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Friday, 21 February, 2003, 10:26 GMT
Is France right to force a split on Iraq?
The Nato alliance is facing its greatest internal row in 20 years, with France at the forefront of growing resistance to the United States' plans for war against Iraq.
Nato ambassadors are resuming emergency talks in Brussels in an attempt to resolve a damaging dispute over when to start military preparations against Iraq.
France, along with Germany and Belgium, on Monday blocked Alliance plans to begin shipping defensive equipment to Turkey - the only Nato member bordering Iraq.
On Friday France's UN ambassador said the inspectors were producing results and they should continue their work.
Is France right to force a split? Who do you blame for the Nato row? Can the rift be healed? Will Nato suffer long-term damage over this row?
Thank you for your comments; this debate is now closed. A selection of your e-mails is published below.
The French approach seems the most hypocritical of all, following the bleating calls for "no war" from the populace; Chirac is asserting his role in the EU while undermining Nato and ignoring its members' calls for assistance. Chirac will doubtless side with the USA when it comes to the crunch, but meanwhile he has the support that rides on anti American sentiment in France. It is a pity that Europe cannot provide a check on to any Tin Pot dictator/murderer that appears in the world (let alone Europe) but will still deride the USA's ability to tackle the harder and expensive issues that no other country is capable of or can afford.
Jeff Kennedy, Cleveland, USA
France is completely right in keeping the war fever down.
Any president except our cowboy would be sophisticated
enough to control the Middle East with diplomacy.
N Korea is our problem, right after making America secure
I am not only appalled by what France and Germany said, but with the arrogance and contempt they showed to other countries. I hope that both France and Germany suffer from lack of business opportunities and tourism dollars. Our planned vacation to France has certainly been cancelled. At a time when we need cooperation and peace among all countries, France and Germany have ended all possibilities of that peace by being nothing more than arrogant bullies.
Appeasement has never worked, but it is actually unsurprising that both France and Germany are trying to make us believe it will - they're just honouring old policies dating back to the dark days of 1936 (remember Munich and Checkoslovakia?). Will Nato survive the test of this split caused by Belgium, France and Germany? Of course it will. Those three countries are in the minority: most of Nato, including fortunately my country, is behind the US and the UK in their drive to disarm Saddam (and hopefully drive him out of power).
While everyone is busy demonizing Bush and the US over plans to "Dominate the world..." Saddam could very easily take over the middle east, and Kim Jong Il could very easily take over the Pacific Rim. When the nukes hit Europe, and it is found they came from these dictators, will Europeans still be so ignorant as to blame Bush? 0f course. .
Why does everybody talk about France and Germany being ahead of the rest of the world in terms of diplomacy? France and Germany have caused an open split in the UN and Nato whilst causing long-term damage to transatlantic relations, all in open view of Saddam Hussein. This isn¿t good diplomacy, it¿s a diplomatic disaster, whose first casualty is our only chance for peace, i.e. the possibility of convincing Saddam Hussein that diplomatic games will fail, leaving peaceful disarmament as is his only viable alternative to war.
I am a European French citizen who has lived in the U.S.A.
for one year and who has friends there. I have also
spent approximately 7 years of my life in India.
I look forward to the future when the UN security
council will have among its permanent members
a representative of the EU (instead of Great-Britain
and France), a representative of India, etc.
When this is the case, the US won't be able
to try to oppose one part of Europe to another one.
I was glad to see the huge demonstrations
in London (I took part to the one in Paris).
Alan D Barbour, Fresno, California USA
I don't understand why everybody is poking its noses everywhere in the world. Why can't they mind their own business? They go into a country, make the country so poor by ruining, bombing its beautiful structures, history, people and then give them loans and indebt them so they will have to do whatever is asked of them without their opinion. What kind of justice is this? I hate Politics. Listen to the people, THEY DON'T LIKE WAR!!!!
France & Germany were not attacked on 9/11, therefore they act like "peace lovers" today. In the end, their opinion will not matter anyway. They are fallen powers of an old era. When Americans stop buying horrible French wines and German cars, they will quickly start acting like good allies. In the end France & Germany are trying to squeeze the last few dollars out of Saddam.
France has every right to question Bush's lust war. France has it own economic interests. However at least they have sense enough to preserve these interests peacefully rather than with blood.
