European Affairs

This short book is unpretentious. The flavor is that of spending a weekend with the Minister and asking him everything you ever wanted to know about his views.  “I can’t help but observe that certain stereotypes about French foreign policy die hard in the United States,” the Minister says. “Some analysts seem to think that French policy consists of systematic opposition to the United States in the vain hope of recovering France’s past glory. Believe me, that is not our obsession.”

Then what is the obsession? Since 1989-91 France has gone about reinventing its foreign policy. The defense of traditional positions remains indispensable, but it is far from sufficient. France’s unique position as a Western country that acted like a hinge between East and West disappeared with the bipolar world. But France remains a link between the smallest and the largest countries, between the richest and the poorest. And it is a key component of the European Union.

The governance of globalization has become a central theme of the French government as it calls for more rules to frame globalization so that it does not revive the principle of  “might is right.” Védrine bluntly asks: “Who will make the rules? The UN Security Council? The G-8? The World Trade Organization or the International Monetary Fund? The European Union? Or will it be the giant multinational companies, markets, pension funds, and rating agencies? Political leaders or judges? The media, scientists, or engineers?” And he concludes: “What is clear is that all this requires a foreign policy that is neither static, nor defensive, nor merely declaratory. Nor can it be arrogant, since you need allies.”

Védrine obviously speaks for France: the first chapter of the book is entitled “France in the World.”  But he often thinks about the United States: the chapter immediately following is “How to deal with the United States?” Although he does not make this point prominent in this book, Védrine has said many times that he is more concerned by prospects of international chaos than he is by the might of the American superpower.

Here, he merely reminds the reader that responsible and capable governments are necessary to manage globalization. Yet today the five largest global companies have an annual turnover equal to the GNP of 132 members of the United Nations. In the global era, who will regulate whom? Who will organize whom?

Moïsi asks: “You underline that the West is the leader of globalization. Isn’t that a good thing?” Védrine replies: “Yes, so long as we remember that non-Westerners - the great majority - 5 billion out of 6 billion! - increasingly accept universal values of Western origin but resent the way we claim to impose those values on them, all together. They also resent the way  we try to take advantage of their new willingness to accept these values.”

Védrine calls for more involvement of developing countries in the adoption of joint rules, and asks that private financial actors become more responsible about the social and political consequences of their decisions.

Does terrorism make globalization obsolete? Védrine does not answer this question, but notes that, “globalization comes from way back, having been driven by the spirit of conquest and technical progress. Short of going back to the Crusades, it was the European colonial expansion starting in the 16th century that marked the beginning of the globalization that we now see triumphant. It was the world wars - in fact the extension to the rest of the world of European conflicts - which led the United States to fulfill the role that it plays to this day.” It is too early to tell whether the war against terrorism will consolidate or undermine America’s global role.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2001.