Interview: Former French Diplomat Hubert Vedrine on China and a West 'In Disarray' ; Former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Author of 'History Strikes Back,' Offers a Realist View on a Central Challenge for Europe and the United States: The Rise of China

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Hubert Vedrine is one of France's foremost foreign affairs thinkers, articulating a "realist" view on what he calls a "West in disarray." Mr. Vedrine served as foreign minister of France from 1997 to 2002. Philip Gordon, the new US point man on Europe, translated Vedrine's latest book, "History Strikes Back," shortly before joining the Obama administration. The Monitor sat down with Vedrine last week at his Paris office overlooking the Seine to discuss to "a post-American world," the China threat, and whether Europe will cease to regard itself as a "great Switzerland," as Vedrine puts it. Q: The so called "Eurabia" question is a hot one in Europe - how to deal with new cultures and peoples, especially Muslims. The Swiss vote in November to ban minarets is one of many examples. Does this have repercussions for international relations? A: My starting point is that "the West" was a conceptual revolution. The Europeans, then Americans, had total mastery over power, concepts, and values for several centuries. This is coming to an end, with huge consequences. Two issues arise as things change: One is how the West will react. Will it be defensive or violent? Or, will there be an intelligent management toward "relative leadership" - shared power and order. The second question is globalization and its meaning. In my view, globalization is both extraordinary on an economic level -- but also extraordinarily violent on "identity" and the politics that flow from that. On this, I don't share Thomas Friedman's point of view. Q: What are the main differences here between US and Europe? A: American policy has gone through different moments and trends. Robert Kagan's view in "The Return of History" is a caricature, but not entirely wrong. The US has retained a culture of power and force. They are not deluded idealists, whereas, since World War II, Europeans cultivated an illusion of becoming a great Switzerland. The Europeans have hope in a post-historic, post- traumatic, post-identity world -- a great international community. It would be possible if there were 6.5 billion Europeans on the planet! That's why I think America's attitude is in general more realistic, even though sometimes, the US uses force badly. Q. You sound like Europe is in denial. A: Partly. The European states have all pursued nationalistic, colonial policies and used force in the past. They now nurture the illusion that these policies are over for everyone. The fall of the [Berlin] wall gave way to absurd interpretations. The US thought it had won, history was over since there were no disagreements any longer. The European had a Kantian interpretation. Even now, the Europeans have a hard time getting back into the strategic debate. My view is a minority one here. When I was foreign minister, I told my socialist friends that we were not an international community yet, and power struggles still existed. They told me I was a cynic. I'm more comfortable with the American debate. I'm interested in what Kissinger, Scowcroft, Fukuyama, and what some neocons say. They are relevant, whereas the European thinking is sometimes irrelevant. With Americans, even when we disagree, we know what the discussion is about. European speeches, especially those of the commission, the parliament or other European institutions, sometimes make you wonder what world they are living in. Q: Obviously, the rise of China concerns both Europe and the US, centrally. A: China's rise is unsettling. It was also foreseeable. Chinese energy, liberated by [Paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping and multiplied by the number of inhabitants, is very worrying. If there were 50 million Chinese people, we wouldn't be discussing China's rise. We should have anticipated that a long time ago. Jiang Zemin feared the West's reaction to the point that he coined the expression 'Pacific emergence.' China is now in a position to say 'No,' which is evidence of the end of the West's monopoly. …