France and Iraq

I think that France has not absolutely forgotten history. It simply does not want to resort to force again as that is exactly the source of conflict that I think in any case, I cannot speak for all French people but at least I can speak for myself and people whom I know, they don’t want these conflicts to happen again.

We are against military intervention which kills innocent women and children, yes, we are fundamentally against that. We are not dumb pacifists, but we are against military intervention which kills completely innocent women and children.

The militants against the war in Iraq are positive. There is no reason, at least at the moment, to start a second Gulf war.

The resistance by President Jacques Chirac to American pressure has not pleased those in power in the United States. Many American commentators have difficulty understanding how France can be so “ungrateful” after the sacrifices made by the United States in Europe during the two world wars.

In France however the polls show almost unanimous support for the position of Chirac. The past is known. But for the majority of French, it cannot be used to buy the support for an unjust and unwise war.

Sylvie Guillaume has taken part in the organisation of protests against the war:

I think that France is very sensitive by nature to the justification for the conflict. We have had recently on our land in the last century, two world conflicts and I think that the French are quite sensitive to that. I think similarly that what emerged from all that was a willingness to resolve problems by diplomacy, by discussion and not by military intervention. That does not mean by any means that we would keep the regime of Mr Saddam Hussein however.

And then you know, the American press criticises the French position. That is absolutely their right. They do it sometimes in a rather excessive way. Personally I would like to see the American press also take an interest in the voices calling for peace in America too, because they are not paying much attention to those either, that is not passed on, but I believe that there is also in the USA at the moment a very strong pacifist movement which does not want this war.

Ahmed Khenniche, the president for the movement against racism and for friendship between people, thinks that the American government would lose its authority if were to engage in a war without the support of the United Nations.

Well, that would be a demonstration that Bush is a “go to war” who is not interested in public opinion since the majority of French and international public opinion is against this war, that will be the demonstration that he has a total contempt for world public opinion.

Our response to the present problem is that we can get rid of Saddam Hussein without having to wage war with world wide repercussions, a war which will murder, the word is not too strong, completely innocent women and children.

Michele Bacot-Decriaud, a researcher at the Institute of Political Studies in Lyon fears the loss of authority of United Nations.

After the second world war, we established an organisation which is there to manage crises. This organisation makes resolutions; the least thing to do is to a apply them and not to decide to ignore them no matter what happens, and so the position, I think that the position of France is linked in part to the fact that no country can want to make war at any price and on the other hand there have been failures and they must be taken into account. There are inspectors on the ground. Let’s see what they report as evidence. For the moment, the evidence, we do not really have any, so I think we must leave things as they are and so I must say I quite understand the French position.

I think that if the USA declares war on Iraq without the support of the security council of United Nations, well, that is serious because they are going to severely damage an organisation which had already been put in a difficult situation at the time of the war in Kosovo, since in that case, it was similar, they intervened without the support of the security council. So I find that, from that side, it is dangerous because even if the United Nations were right, it was criticised a lot. It has not always worked at its best. Don’t forget that it has worked and that we can ask ourselves what would have happened had there not been the UN since 1945.

The crisis in Iraq has exposed the divisions within Europe, at the time when we are trying to build a common policy in the bosom of the European Union. Mme Bacot-Decriaud agrees that it is especially the governments which support the policy of the United States towards Iraq who have shown a lack of respect for the European Institutions.

At the moment, there is a common foreign and defence policy which was established at the time of the Maastricht Agreement [1]. It operates in an intergovernmental way and well, there are states which do not play their role as member states, which do not play in the European game and which, whilst the Council of Europe has taken a position are able to write their own letter of support for President Bush before the Security Council has declared its position. So I think that this is consistent in fact, essentially with their history, with their diplomatic history. In any case, the links between the UK and the USA are well known. Well, what about Spain? Spain rejoined the fold of the integrated military organisation NATO, so that shows the extent of its commitment. Italy today? With the old Italy, that would have been surprising. With the Italy of Berlusconi [2], we can ask ourselves some questions. Whilst for Denmark, frankly its position, whether it is in or out of the European Union, it is on the edge of defence policy, so that drives us really to ask some questions. Whilst for the states which are candidates [3] which have not yet really, which have not yet joined and which can adopt this type or reaction, for me it begs the question about the future of a common foreign and defence policy.

I think that really the problem is that if Europe cannot get to the stage of speaking with one voice in the context of a crisis such as this, well, the common foreign and defence policy will have a hard time surviving.

[1] The Maastricht agreement in 1992 established the European Union.

[2] Berlusconi – Prime Minister of Italy 2001-2005.

[3] Candidate states – at the time of this article, 10 eastern European states were candidates for membership of the European Union and joined in April 2004.

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