Jean-François Deniau is a legendary figure in France. It would be no exaggeration to claim
that his life has been eventful enough to provide the material for several
exciting biographies. His awards include Commandant of the Légion d’honneur and both the Croix de Guerre and the Croix de Guerre with Honours. A
highly experienced diplomat, he helped to create the 1957 Treaty of Rome, on
which the Common Market, forerunner of today
’s European Union, was founded. Following the departure of the Spanish dictator
General Franco, Jean-Fran
çois Deniau was one of the authors of the new Constitution which laid the
foundations of democracy in Spain. As a Minister, notably for European Affairs
and External Trade, he served in six different cabinets of the Fifth Republic.
His service as a deputy in the Assemblée nationale lasted 20 years. Always a vigorous campaigner for human rights,
Jean-Francois Deniau was a prime mover for the institution of the Sakharov
Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded annually by the European Parliament.
the last 20 years of the twentieth century he visited all the major conflict
zones and was, incidentally, a good friend of the famous commander Massud, who
supervized the West
’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. His fame as an author and historian
gained him membership of the Académie française which entitles him to occupy Chair number 36 at the Institut Mazarin.
In recent times when doctors diagnosed incurable bone cancer and confined him to
a wheelchair his life became a painful and exhausting day-to-day struggle, but
his courageous completion of a very difficult course of treatment saw him back
on his feet. Jean-Fran
çois Deniau has a passion for sailing and after the loss at sea of the great
yachtsman Eric Tabarly, it was Deniau who inherited his place as a member of
the Naval Academy. One of his astonishing feats was to sail across the Atlantic
with just one assistant crew only a few weeks after a heart operation.
The correspondent of the Herald of Europe met Jean-François Deniau at his office in the French Admiralty and asked him to share his opinions on the
major issues of today.
H.E.: As one who experienced most of the events and met so many of the people of the
last century, how did you welcome the third millennium?
J.-F.D.: We are entering a time of complete insecurity about the future. The twentieth
century brought mankind two world wars, many civil wars, pogroms and violence,
but despite this it was a century of concrete achievements. People believed in
the progress of science, especially medicine, in the development of mankind and
in the democratization of society. However, even if democracy exists in some
countries, there is no great faith in it, and there are still many
dictatorships around the world. We have reached a point where people think in
theoretical terms without wholeheartedly believing in anything any more. There
used to be, on the one hand, the natural sciences, like mathematics, physics,
engineering, and on the other hand, the arts. Now the difference between them
is lost. You can read a piece on astronomy or biology and start to think it
could be a work of poetry.
H.E.: Maybe the same thing has happened in politics? It has lost its former clarity
and predictability. Recently I read an article by your colleague, the former
minister Albin Chalandon. This famous French lawyer wrote that from 1648
onwards the Western world lived according to Westphalian principles. In that
year the Treaty of Westphalia brought to an end the Thirty Years War and guided
Europe for nearly three centuries right up to the start of the First World War.
According to the Westphalian view, a state has the right to start a war, but it
must have policies which would make wars less likely, such as recognizing the
sovereignty of other states and their right to choose their religion as well as
the primacy of diplomacy in solving international conflicts. And it is true to
say that, with the exception of the 20 year period of the Napoleonic wars, the
number of military conflicts in Europe was greatly reduced. After this, says
Chalandon, the Wilson era of history began, named after American President
Woodrow Wilson, one of the creators of the international security system after
the First World War. The new world order was founded on the principle of
democratic states and the resolution of international conflicts through
negotiation. Of course all this faith in human reason was destroyed after the
formation of the Soviet Union and the appearance of the Bolshevik and Nazi
regimes. After that things deteriorated and we had the Second World War,
decolonization, endless bloodshed in wars in
‘third world’ countries. In short the Babel tower of universal democracy was smashed into
pieces. We can now recognize the absurdity of the mixed mosaic that had been
J.-F.D.: The current international situation is far from absurd but it has no precedent.
