De Villepin Against the New World Order

Dominique de Villepin’s address at the UN Security Council, 2003

New-York, February 14, 2003

Mr. President,

Mr. Secretary-General,



I would like to thank Mr. Blix and Mr. El Baradei for the information they have just given us on the continuing inspections in Iraq. I would like to express to them again France’s confidence and complete support in their mission.

You know the value that France has placed on the unity of the Security Council from the outset of the Iraq crisis. This unity today is based on two fundamental factors:

We pursue together the objective of effectively disarming Iraq. We have an obligation to achieve results. Let us not doubt our common commitment to this goal. We shoulder collectively this onerous responsibility which must leave no room for ulterior motives or false accusations. Let us be clear: Not one of us feels the least indulgence towards Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime.

By unanimously adopting resolution 1441, we collectively expressed our agreement with the two-stage approach proposed by France: the choice of disarmament via inspections and, should this strategy fail, consideration by the Security Council of all the options, including the use of military force. If, and only if, the inspections fail could a second resolution be justified.

The question today is simple: Do we sincerely believe that the disarmament process via inspections is now leading to a dead-end? Or do we consider that the possibilities regarding inspections presented in resolution 1441 have still not been fully explored? In response to this question, France is convinced of two things:

The first is that the inspections have not been fully completed and that they could be an effective solution to the need to disarm Iraq.

The second is that the use of force would be so fraught with risks for many people, for the region and for international stability that it should only be seen as a last resort.

So what have we just learned from the report made by Mr. Blix and Mr. El Baradeï?

That the inspections are yielding results. Of course, each of us wants more, and together we will continue to put pressure on Baghdad to obtain more. But the inspections are producing results.

France has already announced that it had extra resources available for Mr Blix and El Baradeï, the Mirage IV surveillance aircraft. Well, yes I understand very well the criticisms :

There are those who think that the inspections are inherently ineffective. But I would remind you that they are the very foundation of resolution 1441 and that the inspections are producing results. We may believe that they are insufficient but they are real.

There are those who believe that the continuation of the inspections would be a sort “delaying tactic” aimed at preventing military intervention. This is a question of how much time is given to Iraq. This is the key point of the discussions. Our credibility and our sense of responsibility is at stake. Let’s have the courage to think innovatively.

There are two choices:

The choice of military action may appear the swiftest. But let’s not forget that, after having won the war, we will have to work to achieve peace. And let’s not have any illusions: that will be long and difficult, because we will have to maintain the unity of Iraq, re-establish stability in a country and a region that have been severely damaged by military invasion

Faced with such prospects, there is the alternative offered by the inspections, which each day lead to an effective disarmament and a peaceful Iraq. Is this choice not, at the end of the day, the quickest and most reliable option?

Nobody today, then, can assert that the path to war will be any shorter than the path of inspections. Nobody can assert either that it can lead to a more stable and just world. For war is always the sanction for a failure. Could it be the only choice faced with the various current challenges?

Consequently, let’s give the UN inspectors the time necessary to ensure the success of their mission. But let’s remain vigilant and ask Mr Blix and Mr El Baradeï to make regular reports to the Council. France, accordingly, proposes another ministerial meeting on the 14 March, in order to assess the situation. We will therefore be able evaluate the progress made and that needs to be made.

We all share the same priority, that of ruthlessly defeating terrorism. This combat demands total determination. Since the 1 September, it is one of our primary responsibilities for our people. France, which has been victim several times of this terrible scourge, is entirely committed to this battle which affects us all and that we must fight together. It was the purpose of the Security Council meeting which was held on the 20th January at France’s initiative.

Ten days ago, the American Secretary of State, Mr Powell, had alluded to supposed links between Al Qaida and the Baghdad regime. Given the current state of our intelligence and investigations led with our allies, nothing allows us to establish such links. On the other hand, we should assess the impact that military action, currently under discussion, would have in this regard. Is there not a risk that military intervention would widen divisions between societies, between different cultures, between people, divisions which fuel terrorism?

France has always said so : we do not exclude the possiblity of needing to resort to military action, if the inspectors reports concluded that it was no longer possible to continue with the inspections. The Council, in this case, would have to deliver its verdict and its members would have to assume their full responsabilities. If this were the case, it would be the unity of the international community that would guarantee is effectiveness. Likewise, the United Nations will be central to the peace process tomorrow whatever happens.

