Making France a Power for the Future, Part II

April 17, 2007 Topic: NATO Region: LevantFrancePersian GulfMiddle East

Making France a Power for the Future, Part II

TNI Exclusive: In the conclusion of The National Interest’s conversation with Nicolas Sarkozy, France's next president discusses his country's role in the world and relationship with the United States

Editor's note: Recently, France's next President Nicolas Sarkozy, who won Sunday's run-off election with 53.1 percent of the vote, sat down with The National Interest and Politique Internationale to discuss his vision for French foreign policy.Click here  to read part I of The National Interest's interview with Nicolas Sarkozy, in which he discusses France and Europe's future.

The National Interest: Apart from the European Union, what should be our longer term foreign policy objectives?

Nicolas Sarkozy: Our first objective is of course to assure the security of France and its allies. Because our interests are global, so must be our responsibilities. Our security interests are inseparable to those of Europe and our other partners, those who share our goals and values. Faced with a new threat environment-terrorism, proliferation, etc. -cooperation will be the key to success. Our second objective must be to promote the universal values of liberty and the respect for human rights and dignity. I believe that France is only truly itself when it embodies liberty against oppression and reason against chaos. Lastly, our third objective for foreign policy is the promotion of our economic and commercial interests that will strengthen France as it takes on globalization.

TNI: You have often mentioned your attachment to human rights. However, it might be said that good diplomats do not follow those dictums . . .

NS: History proves the contrary. Nation-states are no longer the sole actors on the international stage. New powers and new themes have emerged. . . .

My problem with realpolitik is that it limits diplomatic action in an effort to leave unchanged the reality of the world. "Stability" and status quo are their obsessions. But the pursuit of status quo is not a policy; it is akin to giving up. Stability for stability's sake is not how I conceive the world. The steadfast adherence to stability leads to turning a blind eye to cruelty and injustice.

I add that today, all action is done under the informed and vigilant gaze of public opinion, both national and international. We cannot claim ignorance anymore, so we are loosing the possibility of remaining silent in the face of genocide or criminal behavior. Our silence, when faced with 200,000 deaths and 400,000 refugees in Chechnya, is unbearable. Neither is our indifference when faced with 200,000 deaths due to ethnic massacres in Darfur. There is an urgency to act so that Darfur does not become a shameful page in our collective history.

TNI: Is it more difficult to speak out against the major powers like China and Russia?

NS: No. Simply because China and Russia are great powers should not prevent us from denouncing their human rights violations. In the same vein, I must say that Russia's recent behavior makes me quite nervous.

TNI: You have been criticized for being too close to the administration of George W. Bush. What is your response to your detractors?

NS: I think this is unconstructive criticism. The friendship between Europe and the United States is a cornerstone of world stability, period. It is deep, sincere and unshakeable. But friendship means being with your friends when they need you and also being able to tell them the truth when they are wrong. Friendship means respect, understanding and affection . . . but not submission. Friendship is only real when it is honest and independent. I want an independent France and an independent Europe, and I call for our American friends to let us be free; free to be their friends.

TNI: One might see the Atlantic alliance in opposition to the idea of a European defense policy. Do you think this a just criticism?

NS: This "either/or" approach is outdated. Europeans, like Americans, need both NATO and the EU. Because they complement each other. Let me remind you that of the 26 members of NATO, 21 are in the European Union; and of the 27 countries in the EU, 21 are members of NATO. But Europe needs to make sure than NATO does not become, as seems to be the wish of the United States, an international institution undertaking too broad a range of military, humanitarian and policing missions. NATO should not become a concurrent organization to the UN.

TNI: Faced with the threat of nuclear proliferation, and the Iranian nuclear crisis in particular, what should be the response of France?

NS: Experience teaches us that, in the matter of nuclear proliferation, the international community needs to be united and determined. Today, the prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is unacceptable. It will start an arms race in the region and directly threaten Israel and southeastern Europe. Tehran must choose between cooperation with the international community and increased isolation. For my part, I think we cannot hesitate in reinforcing sanctions for noncompliance as I think they can be effective. This is precisely what the Security Council has started to do. Conversely, though, if Tehran agrees to cooperate, the international community must give full guarantee to Iran that it will live by its agreements, specifically in terms of access to civilian nuclear technology.

We should also explore the idea of nuclear cooperation with our partners to the south. This gives us a way to say to Iran and the Arab world that we are neither locked into confrontation mode nor are we trying to stop their growth. The energy of the future is not a right for only the most developed countries, and we could institute a system of effective checks. In this vein, I suggest the creation, under the watch of the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a veritable World Bank for civil nuclear fuel that would permit developing countries to have access to civilian nuclear energy without the risk of militarization. This institution would present the double advantage of removing all of the economic and political prerogatives for national programs to enrich uranium and provide safe haven for all radioactive waste.

TNI: What should be the role of France in the Middle East?

: The Middle East is the crucible of global threats: terrorism and violent extremism, civil strife, aggressive regional ambitions, and ballistic and nuclear proliferation. Each country is currently experiencing some form of tensions-Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Iran. In certain cases these countries are destabilized by external interference from other regional actors. . . . Naturally, we must cooperate closely with moderate and responsible governments in the region as well as with our global partners. Because it positioned itself against the war in Iraq, because of its historic relationship with Lebanon, because of its role since 2003 in the Iranian crisis, and because it is a committed friend to both Israel and the Palestinian people, France has an important role to play in the region.

TNI: What advice would you give to the Iraqi government to help it prevail over the current chaos? Should coalition troops be withdrawn, and if so, when?

NS: More effort must be made to reach a political settlement between the communities. This means assuring every segment of the Iraqi civil society and every individual Iraqi equal access to the country's resources, institutions and economic opportunities. Not for that, it is crucial to isolate the terrorists and Al-Qaeda. Concerning the withdrawal of troops, as France does not have any troops on the ground, I do not think that we are in any position to even give our opinion on a timetable. Having said that, it seems to me that there are two pitfalls to avoid: a premature withdrawal leading to chaos and an absence of all perspective in terms of the withdrawal. This would cause the Iraqis to respond with intensified violence-thus playing into the hands of the terrorists. The best plan may be to fix a general horizon for withdrawal, so that Iraqi authorities feel pressured to get some traction on the situation, which they currently seem to lack.

TNI: What role should France play in the Lebanese crisis?

: The role of France and the international community is to help the Lebanese defend the sovereignty and integrity of their country. This past summer in Lebanon, like all too often in its history, innocents paid with their lives for a conflict that was not their own. But who should the Lebanese first hold accountable for their suffering? My response is clear: first and fore most they must look to Hizballah. Because I think friendship is reinforced by honesty, I must say to our Lebanese friends that Hizballah was the aggressor. But I also say to the Israelis that their reaction was excessive and disproportionate. I have always defended with the same force the security of Israel and the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon. Today, it is essential that the commission of inquiry into the assassination of Mr. Hariri must be allowed to finish its work, and that Hizballah shows that it is a political organization by setting aside its arms.