In both the First and the Second World War there was a clearly identifiable
enemy. Now in military conflicts the rules of the game are completely
different. Where is the front line? Where is the home front? How do we
distinguish the military from the civilian, or the ordinary person from the
terrorist wired with explosives? Because of the mass-media, news often becomes
unintelligible. People are fed so much information they no longer know what to
believe. There used to be truths that were accepted without question. For
example, ordinary people were persuaded that colonial exploits were necessary
for the progress of mankind; that Western powers were invading the
‘third world’ in order to bring knowledge and enlightenment to the populations of Africa and
Asia. The leaders of the French Third Republic founded their empire on this
concept. These leaders had nothing in common with Hitler or Mussolini. Quite
the reverse; they were benevolent people genuinely dedicated to the idea of
democracy. In the same way as the vast majority of Soviet citizens believed
’s expansion in Central Asia was necessary for the development of that region, so
the West believed in its civilizing mission in Asia and Africa. Now there are
no universal truths left. The defining feature of the coming century will not
be that people are more good or more evil, but that it will become harder and
harder to tell them apart.
H.E.: But can one use good and evil as political concepts?
J.-F.D.: It is not something I would recommend. However in the White House the ‘good world’ and the ‘evil empire’ became political categories a long time ago, although this is understandable.
This radicalization in America was caused by the fact that the country is
essentially a theocracy. God, drilled into people by the mass media every day,
is present everywhere: in state symbols, in the statutes of all the
institutions of power, in politicians
’ speeches. This Manichean black-and-white world is instilled into Americans from
an early age. The
‘good Americans’ stand against the ‘evil enemies’. The authorities persuade the people that America was chosen by God and is
therefore strong and invincible. In other words, he who wins has a monopoly on
H.E.: US President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said something very similar: ‘Complete victory means total submission of the vanquished to the victor and
should allow the latter to achieve all his political aims without hindrance.
’ To tell you the truth, I sometimes harbour the wicked notion that if the
September 11 kamikaze attack on America had not happened, the White House would
have had to invent it. What do you think?
J.-F.D.: You mean the gigantic leap the USA made in international politics after
September 11 when they unconditionally confirmed their status as superpower
number one? If we ask whether America, or more precisely the US establishment,
benefited from the attack on the New York skyscrapers, then there is some truth
in this. But for me, as someone who has worked a lot in the East, I have not
the slightest doubt that al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden exist. I am convinced it
was Islamic extremists who flew the Boeings into the Twin Towers. The various
rumours on both sides of the Atlantic, that representatives of some
pro-military American groups were responsible for the deaths of more than three
thousand people in New York, is no more than a conspiracy theory. Of course the
actions of the Muslim terrorists succeeded in destroying symbols of American
authority, but as time will show, actual American power was only increased by
these barbaric acts. And the first to suffer was our
H.E.: In the political sense?
J.-F.D.: Primarily. It quickly became clear that the European Union was completely
marginalized to some supernumerary role after the American tragedy. As soon as
the Pentagon started military action in Afghanistan, Tony Blair obediently
jumped to the orders received from his Presidential ally across the ocean and
sent British air and land forces into the region. He didn
’t even bother to inform his European partners about these ‘heroics’, no phone calls, no communication with any of them! What could they do about
it? Just grit their teeth and make the best of a bad job. Everyone knows how
the Afghanistan military operation ended. America pretended that terrorism had
been dealt with, assumed responsibility for the rest of the world, and
announced in words and deeds that the twenty-first century would be theirs. The
American century! Having lost its former enemy with the end of the Cold War and
the break-up of the Soviet Union, the United States has woken up. After half a
century of flooding the world with jeans, Coca-Cola and stultifying movies, the
USA showed who is boss with the Gulf War.
H.E.: And have the Americans really dealt with terrorism?
J.-F.D.: It’s strange isn’t it? A power that can read a number plate anywhere on earth from space, allowed
Mullah Omar, spiritual leader of the Taliban, to escape. The reason given is
that Omar got away on a motorbike, which had no identification plates. I
’m not joking! I heard this said in a completely serious context from an
apparently serious American politician, who was searching for an explanation as
to why both Taliban leaders Bin Laden and Mullah Omar were still alive and
free. So where could America turn next to defend its authority against the
terrorist threat? It needed to find a credible alternative to the Taliban, and
this was done very effectively when Saddam Hussein was portrayed as the
personification of evil.