This message comes to you today from an “old” country, France, from an “old” continent like mine, Europe, that has suffered war, occupation and barbarism. A country that does not forget and is aware of everything it owes to the freedom-fighters who came from America and elsewhere. And yet it has never ceased to stand upright in the face of history and before mankind. Faithful to its values, it wishes to act resolutely with all the members of the international community. It believes in our ability to build together a better world.

I thank you.

Analysis: The Geopolitical Context of De Villepin’s Speech

On the 2 August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s army invades with ease the small and rich emirate of Kuwait which becomes the nineteenth province of Iraq.  The Saddam Regime thus seizes enormous oil reserves and widens Iraq’s maritime access to the Persian Gulf (strategic oil route).

The Iraqi dictator – whose belligerent attitude is well known (war against Iran from 1980 to 1988) – also threatens his rich but weak Saudi neighbour who has every reason to be worried: a vast, desert country without any natural protection, sparsely populated, with a small army.

Saudi leaders are alarmed to see that the “Arab Street” supports Saddam Hussein who presents himself as “the leader of the Arab World” which has been looking for one since the death of Nasser in 1970. Kuwait is seen as an American satellite state and elicits little sympathy.

Saudi Arabia and other oil monarchies also have a large number of immigrants from other Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan…) who are “trained” in anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and the Iraqi dictator is seen as an absolute enemy of Israel. Furthermore, the Saudi regime has no popular legitimacy (it’s an absolutist monarchy) and derives its power entirely from petro-dollars and the possession of Muslim holy land.

Unlike the Arab populace, the international “community” reacts unanimously and the UN, no longer paralysed by the East/West divide, mandates a military coalition under American command (operation Desert Storm) to liberate Kuwait.

Following the predictable failure of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, a rapid military strike destroys the Iraqi army and the country is subject to a UN embargo and monitored by the international community.

To the surprise of many, the coalition armies make no attempt to destabilise Saddam Hussein, leaving him to crush a Shiite uprising in the south of the country, so as to justify the presence of American air-bases in Saudi Arabia.

Ten years later, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shake America (one of the causes of which was precisely the presence of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, Islamic “holy land”) and the crusade against terrorism is launched by George Bush (putting the “Iraqi question” at the forefront of the political agenda once again) who classifies Iraq among the countries forming an “axis of evil”.

The American president’s desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power and put in place a regime favourable to American interests is motivated just as much by political, oil and geostrategic reasons as it is by the need to ensure national security.

Unilateralism v. multilateralism

The UN had mandated the weapons inspectors Blix and El Baradeï to oversee the Iraqi disarmament; they support the French position as they believe that real progress is being made: Iraq has accepted the aerial surveillance of its territory, and France immediately provides the inspection team with their Mirage 4 surveillance aircraft.

Saddam Hussein authorised Iraqi scientists to be questioned by the inspectors without the presence of a witness and agrees to provide a detailed list of experts, who in 1991 oversaw the destruction of military programmes. Moreover, in accordance with a previous demand made by the inspectors, he agrees that a law be introduced by the Iraqi parliament to forbid all activities linked to weapons of mass destruction programmes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency represented by Blix and El Baradëi is an independent inter-governmental agency based in Vienna. Established in 1957, it aims to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy.

For the Americans, however, only a rapid and preventative strike would guarantee peace and security. By doing this, they hope to eliminate all risk of a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Believing, or pretending to believe, that the Saddam regime (fundamentally secular) is sheltering Islamic terrorist groups similar to Al Qaida, the Americans hope that by attacking Iraq they will eradicate the scourge of terrorism. Nothing is more important than these goals and, to achieve them, the US is prepared to go ahead without UN backing.

France, on the other hand, believes that before resorting to military action, it is vital to take into account the complexity of a region with many dimensions: military, political, economic, cultural and religious. International relations should be based on the respect of other nations and on negotiation, without which the arrogance of superpowers would inevitably radicalise the masses and lead to an in increase international terrorism.

According to Dominique de Villepin, the inspections are paying off and are a useful tool that could be used in other countries (Iran, North Korea…). To attack Iraq would amount to discrediting the efforts of the weapons inspectors and would deprive the UN of an effective means of applying pressure:

“There are some who believe that weapons inspections are inherently ineffective. [ … ] There are those who believe that to continue with the inspections would be ‘a delaying tactic’ which aims to prevent military action.”

