Situation in the Middle East

By Villepin, Dominique de | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, March 3, 2003 | Go to article overview

Situation in the Middle East


Villepin, Dominique de, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


It is an honour for me to be here today to deliver the annual lecture given in memory of Alastair Buchan, the founder of your institute.In these moments of crisis, a place of intellect and reflection such as yours shows its real importance. It is a forum for exchange and debate vital to thought, an essential laboratory for action.

I am speaking to you at a decisive moment in our history. At a serious moment, when the United Kingdom is engaged in the military operations in Iraq. I naturally wish that this conflict finds a swift conclusion with the minimum possible number of casualties.

And in this time of trial, I come to you in a spirit of respect, friendship and dialogue. With the clear awareness that your country is at war and your soldiers at risk, I come here to look to the future, beyond the current differences between our two countries.

I believe that we will only overcome the current obstacles if we take a clear and frank measure of our divisions. I am certain that, in the troubled world in which we live, we need unity more than ever before. And I hope to show you a French vision that aims to build and re-establish dialogue.

France and the United Kingdom have particular responsibilities as permanent members of the UN Security Council. They should exercise these responsibilities in pursuit of the same goal: international stability, security and peace. This implies working together to define the balance required for any international action: law, force and justice.

Where were we ten years ago?

The end of the Cold War changed our world. Law was placed at the centre of international concerns. Its relationship with force was profoundly changed.

For nearly fifty years, nuclear deterrence had guaranteed order. Both the West and the Communist world knew that the use of force would result in untold devastation on both sides. War would have meant the failure of deterrence and the unthinkable apocalypse.

Yet, with the end of the Cold War, force came back as a policy option. It could be envisaged again, because its cost was no longer disproportionate.Yet it was rarely used. Because the assertion of Western values met with little opposition. Because the United States was moderate in its use of force. Indeed, it has always been true that only moderation makes power acceptable. As Thucydides remarked in ancient times: "We should be praised for being more just than our available power would normally imply."

However, no international order can be based solely on what the powers-that-be want it to be based. Collective norms were hence defined to contain the use of force within the bounds of collective responsibility.

This new order met with considerable success.

It curbed territorial aggression. In 1991, respect for the rule of law and the use of force drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Any similar invasion would surely be met today with an immediate and forceful reaction from the international community.

This order also brought assistance to the populations who fell victim to civil war, authoritarian regimes and natural disasters. Following the Gulf War, operation Provide Comfort stopped the flow of Kurdish refugees into Turkey and helped them to return to Northern Iraq. It paved the way for the right of humanitarian intervention and major UN operations: in Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, East Timor and Sierra Leone.

And not least, the new order helped define a set of standards that made force available to a law based on humanist values. Respect for the individual, the defence of freedoms, and the fight against poverty and epidemics were all given the force of law.

Yet this balance between law and force did not solve all security problems. Firstly, it did not solve the question of Iraq's disarmament, other than with a policy of sanctions that hit primarily the Iraqi people. …

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