French foreign policy
cc. With this interview from “Le Figaro” we introduce our readers to a critical look at the current foreign affairs of our western neighbouring country – a nuclear power, indeed.
At least since its Reintegration in the Nato, the arbitrary and illegal start of the war against Libya and the clandestine action against Syria, a lot of Swiss are just wondering “Wohin das Äpfelchen rollt*”, i.e., where and how this all going to play out. Twelve months from now, presidential elections will take place in France. For the time being, the number of candidates, official as well as unofficial, male and female, from the far left to the far right, has reached two dozen. Leading media, as well as domestic policy and foreign affairs are determined thereof, hardly less than in the USA. That is reason enough to look into current France and deal with a skilled expert’s analysis.
In the present interview as well as in his latest book, Renaud Girard draws conclusions about French foreign affairs in different areas, Near- and Middle-East, Russia, Europe and Africa. For him the blatantly neo-conservatively and pro-Atlantic French diplomacy is chasing ghosts instead of adapting to the reality.
Renaud Girard has studied in Paris and attended both famous high schools “Ecole Nationale d’Administration” (ENA) and “Ecole Normale Supérieure” and is a reserve officer. Therefore he has a high and broad educational level, which enables for him to gain a great deal of different elements without providing one-sided perspective. His analysis of the situations is based on objective, information made public, without involving secret service activities that he clearly knows. He is therefore able to deliver clear, understandable and comprehensible political analyses of the current international situation, and to refrain from hardly justifiable accusations. He is one of few French intellectuals who, although clearly belonging to the elites, grants himself the freedom to defend his ideals.
Le Figaro: Your book provides a broad vision of the contemporary French diplomacy, and its statement regarding recent world conflicts. How do you analyze the way France handled the Syrian crisis, and French participation in the last negotiations which started on 14 March in Geneva?
Renaud Girard: What is fascinating in these new negotiations, just as in the case of the ceasefire agreement of last 12 February, is that the opinion of the former mandatory power in Syria, France, didn’t matter at all. The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran are major powers, whose position is much more important than that of France, absent from discussions through its own fault.
France’s first mistake was to withdraw from the game, further to the decision to close its embassy in Damascus in March 2012. You may disagree with the way a State deals with its opponents – France was entitled to blame Bashar el-Assad for his crackdown of the opposition protests – but you shouldn’t necessarily close your embassy. Diplomacy is used to talk to your opponents, your rivals, your potential enemies, and to ensure that in case of disagreement we are not going to end up with a war. It is not used to talk to your friends. Diplomacy should move towards fight against the main enemy, an essential notion, although insufficiently used nowadays in the West.
How could French diplomacy have acted in resolving the crisis in Syria? Did the choice of the “neither-Bashar-nor-Daesh” compromise any crisis exit?
A diplomacy based on the “neither-Bashar-nor-Daesh” principle puts Assad and Daesh on the same level. However, Bashar never killed any Frenchmen, he is not the one who came and killed our children in our very streets – but the “Islamic State” did! It is thus the IS which is the main enemy to fight. To maintain an embassy in Damascus means ensuring the presence of our intelligence services on-site, and fostering knowledge of the whereabouts of the jihadists gone to fight in Syria.
The radical-socialist governments of the years 1935–1936, had no particular friendship for the Bolshevik regime. They did not yet create an alliance with USSR in opposition with National Socialist Germany as Sadi Carnot had been able to form with tsarist Russia against Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany in 1892. This French-Russian alliance saved us in 1914; its absence affected us badly in 1940. Hitler wrote in “Mein Kampf” that he wanted “to break France”. He was our main enemy, way ahead of the Soviets, whose ideology did not directly threaten French vital interests!
In 1941, Churchill said in the House of Commons, as some Conservative MPs blamed him for having formed an alliance with Stalin: “If Hitler had invaded hell, I would have tried to build an alliance with the devil.”