Munich Syndrome

France and the Saddam regime had maintained, up until the first Gulf War, close ties: France had sold many weapons to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Some French politicians had financial interests in Iraqi petrol and Saddam Hussein, though a brutal dictator, was considered to be a French ally. The organisation for Franco-Iraqi relations was a powerful group, lobbying governments in both Paris and Baghdad.

Supporters of military action thus found it easy to criticise the French position which, according to them, was aimed at maintaining a regime favourable to French interests, or at least to gain time. At the very beginning of his address, the French Foreign Minister cautions:

“We collectively bear a grave responsibility which should leave no room for ulterior motives or unfounded accusations. Let’s be clear: none of us here feels the least bit of indulgence toward Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime.”

But the French are not the only ones who have had sympathy for Saddam Hussein: the Americans were sympathetic, too, especially the Reagan Administration and his Vice President, George Bush senior…

In the belligerent American speeches Saddam Hussein is often compared indirectly, and even directly, to Adolf Hitler. During the 1930s, France and Germany were powerless in face of the inexorable march of the Führer to the point that they even renounced their commitment to Czechoslovakia during the 1938 Munich conference.

Above all, France and England wanted to avoid a war at all costs. Dominique de Villepin highlights that France does not rule out a war in principle:

“France has always said so: we do not rule out the possibility that one day it will be necessary to resort to military force.  France is not the weakest link in the West and is ready, as in the case of the first Gulf War or elsewhere in the world, to deploy its troops, but not without having given the inspections every chance of success and not without UN approval.”

Donald Rumsfield, the American Defence Secretary, one of the Whitehouse “hawks”, had declared a few days before Dominique de Villepin’s speech and with some contempt towards France and Germany, that as far as he was concerned “new Europe” (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic…) was more important than the declining “old Europe”. With deliberate irony, Dominique de Villepin uses the term “old country” to his advantage.

Age is synonymous with wisdom and experience as opposed to the arrogant ardour of a new country such as the US, indirectly accused of warmongering. The US has not seen a war since the Civil War (1861 – 1865), whereas France has suffered three major wars: it knows better than anybody else what war means. From 1940 to 1944, it suffered “the occupation, the brutality”, and therein also lies a warning against a possible occupation of Iraq once the war had been won.

In veiled terms, the French foreign minister reminds the Americans that they have very little history compared to the “old continent, Europe”, which feeds a particular “national neurosis” on the other side of the Atlantic. Dominique de Villepin, however, takes care to reiterate that France “is aware of what she owes to freedom fighters from America and elsewhere”, thereby giving homage to the British and Americans for the liberation of Europe from the Nazi dictatorship. During that period they were “freedom fighters”, but could we still say that when they want to invade Iraq for its oil?

Transparency and Assessment

Dominique de Villepin wants to give every chance to resolution 1441 voted at the initiative of the French: for the Foreign Minister, the weapons inspections should continue as they are productive (Iraq is disarmed) and they represent a credible and proportioned alternative to the use of military force. But this vision clashes with American reasoning which, as expressed the Secretary of State Colin Powell, portrays Iraq as a country seeking to equip itself with weapons of mass destruction.

According to the Bush administration, Saddam Hussein, beleived to be linked to terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, would be an immediate threat to global security. It demands that the Security Council votes on a resolution authorising the use of military force.

Jacques Chirac then threatens to use the French veto. During this crisis, France rediscovers its role as a world power, in keeping with its history and its ingenuity. The French president, however, doesn’t manage to fully capitalise on this moment of inspiration, even though a Paris-Berlin-Moscow strategic alliance supported by Peking and the Arab world offered unparalleled geopolitical opportunities.

On the 19 March 2003, Dominique de Villepin again makes a speech before the Security Council “a few hours before the weapons do the talking” to reiterate his confidence in the weapons inspections and his doubt in the legitimacy of a war fraught with uncertainties. He states that this war reveals two visions of the world: the unilateralist and arrogant vision of the US which doesn’t need UN approval; the mulilateralist vision of France and the UN.

The military victory, more difficult than expected, the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the ensnarement of American troops in a civil war they provoked, the hatred sparked by occupation and the inevitable military blunders, the human and financial cost of war, the obvious risk that Iraq disintegrates into three parts (Kurdish, Sunni, Shiite) once the Americans have left the country, the persecution of Christians who flee the country in droves and the resurgence of terrorism not only in Iraq (which has become a country of djihad) but everywhere else in the world, all prove the accuracy of the French conception of diplomacy and the relevance today of Dominque de Villepin’s warnings.

Article Translated from French

The original author was Arnauld Cappeau







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