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Georges Ugeux Headshot

Is France Capable of International Cooperation?

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The Libyan situation has exposed something that those who operate in the international arena have always been worried about: France's inability to enter into a collective action without leading it... or without interpreting the rules as it sees fit for its own public opinion or interests. In other words, it has a deeply rooted difficulty to genuinely cooperate with other nations and trust them.

The Libyan situation has been a sad example of that sort of Gallic need to play solo or to interpret its agreement in a self-benefiting distorted way. It is also the source of the mistrust of France in international circles, despite a superb diplomatic corps. In the current French regime, even the government does not decide: only President Sarkozy does, only vaguely coordinating with his own ministers.

At the origin of this is a fundamental belief that what matters for France is to be seen and that there is no "glory" in being part of a successful team, unless the French lead it. For reasons that can only been explained by this week end's poor electoral results as well as polls that indicate that President Sarkozy might not even make the final round of presidential elections in 2012, the French president tried to be a "War Leader", a role he never performed before. For this, he dangerously -- and against substantial French interests in Libya -- decided to be at the vanguard of the fight against Muammar Gaddafi.

In order to achieve that role, he was prepared to ignore the elementary rules of the solidarity with the UN, NATO and the European Union.

Two days before the European Summit that was supposed to build a common position on Libya, the French president announced he was officially recognizing the insurgency and wanted Europe (who had no jurisdiction for that) to drop bombs on Libya. When the summit opened, he had antagonized his 26 partners, and the European Council did not agree with the French position. Back home, Sarkozy pretended the contrary.

Ignoring its allies, France is the only country that has recognized the insurgency and announced it was sending an Ambassador to Benghazi: why such precipitation and ignorance of the necessity of solidarity between Allies? Why this impulsive need to always be the first regardless of the consequences for the others? When will France come of age internationally?

Then there is the Paris Summit, where the president plays his role of Premier host of everybody in glory and pomp and announces that all this will be done in application of the Security Council decision # 1793. Once again, he portrays himself in a leadership position.

A few hours later, the French Air Force, without consulting its allies according to the Financial Times, strikes on Libya, not to provide the fly-free zone as decided by the UN, but kills deliberately on-the-ground Libyan forces who were retreating and by doing so provokes the angry reaction of the Arab League who, courageously, had supported the coalition... followed by the Union of Arab Countries.

When NATO meetings happen where the Secretary General expresses the disappointment of the allies, the French Ambassador leaves the room. France refuses to operate within NATO where it would not be able to lead: there is an integrated NATO command called SHAPE to which France belongs, but does not rule.

Last but not least, the French authorities redefine the mission of the coalition, not as a process to allow Libyans to decide democratically about their future as President Obama puts it, but as an operation to eliminate the Gaddafi regime, which provokes Vladimir Putin criticism of the "crusade". The French media deride his action as the Ninth Crusade.

In less than two weeks, for its own personal agenda, President Sarkozy managed to antagonize his partners of the European Union, of the United Nations, of NATO, of the Arab League and of the African Union. He single-handedly has created a despicable spirit of mistrust between the Allies and confirmed that this is a "colonialist" military coup to overthrow a regime.

All this for the pleasure of being the "Commander in Chief" or, as the French call him, their new Napoleon.