Donnerstag, September 07, 2006

French contradictions...

The French want power without commitment and truly believe that they will be able to master the challenge of terrorism.

This deserves not so much a fisking as critiquing and expansion.

France issued an implicit criticism of U.S. foreign policy on Thursday, rejecting talk of a "war on terror".

Well, that's nothing new: the French still believe that terrorism must only be fought by police tactics, despite the fact that terrorism of the 21st century is rather different than that of the 20th.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, speaking in parliament, expressed these views on global terrorism, while President Jacques Chirac backed France's claims to the international front rank with a fresh defense of his country's nuclear arsenal.

Here it's appropriate to try and understand French security thinking over the last 50 years. Remember, France left the military part of NATO over the fact that the US would not accede to have a French general in charge, coupled with a continuing severe disappointment that the US directly embarrased the French (and the Brits, but they got over that) over Suez. The French realized that they can't afford another war like WW1 and made nuclear weapons to be the guarantor of their national existence in the face of Soviet ambition; their conventional military was more often a tool for industrial policy than a military force that could have stood up to a general Soviet attack with OMGs breaking into the French hinterland. The Force de Frappe was the core of the strategic philosophy of dissuasion, which is falsely translated as deterrence (it fulfills the function, but the difference is in the national understanding of what is meant. The meaning is more one of creating a mental state and is the antonym, in French, of persuasion. Deterrence means more of an objective analysis of terms of force that lead to a rational decision.

Villepin noted Chirac's strong opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and said the Arab state had now sunk into violence and was feeding new regional crises.

Like Villepin didn't have anything to do with the fiasco of the UN in regards to Iraq. And not like the French didn't try their damndest to avoid dealing with the crisis: not avoiding the crisis, since the crisis came regardless of what the French did. The French wanted to avoid dealing with the problem. Big difference.

"Let us not forget that these crises play into the hands of all extremists," the prime minister said in a debate on the Middle East. "We can see this with terrorism, whether it tries to strike inside or outside our frontiers," he added.

But the extremists are the ones creating the crises.

"Against terrorism, what's needed is not a war. It is, as France has done for many years, a determined fight based on vigilance at all times and effective cooperation with our partners.

And what does this really mean? It means the reversion to fighting-terrorism-with-the-police, which has been shown not to work, especially when the terrorists can use co-option and corruption as non-government actors.

"But we will only end this curse if we also fight against injustice, violence and these crises," he said.

Villepin's remarks, which came a day after U.S. President George Bush admitted that the CIA had interrogated dozens of terrorism suspects in secret foreign locations, did not explicitly mention the United States.

But his rejection of language employed by Bush, who often uses the expression "war on terror" underlined the longstanding differences between Paris and Washington.

In separate remarks, Chirac stressed that France was committed to maintaining a nuclear arsenal of its own.

Blah blah blah, first causes, etc. Meaningless rhetoric aimed at the gullible...and here is why this starts to become interesting:

"In an uncertain world, facing constantly evolving threats, nuclear dissuasion guarantees our vital interests," Chirac said on a visit to France's Atomic Energy Commission nuclear simulation facility at Bruyeres-le-Chatel near Paris.

That is the core of French politico-military strategy: dissuasion. But why bring this to the foreground? Why now? Of course it has to do with Iran.

In the arguments and discussions during the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, the Iranian government will also have to develop a nuclear strategy to go along with it: at least this seems to be what the French are contemplating. Why talk otherwise of your national nuclear strategy at this point in time: the Iranians, so the French hope, must be dissuaded - again, the opposite of persuasion - from thinking of using their nuclear weapons against France.

But only that: dissuasion guarantees vital French interests, not the interests of the international community.

He stressed that France was committed to funding continuing research and development into nuclear weapons technology.

In other words, in terms of nuclear weapons, walking the walk and not merely the talk, shoring up the believability of the Force de Frappe.

"There can be no great ambition without adequate means, that's clear," he said. "The position of countries is never guaranteed. In the 21st century, only those which make science a genuine priority will stay ahead."

What is the meaning of this? A put-down for the Iranians, who without a doubt have great ambitions but whose means are not adequate? The curious stating of what must be for the French painfully obvious - that the position of countries in never guaranteed - aimed at the Iranians? Or more exactly at the US?

Both France and the United States have played down splits opened by the Iraq war, pointing especially to cooperation on attempts by the West to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But differences in tone and style have often resurfaced, notably during the Lebanon crisis, where France initially offered to send just 400 peacekeepers to Lebanon despite vigorously backing calls for an international force.

Ah, the classic problem of the French and one of the key problems for any country wanting to acquiesce to the nuclear club: the necessity of believable conventional capabilities as alternative to having one's bluff called when in conflict if the enemy thinks that you have abandoned conventional capabilities in exchange for the chimeric hope that the mere threat of using nuclear weapons is adequate.

Villepin's speech in parliament made much of France's leading role in securing a peace agreement in Lebanon backed by the United Nations, which he said had shown the virtues of "listening and dialogue."

"It is the duty of France and Europe to show that the clash of civilizations is not inevitable," he said. "No one retains this wisdom, inherited from our history, as we, French and Europeans, do," he said.

The problem is that while we - collectively as the West - don't want, need or otherwise desire the clash of civilizations, the Iranians and the Shi'ite do.

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