As I understand the history of this rift, the French and Germans colluded together and kept their agenda secret from the US and UK. Had they nailed their colours to the mast from the start, all the pros would have disagreed with them, but respected their stance far more, and discussions between them could have continued whilst there was more time to pull back from the brink. It's not what they did - it's the way they did it.
I am ashamed by the French and German attitude. Both elites have forgotten that without NATO and especially the US, Western Europe would have fallen under Soviet domination. Poor Chirac is obsessed with the idea of past French grandeur and Schröder is striving to regain popularity in Germany. Without mentioning the lovely war France is fighting right now in Ivory Coast. Since I am a French citizen, I am really thinking about asking for political asylum either in the UK or the US...
Peace has other advantages, not only for France, not only for oil.
I think the US should simply withdraw from the world and let everyone sort out their own problems. Why does America have to spend blood and money to protect the world?
I simply cannot believe the American government is as dumb as it acts. I think this is a joint plan between the US and Europe to disarm Iraq: the US plays the bully, Europe tries to restrain them while telling Iraq : "you'd better disarm before we cant hold them anymore". Iraq disarms and everyone is happy. Perhaps a new strategy for conflict prevention?
As an American, I am thoroughly embarrassed at all of the talk of WWII. I'll subscribe to that nonsense when Colin Powell finds a tape of Hitler and Charles de Gaulle making shady deals with al-Qaeda. Wake up, my fellow Americans, it's been DECADES! Let "The Big One" go!
France and Germany's attitude toward Bush's unjustifiable behaviour actually increase my respect for them. Don't be dismayed. Americans will vote Mr. Bush out at next elections. He doesn't have my support in almost any action he is taking right now. We are all wondering for whom he is fighting for! Let's all do all we can to stop this madness!
Once it's determined that Saddam has chemical weapons and is willing to use them at any cost, will France & Germany lead that charge to disarm Saddam by sending in their troops or will they rely on the U.S. & UK to do that for them. You cannot honestly feel that negotiations can be done with a dictator like Saddam. I am not pro-war, but I am afraid of the consequences if we wait too long. NATO must make a decision and all countries must work together on this!
The 20% of France that is FOR the war is probably composed of people who lived through WWII, and know that the horrors that come from appeasing dictators is far worse than the consequences of dealing with them head on, even if that means a pre-emptive war. The younger generations in France should listen carefully to them.
How is it that France is willing to send troops to Ivory Coast, which is engaged in a rebel war but not willing to send troops to Iraq, which is ruled by a mad man. Furthermore, is it the USA that is engaging in isolationism or is it Belgium, France, and Germany. After all, virtually every country in Europe supports the US on this position, except the countries mentioned above. One other point, did not France pull out of the military NATO alliance in 1963, so why are they given a voice in regards to defence?
NATO is a defensive pact. When US attack Iraq none of the other members are required to help America. If Turkey is willing to join in the aggressive war they can't expect support from others. If Iraq attacks Turkey first than all members HAVE to defend a member of alliance. As it stands now we all know very well that there is no chance in hell that Iraq would ever attack Turkey first. That would be suicide because of Turkish military force. I think it is end of NATO which is obsolete. I also don't see what else governments of Germany and France can do when huge % of their populations oppose the war. These are democracies not monarchies.
Gerry C, Sweden
I was a soldier in war in Croatia and Bosnia and I know what war is. War doesn't have none light or good side. People will die on the both sides and mothers will cry from the both sides. So please don't start a war, try with conversations or other peaceful methods. Nobody have any good from it.
Why are Americans, all of a sudden, trying to remind Europe of its commitments towards America which date back to the WWII? It's out of the question that the US played a crucial role in liberating Europe from the Nazi occupation. However, when I hear now American MPs who are bitter about the European stance ie German and French, I feel it's absurd.
How can Americans intimidate those countries with possible eg boycott of products, withdrawal of the US troops from Germany? After all, the WWII made it possible for the USA to emerge as a world superpower. It's not that the US was a disinterested saviour of the needy Europe during the WWII. There were huge economic interests involved, as always unfortunately.
The new missile discovery raises the stakes. With a range of over a hundred miles, wherever this missile is stationed in the world it will be within striking distance of an American military base.
