A translation of a Le Monde interview conducted by Patrick Jarreau with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former National Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter
Is Jacques Chirac’s foreign policy marked by certain strong political leanings? Which ones?
France is a very proud nation, with profound historical awareness and considerable national ambitions. Chirac reflects these traits, and he has significant determination, even if it is often marked by an excessive subtlety. Basically, France would like a world in which her voice, projected by Europe, echoed throughout the globe. Most French citizens understand that, by herself, France is a middling power. But if Europe’s power can be harnessed, France will be able to attain the world role to which she clearly aspires. Chirac is true to this vision.
What is left of de Gaulle’s heritage?
de Gaulle’s political style had two very distinct traits. Firstly, de Gaulle believed intensely, personally and acutely in the notion of France as a world power. Secondly, de Gaulle resented the decline of France’s influence and the growth of Anglo-American power. I do not think that these two characteristics are as strong today as they once were in France.
Do you see a difference in the way that Mitterand and Chirac have interpreted de Gaulle’s heritage?
More in style than in substance; yet style is sometimes substance when it comes to interpersonal relations. The animosity in franco-american relations that has increased over the past three years is linked to the personalities (I am sorry to say) on both sides of the Atlantic.
Chirac has tried several times since 1995 to improve relations between France and the US, particularly in the context of NATO. Do Americans realize this? If not, why not?
You have to grasp the resentment created by France’s expulsion of NATO in 1966 and by the rhetoric that accompanied that expulsion. The French do not seem to realize the scars left by that incident.
Americans have two, different visions of France when it comes to NATO. On one hand, the French armed forces are considered by Americans—and particularly by America’s military—as first-rate. The French soldiers are very professional, good comrades in arms and excellent fighters upon whom one can depend. The French military is seen as being very conscious of NATO’s utility.
On the other hand, there is the mentality of the French Foreign Ministry and of the President, which almost automatically opposes any American initiative. It’s almost a conditioned reflex that affects the political climate—most notably in the corridors of NATO.
How do you interpret the fact that France agreed to NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan—and is herself involved in that country—but is opposed to a NATO presence in Iraq?
I think that the distinction between Afghanistan and Iraq corresponds to the fundamental disagreement between France and the United States over how to react to 9/11. The purpose of the invasion of Afghanistan was to hit the source of the attacks in a spirit of solidarity. The invasion of Iraq expanded the territory upon which the war against terror was fought. It may have negative consequences and was based on a unilateral American decision.
Do you think that Chirac went too far when, in March 2003, France acted to prevent the US from obtaining a majority in the UN Security Council to use force against Saddam Hussein?
That was a serious political blunder. I have criticized Bush’s unilateralism and advocated greater patience and multilateralism with respect to the Iraqi problem. Yet I also think that it was futile and counter-productive for France, at a critical moment, to announce that she would veto a Security Council resolution upon which Americans were relying. This was unnecessarily hostile behavior.
Has Chirac managed to position France as the defender of the victims of globalization against a US that merely seeks to profit selfishly from this phenomenon?
I think that if the developing world views the US unfavorably and has a better opinion of France, it has less to do with Chirac’s diplomacy than with a globally negative reaction to Bush’s post-9/11 actions: Iraq, the Middle East, the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, etc. Those who criticize the US benefit as a result, and the French are front and center.
What do you think of the idea of a “multi-polar” world? Is this a code word for anti-Americanism?
It’s a code word for a battle for political influence. There are two basic ideas. Americans believe that Europeans should bear more of the burden of creating a stable world. Europeans believe that Americans should share in the decision-making. In reality, we need to share both the burdens and the decisions.
Bill Clinton once said: “we should use this moment to build better frameworks of partnerships so we'll be more likely to cooperate, and when we're no longer the only military political economic superpower in the world, we'll be treated the way we would like to be treated.” Do you agree?
That’s what we think—that is, most of us, those who don’t agree with Bush. What will be the power structure in 2025? Honestly, I think that the U.S will still be at the top. Not too far behind will be Europe if she progresses towards political unification and if she obtains a greater degree of military power. In third place will come China, then Japan and then India.
Tomorrow’s dynamic will be much more complex than today’s, where there is only one world superpower and an enormous chasm between first and second place. Europe doesn’t exist, and I would say—although not without considerable hesitation—that Great Britain is probably the second most influential nation on the world stage. In third place would come Germany, particularly when she acts with France.