Chirac Threatened Whom?

Posted by John Rosenthal

Some months ago, when Julien Dray, spokesperson for the French Socialist Party, was asked what he thought of a certain speech by Jacques Chirac, he responded: “frankly, I don’t even listen any more”. In France, Julien Dray is hardly alone. Nonetheless, when last week – in, as French journalist Luc Rosenzweig put it [link in French], “a frantic effort to make us believe that he still exists” – Chirac gave what was trumpeted as a path-breaking discourse on French nuclear doctrine, the foreign – and notably American – media took considerable notice.


This is all the more astonishing inasmuch as Jacques Chirac is at this point presumably a lame-duck President. If it is truly his wish, he has barely a year to push the button. After that, for all practical purposes, his ideas on French nuclear defense will be about as relevant as my own.


Virtually all the coverage of Chirac’s speech outside of France highlighted what was taken to be an implicit threat to Iran – thus casting Chirac, incongruously, in the role of an ally of the US. Never mind that such a threat, as Luc Rosenzweig pointed out, will only provide the Iranians with a high-profile pretext for continuing their presumptive push for nuclear weapons.


Some implicit saber-rattling towards established, as Chirac put it, “major powers” went, however, largely unremarked. Consider, for instance, the following passage [full text in French here]:

Of course, it is not a foregone conclusion that the relations between the different “poles of power” will sink into hostility in the near future. It is, moreover, in order to meet this danger that we should work toward an international order founded on the rule of law and collective security, toward a more just and more representative order. And that we should encourage all our important partners to make the choice of cooperation rather than that of confrontation. But we are never completely safe: neither from a revolution in the international system, nor from a strategic surprise. All of history teaches us this.


No one conversant with Chirac’s, so to say, “neo-Gaullist” style of discourse could fail to hear the multiple allusions to the United States in the above. Take, for instance, the reference to the “poles of power”, of which, in “neo-Gaullist” discourse, the US – alleged hitherto to have been the single “pole of power” in a “unipolar” [sic!] world – and an emerging European power are supposed to be distinct instances. And just which “important partner” is it that Chirac wants to encourage – or even “obligate” [engager] – to make the “choice of cooperation rather than confrontation”?


[Note: For some relevant background, see my “Do Allies Talk Like This?” on the old Trans-Int.]

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