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Algora Publishing - Going It Alone, U.S. Upsets France
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Going It Alone, U.S. Upsets France
By John Vinocur
International Herald Tribune

PARIS - France is undertaking an active campaign to strengthen multilateral institutions as part of an effort to define the United States' potential for unilateral action as one of the world's great worries. It is, in effect, an attempt to limit American power and to convince other countries that they should work together to contain it.

The French initiative has come into focus over the last three months through statements by President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. One or the other has asserted that a new American unilateralism has come to life, that it is unacceptable and that France will offer the General Assembly of the United Nations a set of principles for building a new international order "excluding unilateral temptations and leading to shared management of global risks and threats."

In the context of a decades-long register of French criticism of the American exercise of power, and the almost institutionalized quality of needling between centuries-old allies, the new initiative is different in two main respects.

It casts the United States as a primary international problem, a hegemonic force blocking power-sharing in the new century. And it proposes reforming, restructuring or reinforcing a number of international institutions, among them the UN Security Council or the International Monetary Fund, as a means of containing or counteracting American power.

From an American point of view, the French approach is regarded as unwelcome and exasperating. Its systematic, almost codified aspects - France has laid out lists of "principles" for guiding the response to American power in wide areas of activity - is seen as bringing a new, uneasy dimension to global affairs.

The Americans find French self-interest dominating France's definition of the American world role. They insist that France disregards such elements as its own unilateral resumption of nuclear weapons testing or Europe's current lead position in the international attempt to resolve the confrontation in Kosovo. From the perspective of France, the United States cannot seem to embrace a multipolar world, and American unilateralism is an obvious emerging element in relation to Iraq and in dealing with talks on trade, the environment and the international justice system.

The significance of the French initiative will be apparent in the response it receives in Europe and beyond. As explained a fortnight ago by Alain Peyrefitte, a former cabinet minister under de Gaulle and now a guardian of Gaullist legitimacy, the problem with all French undertakings challenging American authority was that most of the world was quite content with what he called American domination.

But France may feel encouraged by recent remarks from Japanese officials complaining of "American dominance" in finance and trade and by Japanese positions that tend to align with French ones on reforming international financial
institutions. In the case of Germany, however, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer refused to condemn what was termed American unilateralism when he was asked to pass judgment on it during an appearance before the French National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Commission. He said instead, that unilateral actions were essentially a result of European indecisiveness.

The French analysis pointed obviously in another direction.

Last month, Mr. Jospin said, "We're confronted with a new problem on the international scene. The United States often behaves in a unilateral manner and has difficulty in assuming the role it aspires to as organizer of the international community."

Mr. Jospin's foreign minister, Mr. Vedrine, detailed the government's viewpoint about six weeks earlier.

He described "the predominant weight of the United States and the absence for the moment of a counterweight" as "the major fact of the global world today." The United States' weight, he said, "leads it to hegemony, and the idea it has of its mission to unilateralism. And that's inadmissible."

In an interview with the French newspaper Liberation, Mi. Vedrine asked himself rhetorically what was to be done

in response. His answer, in part, was: "On the condition of not living in a dream world, knowing the principle of leverage and a few others from 'international geophysics,' knowing how to put together ad hoc majorities or blocking minorities...we can use the margin for maneuver we have in a thousand ways."

But to succeed against the "daily manifestations" of American power, a method was necessary. The foreign minister set it out in five steps:

" 1) Have solid nerves; 2) Persevere; 3) Methodically widen the bases of agreement among Europeans; 4) Cooperate at each stage with the United States, combining friendship and the will to be respected, while defending in all circumstances organized multilateralism and the prerogatives of the Security Council; 5) Prepare politically, institutionally and mentally the moment when Europe will have the courage to go further. "

For Mr. Vedrine, there had to be a better way of organizing the world than leaving it to American unilateralism. He said, "There are two opposing approaches: on one side, the dominant power with its means of influence; on the other side, a system both multilateral and multipolar associating all or part of the 185 countries of the world, which supposes the reform or reinforcement of the Security Council, the IMF, the World

Trade Organization, the G8, and that the European Union be one of the dominant poles in this restructuring. We are working at it."

For the moment, French attention seems to be on reorganizing the WIF to come more directly under the political control of member governments so as to minimize what is perceived here as the organization's role as an instrument of American influence. Voting power in IMF councils is based on national wealth and economic performance.

Mr. Chirac, in turn, came to the issue of American unilateralism after the remarks from Mr. Jospin and Mr. Vedrine. In a speech before the diplomatic corps here, he said the UN General Assembly should consider adopting a set of principles for an international order in the new millennium based on "collective sovereignty. "

Of Mr. Chirac's list of seven principles, the first - without a specific reference to the United States - called for "collective responsibility" in international action "excluding unilateral temptations and leading to shared management of the global risks and threats that weigh on our peoples." The other principles went to the same general theme of multilateralism: equality, solidarity and diversity among nations.

Mr. Chirac travels to the United States on Feb. 19, to meet with President Bill Clinton.