H.E.: The situation has become paradoxical: in maximizing security for itself America,
’s only superpower, is creating a very dangerous climate for the rest of the
world. And the UN seems to be out of the picture! Are there any international
authorities left today?
J.-F.D.: There is no longer any international authority. Not one! No one can take the UN
seriously when its leadership always collapses during times of crisis. This is
what happened with Iraq. How many thousands of lives were ruined because the UN
’s charter denies it the competence to intervene in such a dispute? The aim of
the UN when it was founded was to avoid a Third World War. This was decided
between the Americans and Soviets during the Second World War. The British,
French and Chinese were also involved but they did not make the key decisions.
The UN is a strange, inadequate child of compromise born between the USSR and
the USA. Their tacit bilateral agreement meant that the organization
’s headquarters were located in New York, with other UN offices in the Soviet
Union, Ukraine and Belarus. One country with three sites!
H.E.: Are you saying that the UN’s failings, which became obvious during the second Iraq war, were predetermined
from the start?
J.-F.D.: The UN’s essential problems stem from the second chapter of its charter, about which
there were long debates between the USSR and the USA. At that difficult time,
the Soviet Union was convinced that most UN members were Western countries and
pro-American satellites. The Soviets did not want the Americans to interfere in
the internal business of other countries, especially regarding the observance
of democratic principles in Soviet bloc countries. Therefore Article 2 in
chapter 1 of the UN charter states:
‘Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to
intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of
’ This means there was a serious limitation to the UN’s ability to take action. If a dictator were to attack a neighbouring country
this would be covered by the UN
’s jurisdiction. But if a dictator destroys the population of his own country,
the UN has no right to get involved. Where, I ask you, is the morality in this?
Furthermore, the Cold War was starting, but instead of regulating world
developments, members of the Security Council limited themselves to
establishing spheres of influence. How many times did Molotov rush to use the
veto? How many times the Americans? The UN was forced to manage the clash of
two camps, and not the development of mankind. The UN does not solve problems;
it is simply not vested with the necessary powers. The organization functions
only to assuage the contradictions between East and West, North and South.
H.E.: In that case there is no point in the UN’s existence?
J.-F.D.: Don’t misunderstand me! The UN is necessary to maintain global balance. But the
organization was never an international court or guarantor of peace. Not one
single world or regional conflict was ever solved by the UN It can help to
contain military action, but it cannot reconcile the different sides in a
conflict. We only have to recall Rwanda, Somalia, Afghanistan. Now there is
another important factor: there is only one superpower. It is true China is
growing, but that is for the long term. So what does this mean? America can
easily do what it wants without agreement from the UN
H.E.: In that case why do the Americans stay in the UN?
J.-F.D.: But they need the UN! Not as a court, but for a platform. They need a club,
which allows them to communicate with the world. It is not in the USA
’s interests to leave a vacuum in the international arena. But don’t be deluded into thinking that the UN can guarantee peace. The organization
never did and probably never will fulfil this function.
H.E.: And NATO? Is that an effective organization?
J.-F.D.: NATO remains for European countries, or more precisely the countries of Central
and Eastern Europe, the only permanent and effective guarantee of their
security. Look how the former Soviet satellites and the Republics of the USSR
jumped to support the United States in the war against Iraq. The point is that
the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are still afraid of Russia.
H.E.: The war in Iraq was a kind of litmus test for many recent problems. For example,
in the light of the disagreement between the French and Germans on the one hand
and the British on the other, the idea of a European Union was shown to be
almost a myth.
