Sophie Clavier


A few years ago, Samuel P. Huntington's article in Foreign Affairs, "The Clash of Civilizations?" described a "West vs. the Rest" conflict leading to the assumption of an essentially unified Western civilization settling "[g]lobal political and security issues ... effectively ... by a directorate of the United States, Britain and France" and centered around common core values "using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will . . . protect Western interests . . . .” Against the West, the specter of disorder and fundamentalism was looming and would precipitate conflicts. This widely accepted dichotomy fails to take into account differences that exist within the 'West. These differences are not seen in European or American discourse, or in their diplomatic rhetoric, but they are apparent in the substantive meaning each assigns to concepts such as democracy, sovereignty, and the rule of law. An illustrative example of this point is the rift between the United States and France over the war in Iraq. This rift reached a crisis three years ago at the United Nations, and, notwithstanding diplomatic pleasantries, it is still very much alive. Hailed by some as a champion of peace and criticized by others as an irresponsible nation, France was singled out by the United States and British administrations as the culprit of the failure of diplomacy. There are many aspects to this quarrel. This Article concentrates specifically on the impact of the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war-the claim of the right to strike first and do so unilaterally-and the French reaction to it, as it pertains to international law. When the Bush Administration introduced its new strategic doctrine in the National Security Strategy of September 2002, the United States claimed the right to use force preemptively against any country or terrorist group that could potentially threaten American interests. Most United Nations members promptly rejected the Bush Doctrine as incompatible with the accepted view that armed force can only be used in self-defense against armed attack or when authorized by the Security Council. France emerged as the spokesperson, especially at the United Nations, of the worldwide opposition to the Bush Doctrine. As a result, much of the rebuttal coming from the United States was directed at France. Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. National Security Adviser at the time, was quoted as suggesting that U.S. policy should be to "[p]unish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia." This Article discusses the United States' and France's differing perspectives on the use of force in international law at the time of the crisis. More importantly, it will address the likelihood (or not) that the Bush approach could modify or alter existing international law and the role that France can play in this process. Finally, it will assert that while contrasting legal perspectives are topical, they cannot hide the underlying reasons for the ongoing quarrel between France and the United States. Political considerations, economic interests, and cultural issues are a fundamental part of any comprehensive understanding of the situation and are part and parcel of the relationship between international law and international politics in the current world order.

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