In Syria, French diplomacy didn’t want to face facts. If the Russians had not intervened and if Damascus had fallen last September, there would have been an immediate genocide of the Alawites – as apostates – and, at best, a general eviction of all Christians towards Lebanon. All churches in Damascus would have burned. Because even in Kosovo, in the presence of NATO’s regiments, 150 churches burned! Blinded by his ideology, Laurent Fabius [then French Foreign Minister] favored “neither-Bashar-nor-Daesh”.
Diplomacy needs stability and a minimum of long-term vision. Nicolas Sarkozy invited Bashar el-Assad to the July 14th parade, on 2008’s Bastille Day; maybe it was a bit too much, but this was done. It would have been necessary to rely on these existing relationships to tackle the 2011 crisis, to try to influence the Syrian regime in the right direction. Thus, what was the use of closing our embassy in March 2012, and demonising the Syrian Baathist dictatorship?
Is Fabius’ diplomacy totally consistent with Juppé’s diplomacy? Can we bridge a gap between the management of the Libyan file and the Syrian file’s?
Fabius’ diplomacy is Juppé’s diplomacy for the worse. In 2013, Fabius rejected Iran’s participation in the first Geneva negotiations, on the pretext that the nuclear issue wasn’t yet settled. But, as de Gaulle said, “you have to take realities for what they are”. Nobody can ever handle the Syrian crisis without Iran, main strategic partner of the Syrian regime, way ahead of Russia. Regarding the Syrian crisis, France was mistaken because it displayed historic ignorance, political Manichaeism and diplomatic wishful thinking. France has shown complete disregard for Islamic forces hiding for a very long time in ambush in Syria, dreaming to destroy the laic forces. For France, there were, in this confrontation, the “bad guys” (those of the regime) and the “good guys” (the insurgents). Without distinction, French diplomacy took all anti-Bashar insurgents for moderate, she viewed them as same people than our Polytechnic graduates, who during the July Revolution in July 1830, fought for republic and freedom.
France did not understand the strength of Islam and Wahhabite ideology in the Sunni world; it believed in the myth of a wide moderate opposition. Of course, there was one, but it was an elitist minority that could be seen more in major hotels of London or Geneva than on the Syrian spot. François Hollande, violating the arms international embargo, delivered weapons to this pseudo free-Syrian army. Fifteen days later, the same weapons could be seen in the hands of the Islamic units, whether they had been sold or seized by force.
We supported a ghost without seeing things for what they were. It was not until the 13 November attacks in Paris that President Hollande decided to visit Putin in Moscow, in order to undertake with Russia a common action against the Islamic State. Putin has the ambition to destroy ISIS because he wants to kill on the spot all jihadists carrying Russian Federation passports or coming from the surrounding ex-Soviet Muslim republics, before they could get back again.
“For total misery, French-Russian alliance was, for centuries, too often prevented or thwarted by flatteries or incomprehension. Nevertheless, it remains a necessity that reappears at every turn of history” said General de Gaulle on Radio-London on 20 January 1942. Where do French-Russian relations stand in 2016?
French diplomacy should consist in bringing Russia back in the European family, of which it forms an integral part since Peter the Great, instead of constantly taking it away. Russia is as European a country as Ukraine. Shevchenko is a big Ukrainian poet but the Russians Dostoyevsky, Gogol, or Chekhov belong just as much to our European civilisation, which is Greco-Roman, Christian (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant), enlightened by the Enlightenment Europe.
Latin diplomacy continues to ignore and despise the orthodox world. Yet Orthodox are not our enemies. In 1453, the Latin West has abandoned Constantinople in the hands of the Ottoman invaders; in 1999, we bombarded Belgrade and supported the Kosovare separatism, thinking that we could create a multiethnic and peaceful Kosovo, as promised by Bill Clinton. Today, Kosovo is neither multiethnic, nor peaceful; the non-Albanians were killed or intimidated and driven away, and the country became a hub of criminality and traffics in any kinds, weapons, drugs, human organs …
I can understand that France marked its opposition to the annexation of Crimea and to the Russian hybrid war in Ukraine in summer 2014. International law exists and must be respected – Russia is signatory of the Budapest memorandum of December 1994, which guarantees the territorial integrity of Ukraine. But it would have been possible to avoid war and the annexation of Crimea by practicing a more realistic diplomacy without taking permanently sides for the opposition to pro-Russian president Ianoukovytch. On Friday, 21 February 2014, a major agreement of crisis exit was signed between president Ianoukovytch and three leaders of the pro-Western opposition. This very day, Fabius had left Kiev for China instead of insuring compliance with this agreement. On the evening of 21 February, Fabius and his German counterpart should have had dinner in Moscow with Putin and told him three things – so that he also signs this agreement – as Germany, France and Poland already did, on behalf of the European Union: “First of all, Sevastopol will always belong to the Russian fleet. Secondly, NATO will never settle down in Ukraine. Thirdly, Russian will always be the second official language in Ukraine.” He would have responded to this “deal”!
