As France beefs up its troops in war-torn Ivory Coast, where its
soldiers are already fighting antigovernment rebels, Paris is
sending a clear diplomatic message to the world.
"France is back," says Dominique Moisi, a top political analyst
here, after seven years of divided government that all but paralyzed
French influence in international affairs.
At the United Nations, in the councils of the European Union, and
now in France's old stamping grounds of Africa, newly re-elected
President Jacques Chirac, with a fresh parliamentary majority behind
him, is flexing French muscles on the world stage with unaccustomed
The effects have been felt at the UN Security Council, where
France took a leading role in negotiations with the United States
over the wording of the resolution demanding that Iraq submit to
The signs are clear in the European Union, where France and
Germany have united as the duo that has traditionally provided the
union's engine. Earlier this month they obliged Turkey to put its
hopes of EU membership on hold for another two years; before that
they set EU farm policy in a private deal that other members were
not strong enough to change.
And now in West Africa, Paris has abandoned its policy of leaving
African nations to resolve African crises and launched its biggest
military operation on the continent in more than 20 years, with
2,500 men to be deployed in Ivory Coast by the end of this week.
"This marks a shift in French policy in Africa," says Roland
Marchal, an expert on Africa at the Center for International Studies
and Research in Paris. "It's new, and it's very much a result of
Chirac feeling secure enough to take a quite risky initiative now he
has a parliamentary majority" and a sympathetic government, after
seven years of "cohabitation" with a hostile Socialist prime
That period was marked by a sense of frustration in France that
the country - which has traditionally seen itself as a global
standard bearer of universal values - was unable to make its
presence felt abroad while US power grew. Since elections in June,
however, Mr. Chirac has enjoyed a free hand in foreign policy that
has clearly emboldened him.
New signals on Iraq
This new atmosphere is likely to influence French policy toward
Iraq, should the US go to war against Baghdad.
Warning that the prospect of an internationally sanctioned war
"should by no means be ruled out," Chirac said recently that in such
an event "France will know how to assume her responsibilities."
That was a clear hint that "if there is a UN decision against
Iraq, France will definitely participate in operations," says Dr.
Moisi, of the French International Relations Institute, a think tank
in Paris. "And if the US goes it alone, France will regret it
diplomatically, but offer help on the side, such as bases and the
use of airspace."
For the time being, around 36,000 French troops are engaged in
foreign operations, mostly peacekeeping, from Kabul to the Balkans
and Africa. The most dangerous is currently the mission in Ivory
Coast, where French soldiers came under fire from a rebel convoy
outside the western town of Duekoue Saturday, before destroying it. …