Nato is at an end finally. Lets have the Americans protect their free world and we get on with creating a European Union of tolerance with our own defence system, independent from America and their world dominating ambitions.
April-Liesel, Los Angeles, California, USA
Some Americans, before pointing French as cowards should not forget their own history. Thanks to the French, Americans are Americans and not British. As a second point, being a friend does not mean to agree on everything, in a blind manner. Countries and people have the right to have different opinion. That's call freedom. It seems that the U.S. government is a little upset by this freedom.
Prove us that France is wrong, not by insulting the French people, but by providing real proofs.
It's about time that the US rethinks of its position and interest at NATO. NATO needs the US more than the US needs NATO. Let's see what happens when the Americans declare withdrawal from NATO.
Bush policy is extremely dangerous for the stability of the world. As most of the readers mentioned the NATO is a defence treaty not an attack treaty. And it is useless anyway. Bush put everybody at risk with his gamble. And which would be the next country attacked? North Korea? Pakistan?
Quite a few American people are also against this war. But it is not politically correct to say so too loud.
Is it cowardice not to jump from the roof when you can take the stairs?
Gyuri, Budapest, Hungary
While many of my fellow Americans would probably agree that our administration has marched too quickly to war, we also understand that the immensity of the US war machine has a life of its own. We have moved beyond the point of no return, and we have committed our national prestige and untold billions of dollars. This effort is being done at a staggering cost to US taxpayers. The festering sore that is Iraq's regime needs to be dealt with, and quickly, lest its uncertainties push the US into a truly deep economic downturn that will send shockwaves across the Atlantic and into Asia. Let's come together and be done with Saddam once and forever.
Yes, it is unfair for Americans to bring up World War II as a means of making the French feel guilty for not supporting us should we go to war with Iraq, as well as to say things about them being cowards. However, those who say the US is doing this just for oil should realize that French oil companies have lucrative deals with the regime in Baghdad and are certainly worried about the prospect of losing those deals with a regime change. I don't believe Paris opposes this war because of altruistic reasons. I believe they oppose it because of their economic ties to Iraq and because they finally have enough political momentum to oppose to the US on something.
War should be averted at any cost. The French leadership understands the feelings of their own people, and people all over the world.
Congratulations to anyone who is attempting to arrest a selfish war effort. I am a white, Christian Canadian with every sympathy for the Iraqis, as I lived in Jordan. They are suffering under UN sanctions and under an oppressive regime. However, destroying their infrastructure is not going to help. France, Germany and all other Nato members opposing the war are still committed to peace, and finding a non-violent solution to this crisis. America seems set on "bomb diplomacy". Every day in the news I read of a new concession by Iraq and Bush saying it still isn't enough. One has to ask: What on earth is enough?
Moira O, Los Angeles, USA
I'd like to point out that 80% of French are against a war and that's not because we're big cowards, and we haven't forgotten the millions people who died to save France in the Second World War. But I don't agree with the aim of this war. The USA and the UK helped us in WW II but we didn't ask the Germans to start a war again us! They helped us because we were in danger but we don't support the US point of view because it doesn't merit a war and they don't need any help.
Congratulations to Germany, France and Russia and I hope that China will join them in keeping Bush and Blair and all their blind followers from entering into a pointless war. Powell and his British counterparts know all about Iraq's weapons because they have the receipts from when Hussein was killing Iranians in their name.
Pawe, Cracow, Poland
If France is that forgetful, please give back the Statue of Liberty and rejoin the British empire. Thank you.
The history of the second world war taught France nothing at all. No wonder they just oppose anything in the matter of Iraq. I would be ashamed to be a Frenchman.
Arthur Kholobikian, Moscow, Russia
Finally we see a country stand up and resist US and its mad policies. What France has meant with this action is that the US cannot rule the world whenever they want. Now France and people who are against the war are being insulted by US press and its allies. As a Turkish citizen I see how Turkish right-wing press attacks France and support US and Turkish army over Northern Iraq(Kurdistan) though 80% of Turks against the war.
Chirac has delusions of returning France to the world stage. Unfortunately, for all the Francophiles out there, the current "crisis" is merely a diplomatic effort by the French Government to win a promise that its post-sanctions oil deals with Iraq will be honoured. The second the French government thinks it's going to be left out of the loop it will capitulate.
