George Bush’s decision to speak to the UN about the Iraqi issue is an expression of how important forming an international consensus is to solving the problem presented by the Iraqi regime. Aware of this, Saddam Hussein is seeking to create and exploit rifts in the international coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait and imposed the current sanction regime. A clear view of the issues of agreement and disagreement within the international community on the Iraqi issue will therefore be critical for maintaining the allied cohesion necessary for an effective policy toward Iraq. An understanding of the French perspective—a perspective widely shared by governments around the world—will be particularly important for arriving at a policy that the whole United Nations Security Council can accept.
Principles of France’s policy towards Iraq since the Gulf War
Since its participation in Operation Desert Storm, France has sought to implement a policy based on three principles: preserving the stability of the Middle East; ensuring the authority of the UN Security Council; avoiding a humanitarian disaster among Iraqi civilians.
Preserving the stability of the region
France’s participation in Desert Storm—to which it contributed 10,000 troops—had the same motivations as that of the United States: to force Iraq out of Kuwait and prevent a major destabilization of the region and of the oil market, while avoiding an extension of the conflict to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Since that time, France has consistently insisted that Iraq should comply with its international obligations, in particular the destruction of all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and the return of inspectors to verify their destruction.
Today, French and U.S. assessments of Iraq’s WMD arsenal differ mainly in how far Iraq’s nuclear program may have progressed. While both countries agree that Iraq currently has no nuclear weapons, the U.S. administration feels that Iraq could develop such weapons fairly quickly, particularly if they obtained fissile materiel from abroad. Paris, in contrast, believes that UN weapons inspectors had so crippled Iraq’s program by 1998 that it would take many years to reconstitute. As far as chemical and biological weapons are concerned, French experts agree with their American counterparts that Iraq has tried to rebuild its stockpile since the withdrawal of UN inspectors in 1998. And, while French officials may publicly address this issue with less frequency than their American counterparts, the risk of seeing these weapons fall into the hands of “undeterrable” terrorists is seen in Paris as serious. For all these reasons, France insists that Iraq must accept the unconditional return of inspectors as a guarantee that all its WMD programs are halted.