The U.S. government’s desire to overthrow the current Iraqi regime rests to a large degree on the perceived dangers of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to nations considered hostile to U.S. interests. France also worries about WMD proliferation, but it has taken a different approach to counter-proliferation, an approach that may now gain greater force as a new, unified government takes power in Paris. The U.S. and French positions are not fundamentally at odds, but they do diverge in important ways that may make their common counter-proliferation goals harder for either to achieve. Reaching an intelligent compromise on an international approach to counter-proliferation will begin with an understanding of the different approaches.
The French Approach
French policy does not differ in its major objectives from the U.S. policy. The new French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, reiterated in recent speech to the Parliament that France recognizes that new threats are emerging and upheld the goal of closing any loopholes in the international community’s process for dealing with WMD risk. France would prefer to treat the causes of proliferation by eliminating the incentives to acquire WMD. Realistically, however, incentives to acquire WMD are unlikely to disappear in the near future and the international community will likely have to manage an international situation in which proliferation remains a constant risk.
The new French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominique de Villepin, confirmed in July that an international policy of preventing the acquisition of WMD remains a priority for France as part of its efforts to ensure overall stability. France takes a legalistic approach to proliferation problems. It considers that any violation of international law and obligation should be firmly punished and regards the actual use of WMD as illegal and intolerable. Thus, Paris, for example, considers the status quo with Iraq unacceptable and insists that Baghdad observe the Security Council resolutions regarding destruction of its WMD arsenal and accept the return of the UN weapons inspectors.