It was with deep distaste that I saw the French, Germans and Belgians force a split in NATO. I grew up during the Cold War. To us, as children, the only thing keeping us safe was NATO. Difficult to imagine in a Post Cold War world and very difficult to explain to my children but I was very upset to see the body that was our shining White Knight undermined for political gains by countries that either didn't participate when it was most needed or benefited the most from British and American troops defending them.
We the French people are very close friend of the American people - as for the UK - but being friends doesn't mean to always saying yes. No we are not cowards, we know what's a war and if it's possible to avoid it we will stand on that. I'm particularly proud that our government is doing what almost 80 % of French people are thinking. Is it the same elsewhere ?
What we are seeing is a NATO and EU member not willing to support a fellow NATO member (Turkey). This is the end of NATO, and with a bit of luck the beginning of the end of the EU, God bless US and UK, good luck in Iraq.
The French have every right to object to a war with Iraq, but this is a NATO matter of which France is a member state and therefore should comply with its obligations towards other member states.
Scott, Leeds UK
France has shown more sensible foresight then America can show hindsight to its Vietnam fiasco, and learn absolutely nothing from it. The difference between France and compliant nations like Australia and the UK, is that France has actually listened to its citizens. Now that is democracy at work.
Ask yourself, why are the French taking this stance and supporting a brutal regime? For peace? The French are only ever interested in themselves. Do they have something to hide? Have they been dealing with Iraqi in disregard for UN sanctions? We will all find out soon enough I fear.
Clapdorp Tom, Antwerp, Belgium
Yes, someone needs to stand up to Bush and his thirst for war. I hope many more countries join France, Germany and Belgium. Let the US make a case and let them go it alone.
France is not going against this war to protect it's own interests, France is standing up for itself and showing the USA that they will not be pushed around and forced into a war that they do not want! The USA has the UK under the thumb but we need Europe to remain strong and we need support to block this war! It's nothing but global suicide.
I cannot believe the audacity of France when it was they who went against the whole world's wishes when conducting their last phase of nuclear testing.
Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander?
Of course no one wants a war but I am sure France has some sort of hidden agenda for them to come to the forefront of this issue.
Chirac is acting like a true statesman in standing up to the bullyboy Bush and his crazy illegal war. Contrast Tony Blair, the posturing lapdog, blindly following his US master. I am ashamed to be British, and Blair will never have my vote again.
When it comes to Le Crunch - the French, Le Poulet
The arrogant French are only protecting their own financial interests (under the guise of peace) with Iraq, pathetic oil deals and such. This is typical of the cowards, never able to stand up for the right thing and make a difference on their own. I'm utterly surprised just how quickly they've forgotten how many American boys died freeing their country.
NATO is no longer relevant to the political map of the Northern Hemisphere since the cold war ended. I fear this split will spell the end of the treaty.
I thought France left the alliance in 1966. Maybe it is time to enforce that decision. Belgium seems to be the odd man out. I mean this is not the first time! In 1990 they refused to send Britain artillery shells.
France has a short memory. America and Britain liberated them from the Nazis, and protected them throughout the Cold War. Becoming appeasers now and ignoring their NATO obligations is a truly shameful way of behaving.
I think France, Germany and Belgium should not be blamed. What they are doing should be supported for the sake of prevention of war. Though the splitting of NATO is an undesirable effect, I believe the disputes and differences can be solved, but it takes time. I am looking forward to see the new role of NATO, not just the traditional "yes man" of the USA. It should and must have the courage to say no and now is the time.
Whether you see France as right or wrong here, this is another prime example of America throwing a tantrum if they do not get their own way. The "name calling" in American papers aimed at anyone who opposes the United States really shows that the American education system has failed dismally.
France just acts in the opposite way to the UK and the USA whatever the particular issue. They didn't think of our farmer's human rights whilst they were blatantly breaking European laws! And their history of human rights with the Algerians is absolutely abysmal. Plus their nuclear weapons testing in the southern hemisphere (half a world away from their own back door) was diabolical.
The US states that France is provoking a crisis, what a joke! Everything possible should be done to prevent war, and even if France is only doing so for their own political gain it should be highly commended. The USA is once again trying to bully countries into supporting their second rate thinking and every country who resists them should be applauded.
