralism. In fact, France has launched or participated in some twenty major military operations since the UN’s founding in 1948. Almost none of them were authorized by the United Nations, and almost all of them smacked of neo-colonialism—from the war in Indochina to the war in Tunisia, from the seizure of the Suez Canal to the troubles in Algeria. Moreover, France has openly defied calls from the UN to relinquish control over Mayotte, an island off the coast of Comoros in eastern Africa.
Russia’s hypocrisy is just as naked: Moscow regularly sends troops into Georgia and other former Soviet republics without UN approval. As the Washington Times reports, the Georgian government has protested these incursions, and the Georgian parliament has even called on the UN and regional organizations to examine this pattern of Russian adventurism.
The reality is the UN has never been the global constabulary the French pretend it to be. Aside from the Korean War and the first Gulf War, the UN Security Council has been either unable or unwilling to authorize military action against threats to peace.
Even so, Washington and London could—and did—cite a slew of UN resolutions dating back to 1991 to justify their campaign against Saddam.
Bringing the Troops Home?
Reacting to the prewar intransigence of Paris, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R, Fla.) introduced a bill that would aid families of veterans who wish to disinter the remains of their relatives who are buried in France. According to Brown-Waite, many Americans “do not feel that the French government appreciates the sacrifices men and women in uniform have made to defend the freedom that the French enjoy today.” About 74,000 American war dead are buried in France and Belgium.
Known as the “American Heroes Repatriation Act,” the bill would “provide, upon the request of a qualifying person, for the removal of the remains of any United States servicemember or other person interred in an American Battle Monuments Commission cemetery located in France or Belgium and for the transportation of such remains to a location in the United States for reinterment.”
But the reburial bill is just one of many bills reflecting Congressional frustration with France. One piece of legislation would block French firms from postwar reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Another calls on the Pentagon and US companies to skip the Paris Air Show. Still another condemns France, Germany, and Belgium for actions that “will have profound, deleterious effects on the NATO alliance, possibly exposing its core mutual defense guarantee as nothing more than empty words.”
A Dream Fades
If the dream of European economic and political unity was born in the late 1940s, history may record that it died in 2003.
First, Belgium, France and Germany revolted against their NATO allies and split the alliance in two by blocking efforts to deploy defensive equipment to Turkey. Then, British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined seven other European leaders in authoring an open letter endorsing Washington’s efforts to disarm Iraq, reportedly blindsiding Paris and Berlin in the process. Next, Chirac publicly lectured his East European counterparts for siding with Washington on Iraq. Finally, France and Germany organized an international opposition against British and Spanish efforts to pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
To top it all off, French and German officials recently discovered electronic bugging devices in their offices at the European Union in Brussels. Nothing says unity and friendship better than a wire tap.
The BBC News concludes that “Europe’s deep divisions over Iraq” could scuttle “progress on a new constitution for the European Union.” A draft constitution was to be handed over to EU leaders this month, but those plans have been shelved, at least until September. A key plank of the constitution—and a central part of the dream of European unity—is the so-called “common foreign and security policy,” which appears virtually impossible today, given the widening ideological divide between the emerging Franco-German bloc and the rest of Europe.
Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.