What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Entente cordiale"

The Weekly Great Game - Special Issue #1 (March 27)
Nicolas Sarkozy used those exact words: "entente cordiale."
Ever since he became President he was clear about introducing key changes to French foreign policy. In general he was looking for a more realistic relationship with the U.S., unlike the previous guard of French politics, which saw for instance the Rwandan Patriotic Front's 1994 victory, and the fall of the genocidal regime there, at least partly as a tilt in the balance of power towards the Anglo-Saxon forces and the loss of a part of France's zone of influence. And unlike the French leadership that backed Russia and China's diplomatic moves against the U.S. and the UK in the Security Council when UNSCOM's weapons inspectors finally had to leave Iraq at the end of 1998 and the U.S. and the UK bombed Iraq in return for a couple of days. And so on, one could bring up many examples here.
Sarkozy is now translating that endeavour into a different approach to NATO and an increased role in Afghanistan. And his speech yesterday to the UK's Members of Parliament marked that milestone. It's worth reading the entire text of the speech here (the link takes you to the first of three sub-pages). It is essentially about more cooperation with the UK in European and global matters from now on.
Here's what I would highlight, taking snippets directly from the speech:
"Our nations fought one another for a long time, until the day they understood that what brought them together was more important than what divided them, that they had interests to defend and, even more important still, common values to defend together.
This alliance had a name: the 'entente cordiale.' "
Probably no history lesson needed to remind readers when the entente cordiale came into being.
"The United Kingdom has shown that in the global economy, there was a path to achieve strong growth, full employment and solidarity.
This path is that of reforms to restore the value of effort, encourage innovation, the spirit of enterprise and sense of personal responsibility.
This path is also that of the modernisation of central government administration and public services.
The principles allowing the challenges of globalization to be dealt with successfully on one side of the Channel must allow these challenges to be dealt with equally successfully on the other."
Sarkozy is looking to the UK so much now also because of all the reforms he has envisaged for his country, for reasons rooted in domestic politics as well. His popularity in France is not exactly healthy right now, so he is connecting the always useful, spectacular state visit with hammering home what is necessary.
"Our countries have comparable influence and strengths. France and the United Kingdom have the same population size, a virtually identical GNP and the same defence priorities.
We are both ready to face up to our responsibilities, arms in hand, in the service of peace: nearly 15,000 French soldiers and nearly 15,000 British soldiers are deployed in all the world's operational theatres. Our two countries have decided to make their ideas heard the world over. In short, our two countries can, if they so wish, perfectly complement each other.
The world needs two old nations like ours, who long ago gave up dreams of conquest and domination, but have retained from their age-old experience an incomparable knowledge of the world."
For a global European role France has to cooperate more with the UK, not with Germany. That's not only to do with the German policy of equidistance from the U.S. and Russia, which in Afghanistan happens to locate them around Kunduz and Badakhshan. It also has to do with Germany's structurally restricted role in world affairs; that while Germany might explain its current position over Afghanistan in the language of interests, in fact Germany doesn't have much of a choice to do much else, because of structural constraints (constitutional constraints + public opinion + post-WW2 national identity). And it's equally significant that while Germany as a result is not ready to "face up to responsibilities," "arms in hand," at important times, as the Bundesrepublik Deutschland after its post-WWII "Stunde Null" it doesn't have a direct colonial past and an ex-colonial sphere of interest, either. For a global European role France is now looking to manage just those spheres of interest in a more cooperative fashion with the UK.
Sarkozy ran this point home once more later on:
"What would Europe be without France's ties with the international Francophone organisation, those of Spain with the Hispanic world, of Portugal with the Portuguese-speaking world, and of course of the United Kingdom with the Commonwealth and English-speaking world?"
Regarding Germany, my above points were also repeated. In Sarkozy's words:
"In Europe, our two countries have an irreplaceable role: France and the United Kingdom account for two thirds of the defence spending of our 25 European partners and double their research efforts.
This new Franco-British brotherhood which I am calling for is essential in a Europe that is taking action.
Of course, for we French, Franco-German friendship is one of the cornerstones of European reconciliation. I am convinced that in today's Europe the Franco-German engine is still essential. But it is no longer enough..."
I cut the sentence there for effect. But in fact if you quote it in full, or the whole paragraph in full, even then the effect is there.
France has annoyed Germany lately with the idea of the Mediterranean Union, which French diplomacy did manage to push through. It disturbed the balance of the European Neighbourhood Policy: the "Twix bar" of a neighbourhood policy, with about equal weight given to the eastern and the southern EU peripheries, conforming to a balance of interests largely between France and Germany. Now France saw the Mediterranean as more important in French foreigh policy than something that can be subdued to such an interplay of interests. And to manage the Mediterranean, one has to manage the Middle East. So France needs the UK. If France wants to have a more weighty common European foreign policy (something resembling it more as a result of better coordination between actually weighty EU member states), France needs the UK. Globally, if the UK doesn't get a better compromise out of the European Union, France won't be able to have the UK influence the U.S. more according to its liking.
Meanwhile, Russia is making a push to influence the equation regarding NATO's role in both the European and the global security architecture. With the French move closer to the U.S., Russia may find itself a better outcome in somewhat more cooperation with Europe, "enticing" Europe (according to the Russian point of view). Afghanistan is set to be one of those areas where Russia is looking to offer cooperation. So what is there more fitting to finish with than Sarkozy's words about Afghanistan:
"Together, our two countries are determined to remain engaged, side-by-side, with all our allies in Afghanistan where a vital struggle is being played out. France put to her Atlantic Alliance allies a coherent, comprehensive strategy to enable the Afghan people and their legitimate government to build a future of peace and development.
These proposals have been favourably received. France will therefore propose at the Bucharest summit to strengthen her military presence. We cannot accept the return of the Taliban and al Qaida in Kabul."

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