Bravo France! It is the aggressive and unreasonable behaviour of the right-wing US administration that is damaging NATO. France is simply in step with mainstream European public opinion, including most Britons.
I believe America is wrong to criticise France and 'old Europe' for wanting to go the extra mile for peace. It's true that Saddam has been playing brinkmanship for 12 years, but there has been a fair bit of movement since the USA started to give its backing to the UN. And US attempts to criticise the French for not assisting the country that liberated them are just plain offensive.
Nelson Pelaelo, UK/Botswana
I believe NATO should have been disbanded long ago. It was created in the atmosphere of the Cold War to counter the supposed threat from the Communist bloc. Now such a threat no longer exists there is thus no reason for NATO to exist, as there is no longer anything for NATO to be a deterrent to. More worryingly there is nothing that can act as a deterrent to it. NATO now has free reign to act at will in any theatre it chooses, and that such a powerful organisation can do so unchecked is simply wrong.
I think France should be thrown out of NATO altogether. Every time NATO has been involved in a conflict, France is always reluctant to get involved or they 'accidentally' send their ships to the wrong place or they 'forget' to send some planes with their aircraft carrier. Any member who is not a full member and deliberately tries to avoid getting involved in conflicts (whether it is justified or not) should not be in a position where they can block other members from taking action.
I respect France very much. It has proved that its opinion is independent in spite of the US pressure. Not only did France objected the US war, but also it is determined in its attitude for finding a peaceful solution for the Iraq crisis and that's makes me appreciate this country and its President tremendously.
So the schoolyard bully is once again his toys out the pram. Tough. America is not the only country in the world. You might have the most weapons and make the most pollution but the rest of the world didn't vote for George Bush. Neither did most of the US. So why should Bush and Rumsfeld control the planet?
Ahmed, New Zealand
Why is it that every time the US has a disagreement with Europe, the Americans haul out that hoary old chestnut of how they saved Europe and Europe should be grateful?
Even taking the most cynical view of French actions, France has a right to look after her own interests, just as America did when we turned the other way while we knew Saddam was gassing the Kurds.
The United States should not dictate policy to Nato. The mutual defence organisation should represent mutual views, not the bias of the United States.
France, riding on a worldwide anti-American wave, is attempting to take centre stage. Ultimately, the rift will grow between the US and its European allies. War is a terrible evil, but at times must be fought to secure the future of freedom loving people.
France is saying inspection should be given a chance.
The US says inspections do not have a chance even if increased by 1000 times their size. Was not the whole confrontation started because the US wanted these so called intrusive inspections that included Saddam's residences in the first place ? Now after the inspections proved the Blair dossier as a bunch of lies, they are an embarrassment.
My hope is that the French people will speak more loudly than their current leadership and demand that for the safety of France, Europe and the world, Saddam Hussein finally be brought to justice. Only then will a very unstable part of the world be at peace. This is not about the United States vs. Iraq, it's about Iraq threatening the world community. France must assume her place of responsibility and join the vast majority of European countries in standing firm against a brutal regime.
Anyone who really believes France is acting on principle is deluding themselves. This is more about post-war oil contracts and French pride in their supposed world influence than about preserving peace. When the war starts, just watch them rush to send a token force of French troops with feathers in their caps to a safe distance behind the front. They're talking openly here of the Paris-Berlin-Moscow Axis. Hands up who thinks that will make the world a safer place!
Tim Kelly, Sacramento, USA
France is absolutely right. Someone has to stand up against Anglo-American fascism. All those countries who are allegedly supporting the USA have been blackmailed/threatened into the so called "US alliance". Nobody in this planet supports the aggression on Iraq except Israel, USA and Britain. Weapons of mass destruction? USA has them all, they invented them, they use them and they threaten to use them again! Should the world be silent? Bravo France!
As an American, I say we completely pull out of NATO, pull back from Iraq and let countries like France see what it's like to have the burden of protecting the free world for a while. France is using this crisis as a way to make a name for itself. Most Americans view this as France leaving the world at danger because they want to prove themselves to the rest of the world. I say let them prove themselves by leaving them to deal with Sadaam!
