Jacques Chirac + Walrus Mustache = John Bolton

As the token friend of Grover Cleveland stationed in the wild countries across the Atlantic, I have been eager to post my thoughts on the recent referenda in France and the Netherlands.

Since it appears likely that President Bush will appoint John Bolton (a.k.a. Wally the Walrus) as ambassador to the UN during the Congressional recess, I also think it’s worth pausing for a minute to consider John Bolton’s political ideology, and where we might find parallels with what we see in Europe. Apologies, then, for the lengthy post!

In the standard international relations lexicon, Bolton is a foreign policy “Realist.” That is, he believes that international power is a zero-sum game and that the ultimate motivation of any given nation is a rather narrowly-defined “rational self-interest.” Thus, he believes that so-called “international institutions” such as the UN are smokescreens behind which nations continue to vie for maximal power. “The United States makes the UN work when it wants it to work, and that is exactly the way it should be,” barks Bolton angrily. “The only question to the United States is what’s in our national interest.”

In stark contrast to Bolton’s ideology is “liberal internationalism,” which believes that international institutions can give rise to mutual benefit, much like free trade creates a situation in which every participating party is better off.

This needn’t imply that some sort of global government is the optimal way to organize the international community (indeed, the WTO is a great example of liberal internationalism at work without a world government. So, too, were the Geneva Conventions, until the Bush administration injected a bit of “quaint” Realism). To much of the European left, however, the only alternative to Realism is a sort of global government that can constrain national power and thereby blunt the nastiness of brute self-interest.

And so we come to France. At first glance, France seems to be in favor of greater global governance. In reality, French foreign policy at least since the Second World War has actually been oriented around Realist pursuit of narrow self-interest. Gaullism, after all, is fundamentally concerned with maximizing French power…and Jacques Chirac is a self-professed Gaullist.

Let’s not get into the details of de Gaulle’s policies (“France has no friends, only interests”). Instead, let’s focus on recent French activity, particularly with reference to the European Union.

The origins of the EU lie in the European Coal and Steel Community, one of the finest examples of liberal internationalism at work. Its purpose was not simply to achieve greater prosperity through free trade. It was also meant to prevent a future European war by pooling critical natural resources. Remember learning about Alsace-Lorraine, that hot-potato region that France and Germany fought over throughout history (the 30 Years War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Great Velocipede War, World War I, World War II)? No coincidence that that region and the nearby Ruhr Valley possessed HUGE reserves of coal and steel (and velocipedes). By pooling those two (or three) resources together, the ECSC hoped to make such territorial disputes much less significant, to the benefit of everyone involved. Cooperation leading to mutual advantage. It worked.

Too bad France is doing everything it can to Bolton-ize the EU:

1) First of all, and most significantly, is the way France views the EU as a means to maximize its own global power. Recognizing that the U.S. is the world’s only so-called “hyperpower,” France wants to use the EU to become another global “pole” that can challenge the U.S.’s dominant economic and political power. It’s pure Voltron diplomacy (okay, okay…Europe isn’t NEARLY cool enough to be Voltron. It can be the Power Rangers’ Megazord), unnecessarily antagonistic and foolhardy. But since France insists on tilting at windmills rather than concentrating on the REAL threats to global stability (c.f. global terrorism), it’s hardly surprising that Eastern Europe rejects France’s vision of the EU. When Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and other new accession states to the EU declared their support for the American stance on Iraq, Jacques Chirac called those nations “infantile,” suggesting that they “shut up.” If the EU begins to move in a direction that France doesn’t like, in other words, France gets as pissy as a neocon without a war to fight.

2) The Stability Pact is supposed to ensure that the European macroeconomy stays in proper balance in light of the common currency. It was rammed through to scare countries like Italy from running large fiscal deficits. The European Commission subsequently reprimanded small countries like Portugal for running multi-year deficits above a certain percentage of GDP. But as soon as France was in a similar situation, it cried foul and refused to pay the fines that are supposed to accompany such violations. Sounds like France pushed through a program intended to limit other nations’ behaviors while having no effect on its own. Look at Bolton’s quotation from above one more time. Replace “the U.S.” with “France.” Is it any less true?

3) When the French people rejected the EU Constitution, Jacques Chirac refused to acknowledge that the French were disgruntled with the French political elite. Instead, Chirac tried to change the subject by criticizing Britain for not paying enough to the EU. Britain’s net contribution to the EU is nearly 4 billion euro. France’s net contribution is 1.7 billion euro thanks to the 24 BILLION euro that France receives from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. That’s what I call chutzpah.

The biggest problem with the political culture that has blossomed during the Iraq War is that it really has encouraged a "with us or against us" mentality among Americans of all political stripes. If you're a conservative, you're encouraged to think of "Old Europe" as a bunch of weenies with their heads in the sand. If you're a liberal, you look longingly across the Atlantic at that superior way of life. The fact is, both views are ridiculous. There are douchebags in America. But there's no shortage of wankers in Europe, either. In fact, many of them sit in government offices in Paris.

So at a time when America desperately needs to mend relations with Europe, the administration needs to recognize that John Bolton is a faulty choice for ambassador to the UN.

And at the same time, at a time of crisis for the EU, it’s time for every other European government to recognize the liability of France’s brazen, selfish foreign policies.


Blogger D. said...

Nice post, sir, and I strongly agree that France is trying to Bolton-ise the EU (especially in terms of the disgraceful CAP).

Call me a typical mixed market-loving Brit, however, but I disagree with your assertion that liberal internationalism (more specifically the free market) is always the best model for opposing national self-interests. While free trade CAN “create a situation in which every participating party is better off” that’s not always the case and there’s still a strong need for organisations to “constrain national power and thereby blunt the nastiness of brute self-interest” from time to time.

Conveniently enough, some parallels between Alsace-Lorraine and the present day crisis in the Middle East can be used to argue this point.

In both cases you have your vital commodity: coal and steel in the former, oil in the latter. You have nations that are willing to go to war for the sake of them. Territorial disputes were avoided in Alsace-Lorraine because a free trade organisation was able to persuade nations to pool their resources and thus achieve greater prosperity. Fair enough but that’s not always the case.

The type of mutually beneficial consensus achieved by the ECSC seems to break down when a commodity becomes of such all-consuming importance to one country’s economy that their foreign policy is based mainly upon it being attained. Such is America’s economic hunger for oil that it has overriden the more global considerations of two international organisations (the UN over the invasion of Iraq and the G8 over Kyoto) and even disowned the scientific thought upon which Western societies run.

Surely when free trade exacerbates both military conflict and an enormous environmental crisis (note Bush’s comments yesterday: “Kyoto would have wrecked our economy” and “We're hooked on oil from the Middle East, which is a national security problem and an economic security problem.") some kind of world government needs to intervene?

In this sense the French desire for a counterpoise to America is virtuous, even if this is an accidental product of their self-interest. France may have been “antagonistic and foolhardy” towards the pro-war nations, but they were at least doing so in opposition to a war that was itself antagonistic and foolhardy.

Surely the invasion of Iraq will prove a greater catalyst to global instability and terrorism (which you cite as the major world issue) than any French attempt to rebalance the power axis between America and Europe?

The challenge, of course, is developing an organisation that can constrain national self-interest for the global good in a genuinely disinterested manner. I’m a Voltron diplomat, clearly.

Friday, July 01, 2005  

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