The Normandy format (round of talks between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France on questions of the Ukraine conflict), initiated by Hollande on 6 June 2014, was a good initiative. But the policy of UE sanctions against Russia was a mistake, which harmed us as well, and namely European farmers. Russia is a resilient country: now, go and try to have this country – which underwent triumphantly 870 days of the Leningrad siege – change its policy! We refused to deliver Mistral class vessels to Russia, although that would not make any difference to the strategic report between Russia and Ukraine. If Putin had wished to capture Mariupol or Odessa, it would have been done long ago, because no one was able to stop him.
We are definitely missing a big Russian policy. We cannot leave it to the mediocre trio Juncker-Mogherini-Tusk to take care of the European diplomacy… which turns unilaterally towards Ukraine, without any opening on Russia.
Putin gave the Russians their pride back. However, he could be blamed for not having created a law-governed state in Russia. Without a democratic state governed by the rule of the law, it is impossible for any country to develop in the long term. But Putin remains the head of a very big country, with which forging solid alliances would be beneficial to us, such as for example against the Islamic State, our common enemy. Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, Russia has acted very responsibly, allowing concluding the historic treaty of 14 July 2015. In the summer of 2016, it would be wise not to renew the sanctions against Russia.
Regarding the Iranian and Israeli-Palestinian issues, was the French position the one of leadership or of blind conformity?
It is when the Obama administration saw its neoconservatives drifting away that France became more neo-conservative and Atlanticist – under Sarkozy, then Hollande. It was a historic aberration. This automatic alignment with out-of-date ideas displays a terrible lack of ambition. France had been right against the United States on the Iraq War, but now it was like being terrified of its own boldness, and toeing the line as quickly as possible.
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was a mistake – under the Chirac government – to put Hamas on the list of terrorist organisations. This Islamist movement was elected democratically in 2006; he has won popular support in Palestine. But since then, the French diplomats have no right to enter the territory of Gaza; this absence of direct contacts prevents us from playing the role of mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. France will never accept Israel’s safety to be threatened, as reiterated by de Gaulle in 1967. We even supplied them the atom bomb. Inspite of that, France’s position should be moderate: No illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories must be accepted.
Our diplomacy is pursuing fantasies instead of dealing with reality. In 1959, general de Gaulle said in a press conference: “France has no friends, it has only interests.”
How exactly does France influence the European Union, particularly in its relationship with the United States?
The extraterritoriality of the American law is not acceptable. The European Union should organize real resistance to this American legal hegemony, which was demonstrated in a sensational way when the BNP was fined $9 billion. EU seems to be paralysed when facing United States. No retaliatory measure was applied to Goldman Sachs, although there is evidence that this American bank deliberately helped the Greek government to make up its public accounts! As for the negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), I’m unable to bring it up, so much it is carried out in the opacity…
In 1996, Europe had managed to maintain its unity when Total had been threatened with American sanctions for its drillings on the Iranian site of South Pars. Facing the threats of retaliation from the EU, President Clinton had given up imposing penalties to the French oil company. But then, EU diplomatically exploded: regarding the subject of American war in Iraq, France, Germany and Belgium were against it, while the others were all for.