Pierre Massabki, Paris, France
I suspect a split within his opposition is just what Saddam Hussein wants. France is playing into his hands. He is a clever man, who has managed not to cooperate enough to satisfy the US and its allies, yet just managed to show enough cooperation to get countries like France to say 'give the inspectors more time'. What we need more than anything is unity against Saddam Hussein.
I still don't know what the French and the Germans need that will prove to them that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous man not to Britain and the USA but to world peace. He, Mugabe, and other dictators like them, should be stopped by force. In situations like this where every diplomatic move has been exhausted what else can do the job except absolute force? The USA and Britain should lead a coalition of the willing to disarm Saddam. Who are they to hold the world at ransom like this. Enough is enough.
Nato has the obligation to defend a member only if it is attacked and in this moment I do not see any country attacking Turkey. It is annoying, the arrogance of the Bush administration and his allies Great Britain which want to attack a country without ONU support. If they attack Iraq and kill innocent people they should be judged as war criminals by international laws. They did not present conclusive evidence that Iraq has WMDs so the only logical reason to attack Iraq seems to be its oil resources.
Andrei Yakovlev, Moscow, Russia
Jay Leno may have stated it best when he said, "How can we (US) expect France to help us get Saddam out of Iraq? We couldn't even get France to help us get Germany out of France!"
Isn't it ironic that the French are blocking the defence of one of their Nato allies, yet they sold Saddam all the nuclear technology he had and Mirage planes they have modified for chemical weapons delivery? The French are guilty of arming Saddam and they are afraid of what the Americans will find there after the war.
Lisa, Tel Aviv, Israel
France is not forcing the split. The US (along with toadying Britain) is the country threatening to break international law. France is trying to uphold it.
Some people say the French are doing this purely for their own political ends. Might I ask what is wrong with that? Some people should learn that the US is not the leader of the free world, I do not remember anyone electing them to that post. The US has already used Nato for its own purposes before, now that other countries use Nato to stop the US, suddenly it is wrong.
A Ashley, Madrid, Spain
It seems that France has a rather short memory. It might be to its advantage to remember who saved it from Hitler. It is also evident from its position that its economic ties in the Middle East greatly influences its stance. I wonder what its response will be when the USA and its real allies, in the process of disarming Iraq, are bombed with the chemical weapons they claim do not exist.
Short memories indeed, as Gerry of Sweden notes. If I remember correctly wasn't it France that opted out of active participation in Nato for decades during the 70s and 80s, only to rejoin with much pomp after the Cold War was deemed to be over.
What a surprise - France takes the moral high ground, and will expect to benefit no matter which way the crisis ends.
David, Glasgow, Scotland
Of course France is right to stand up for sanity against US greed and blood-lust. The vast majority of Britons agree with Jacques Chirac on this. What we should ask is why Blair is not doing the same.
France has the right to decide its own international relations. It is a nuclear power with large capacity of interference in the world arena. Of course the Americans are used to be the single voice in the world, but they aren't. This is a good time to give them notice of this.
Pepe, Basingstoke, UK
How come everybody keeps saying it is the Europeans that force the split on Iraq? I think the blame for the current crisis should be placed with the US, after all they began this bullying tactics against the wishes of the majority of this planet.
France has every right to voice its concerns. Equally so does the United States President to include the direction we are headed with Iraq. Germany, France and Belgium are not Europe. As far as the division in Nato it has existed for quite some time and the gap would have increased without Iraq. This same gap is slowly emerging within the eurozone and will continue. The differences are far too great to expect anything else.
Vive la France! So good to see common sense prevailing over the Channel, such a shame that Bush and his poodle don't care about public opinion, international opinion or international law.
John, London, UK
France has its own existing oil interests in Iraq, but I feel this "split" is a good thing, as people like Rumsfeld especially feel they can steamroller and bully the rest of the world into letting the US grab whatever they want worldwide whilst pretending to have the moral high ground.
Is France forcing a split? The French dare to express a different opinion to the US and are promptly and crudely abused by Rumsfeld and Powell. Divisions in Nato have always existed, it's a membership organisation. The difference is that up to now these have been worked out diplomatically. As Bush and his team are finding out, negotiation by shouting insults generally doesn't work.
14 Sep 02 | Europe
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