For a Kinder, Gentler Society
France Has a Hard Sell to Rein In U.S. Power
By John Vinocur International Herald Tribune

PARIS - For a country whose political esthetics reject excess, France may be overplaying its hand in its campaign to win support around the world to restrain American unilateralism.

The initiative turns on demonstrating that the United States is acting for its own ends against the will of the international community.

In a week when Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine made a speech and gave an interview on American dominance classifying the United States as a "hyperpower" whose abuses had to be counterbalanced by everyone else's commitment to the methods, strategy and tactics of containment - the evidence, almost ironically, was elsewhere.

On the one hand, there was the possibly legitimate French complaint that, as the century turns, the Americans have too much power for the rest of the world's good. On the other, there was the reality that the Americans, in the space of less than a fortnight, had largely turned over to French-British leadership the Western attempt to bring peace to Kosovo through talks starting in Rambouillet on Saturday.

The juxtaposition emphasized the jarringly high pitch of the French campaign. It holds that the world, according to Mr. Vedrine, must now deal with a central confrontation, pitting the United States versus everybody else, for stakes that are not only political, "economic, monetary, legal, audiovisual, linguistic, cultural," but those of "mental identity."

If the hopeful start of the Kosovo negotiations had a link to unilateralism, it seemed in part to relate to the more modulated analysis of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany, who has said that if unilateralism exists, it is essentially the result of European indecisiveness.

There was a second apparent inconsistency.

If there is a contradiction in the French eagerness to earmark American power as one of the world's great worries, it may be that the most real threat to France's identity comes not from the United States, but from European integration.

The French dilemma is that building Europe not only demands abandoning sovereignty but also accepting a French future as a single voice in a chorus of countries that show little inclination to accept the idiosyncracies of French policy as Europe's guiding light.

Against its instincts, France may find that the missionary quality of its current approach toward the United States hardens that resistance. As frequently as France's neigbbors regard American policies as contestable, they also seem unlikely to find existential gratification in a French vision that regards' American power and the absence of a necessary counterweight as "the major fact of the global world today."

A German policymaker, often critical of the United States' reflexes and methods, was dismissive of the French approach, saying that it was, in effect, Gaul lism-gone-global. He said the French were stuck with a statist view of global politics that was divorced from the reality of emerging regions and localities and was obsessed with national branding. He found it old staff.
What also appear overdone was the French attempt to codify, and bring some kind of crusading character to the enterprise of convincing other countries they must band together (in President Jacques Chirac's phrase, create "collective soereignty") so as to deal with American power. In the manner of Marcus Aurelius laying out stoic principles for political action, or Che Guevara defining the revolutionary struggle from the Sierra Maestra, Mr. Vedrine offered five precepts and Mr. Chirac seven maxims for the task.

Mr. Vedrine listed, among others, having solid nerves, perseverance and preparing politically, institutionally and mentally for "the moment when Europe will have the courage to go further." - Mr. Chirac's first maxim, proposed for a
charter of a new international order to be adopted by the UN General Assembly, called for "excluding unilateralist tend-
encies" - a human priority he listed ahead of equity, solidarity, diversity, precaution, freedom and compatibility.

Mr. Vedrine has been more cautious in assessing how much chance the French initiative has of winning support.

"The essential thing," he has said, "is that we're starting out with a true diagnosis and that the right levers are activated." This appears less than certain.