Reinstatement into the integrated military command structure of NATO was a gesture of hardship to the United States that these did not even demand. We have always been able to negotiating between armies without France being a member of the military structure of the Alliance – for example in Bosnia in 1995. But I do not suggest getting out of it now, because diplomacy needs stability.
Could China be considered as a privileged partner for France in the twenty-first century?
China is everything but stable. Besides, we have some disagreements. To the exception of the European Union, all countries in the world apply protectionism, starting with China. There is an absence of reciprocity and equity in the way China and Europe manage their customs duties and regulatory barriers.
We should also be concerned about Chinese maritime expansionism. France has the second ‘Exclusive economic zone’ (EEZ)1 in the world, exceeding 11 millions square kilometers. This is a significant strategic advantage. We urgently need a Navy commensurate with our maritime space and should foster a better allowance of our Navy resources. The world is a more dangerous place than in the past, yet France divided by four – as percent of GDP - its military expenditures since the time of general de Gaulle. This is nonsense.
All things considered, it seems to me all the more urgent that France gets closer to Russia. Culturally, both powers are closest. Strategically, they have more interests in common. In an increasingly dangerous world, we should pursue the policy of our interests!
What are the relations that France maintains with its ex-colonies in sub-Saharan Africa?
There are strong links between France and countries of sub-Saharan Africa, starting with the language, sometimes better spoken in these countries than in France itself. France often betrayed its own language, at the European level just as globally. Around the Mediterranean, the decline of French language was terrible. France has very strong links with French speaking African countries, at the economic, cultural and military level. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. If “Françafrique**”, so often decried, means favoring these links, I am in favor of “Françafrique”! •
Source: © Eléonore de Vulpillières, Le Figaro, 25.3.16
* Wohin das Äpfelchen rollt: German bestselling novel (L. Perutz, 1928) describing a wild chase leading to downward spiral across post-war Europe in the 20s.
**Françafrique: « Francafrica », means all French speaking African countries are still under the implied cultural and political influence of French government.
1 Exclusive economic zone (EEZ): The exclusive economic zone according the maritime law agreement of UN corresponds to the area of the so-called “200-miles zone” in which the adjacent littoral state can perceive sovereign rights and define territorial needs, particularly the exclusive right to the economic exploitation in limited extent.
The investigation and exploitation, preservation and management of the living and non-living natural resources of the waters (mainly through fishing) of the sea bed and its subsoil by deep-sea mining within the framework of sand, gravel and carbon production as well as other activities to the economic investigation and exploitation of the zone like the electricity generation, particularly by hydroelectric power plants and wind energy arrangements, all belong to the sovereign rights. Within the framework of its sovereign rights, the concerned coastal state may establish artificial islands, installations, industrial artifacts and buildings, as for example offshore construction works, and pursue scientific sea investigation. In this regard, this country is obliged to care for the protection and preservation of the sea environment and its nature protection.
[Translate to en:] Renaud Girard, geboren 1955 in New York, ist französischer Historiker, Journalist und Buchautor und seit 1984 internationaler Sonder- und Kriegsberichterstatter bei «Le Figaro». In den letzten 30 Jahren berichtete er aus praktisch allen grossen Krisenherden der Welt und knüpfte weltweit ein dichtes Netz an persönlichen Beziehungen mit politischen, religiösen und militärischen Entscheidungsträgern, Geschäftsleuten und Unternehmern, Diplomaten, Journalisten und Intellektuellen.
Als geopolitischer Experte publizierte er neben seinen Artikeln, Analysen und Berichten auch mehrere Bücher über die Ereignisse im Nahen und Mittleren Osten: «Pourquoi ils se battent. Voyages dans les guerres du Moyen-Orient», 2005 [Weshalb sie Krieg führen. Reisen in die Kriege des Mittleren Ostens]; «Retour à Peshawar», 2010 [Rückkehr nach Peshawar, Erfahrungen in Afghanistan]; «Le Monde en marche», 2014 [Der Fortgang der Welt].
Sein neuestes Werk, «Le Monde en guerre. 50 clefs pour le comprendre», 2016 [Die Welt im Krieg. 50 Schlüssel, um sie zu verstehen].
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