Read My Lips

Reconnecting Paris and Washington

Is there more common ground between Europe and the U.S. than many might think?


U.S.-French relations have been turbulent for some years and came to a head over the Iraq war. Now, both sides are trying to find a better footing with each other. In this Read My Lips feature — adapted from a November 2004 speech — we present some of the most poignant thoughts from France's President Jacques Chirac on this touchy subject.

What forms the essence of the transatlantic partnership?

“Our world is witnessing a spread of terrorism that nothing, no cause, can justify. The international community needs to be united in the face of this outburst of blind, barbaric violence.”

Does that spirit of cooperation extend to Iraq?

“The entire international community is united in its aim to give back the Iraqi people, in all their diversity, their dignity through regained freedom, return them to their full place in the international community — and enable them to contribute, by their stability, to balance in the region.”

How would you describe the world today?

“A world that is fervently seeking new balances, that is teetering between hope and chaos.”

What explains part of this unsettledness?

“The collapse of communism had far-reaching implications, which we are only just starting to gauge. Following our victory, we chose globalization in the hope that trade would unify the world in prosperity.”

Did this strategy work out?

“In regions in crisis, nostalgia for the past and religious fundamentalism appear as shelters from the storm. In a globalized world, not paying attention to this is tantamount to paving the way for the clash of civilizations.”

What's your preferred solution?

“Dialogue between cultures, civilizations and religions is the best response to the enemies of freedom who count on conflict between them.”

What is one important lesson to keep in mind in that regard?

“We must avoid any confusion between democratization and Westernization.”

What about other approaches?

“It is still possible to organize the world based on a logic of power. Yet, experience has taught us that this type of organization is — by its very definition — unstable and sooner or later leads to crisis or conflict.”

Could this approach be described as un-European?

“Europe has created a model: After totalitarianism, two World Wars, the Holocaust and nearly 50 years of Cold War, it decided to break free of the power games. This has made the European Union an original and exemplary international player.”

What does this mean in practical terms?

“The dialogue that Europe is developing with the new poles of the 21st century — China, India, Brazil and all the groups of countries such as Mercosur, ASEAN and the African Union — is helping to further our values, respect for international law and world stability.”

Why, in your view, are the Europeans credible in that mission?

“Europe carries the message of reconciliation with past enemies. It bears witness to the force of law, co-operation and solidarity.”

Do we then face a transatlantic divide?

“Europe and the United States each have our history — and our way of looking at things.”

Is one side more important — or powerful — than the other?

“We live in a single world. A world in which the United States' choices — and Europe's choices — have a decisive impact.”

Will Washington ever be ready for such balance?

“Forty years ago, President Kennedy called for a balanced partnership to be forged between the two sides of the Atlantic. France, with the European Union, shares this vision.”

Is a more active European defense force a threat to the Untied States?

“Building a credible European defense system is obviously not, as is sometimes said, about building up a Europe against the United States. It is about giving Europe the capabilities to assume its responsibilities either independently, in liaison with the Atlantic Alliance — or within it.”

Finally, what is the hardest — and yet most unavoidable — lesson for Washington to accept?

“It is by recognizing the new reality of a multipolar and interdependent world that we will succeed in building a sounder and fairer international order.”

By the way, is the multipolar order such a new thing?

“The balance of the multipolar world taking shape is based on a harmonious partnership between the major poles — and the assertion of the values and vision of the founding fathers of the United Nations who, immediately following the Second World War, defined an international order based on law and justice.”

All quotes are excerpted from President Chirac’s speech at The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on November 18, 2004.

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