J.-F.D.: The European Union is far from finished! To talk of its burial during the Iraq
crisis would be a premature and superficial reaction. Even without the
Americans the relationships inside Europe are already sufficiently complex and
H.E.: It’s like in the old song: ‘Everything is fine dear marquis! But…’
J.-F.D.: No, no, not like that! The world has gone through a difficult crisis. The fact
that there is only one superpower has completely unsettled political
commentators and forces us to start reading history in a new light. We also
have to start to re-evaluate international law. We are only at the beginning of
this new reading. Europe is split between the French and the British camps. But
the fact that George Bush started the war in Iraq without even consulting his
European colleagues does not mean the end for Europe. Figuratively speaking,
Europe was not hijacked! But the Americans do not at all like the idea of a
strong and independent Europe.
H.E.: But you wouldn’t deny there is a crisis in Europe’s institutions?
J.-F.D.: In today’s crisis of Europe’s institutions there is one powerful positive factor. Three of the original
founders of the European Union
– France, Germany and Belgium – have stated that they are ready to build a Europe which is at last truly
independent of America. Three members of the original Common Market! Exactly
half of the six countries that started the creation of a united Europe. It is
very significant there is a momentum to create a new
H.E.: But isn’t the European Union now too extended, moving continually to the East and South?
J.-F.D.: Europe can be built on the basis of several spheres. The first enlargement is
the new Europe of 25, a further step would see the inclusion of six more
members, amongst which will be Russia.
H.E.: So all is not lost for Europe?
J.-F.D.: Of course not. As an old European I am convinced of this. A new and completely
radical trend has appeared
– that is the new Paris – Berlin – Moscow axis. This is an event of great historical importance. The nineteenth
century, and to an even greater extent the twentieth, were marked by a tragic
ballet with three dancers: France, Germany and Russia. This cost the world two
world wars. And now at last there is a new political reality, the Paris
– Berlin – Moscow axis, an event equal in importance to the introduction of the single
H.E.: Maybe Beijing should be included?
J.-F.D.: Maybe not. As French peasants say: you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. The Chinese have 5,000 years of history; this
is an entirely separate topic. There will be conflicts in the future between
China and Russia, China and Japan, China and America. China is a very
particular world. One of my political friends when in China asked Zhou Enlai,
head of the Chinese government under MaoTse-tung:
‘What do you think the consequences of the French revolution of 1789 are for our
’ Zhou Enlai tapped together his long mandarin fingers, listened carefully to the
interpreter, and replied:
‘It is too early to say yet.’ And really, how could this barbarian ask such a question! Chinese history is
measured in millennia, not decades.
H.E.: But Europe also has a rich history!
J.-F.D.: The former Soviet Anthem, the Internationale, goes ‘we will destroy the whole world to the foundations, and then we shall build our
own new world
…’ As if to say, we would cultivate a completely new person, Homo Sovieticus. This
is nothing more than a utopian dream! There can be no future for those without
a past. You can only build Europe by knowing its history. The recent Iraq
crisis is a good lesson for Europeans.
H.E.: For those Europeans who have to accept Pax Americana as a given, the world is
now built along American lines.
J.-F.D.: For many years I have been battling against the world turning into Pax
Americana, and there was nothing anti-American in this. An independent Europe
does not mean an anti-American Europe. It is true that Europeans and Americans
see their political ends and means in completely different ways. But what does
that matter? Everyone lives life in his own way.
H.E.: What if this way leads to a dead end? As at the time of the Iraq crisis? How
many Americans were searching for weapons of mass destruction in that country
but none were to be found?
J.-F.D.: From the beginning of the Iraq campaign it was clear that there were too many
unknowns in that war. First of all in the post-war settlement for Iraq and the
whole region. The Americans created havoc in Kurdistan; I would not be
surprised if a conflict with Turkey flares up. Syria is tense, Iran is near
boiling point. The main problem of the region, the Israeli
–Palestinian conflict, is not only no closer to a solution but is in fact getting
worse. When Blair decided to make his speech more weighty by saying that after
the fall of Saddam Hussein the coalition would proceed to solve the Palestinian
problem, Ariel Sharon within 24 hours said
‘No! No! No!’ In the Iraq war everything was clear: the Americans were supposed to win and
they did. But at what price? What will they do with this victory? There are too
many uncertainties. Only one thing is clear: any solution to the Middle East
conflict is more distant.
H.E.: One thing I cannot understand. When the UN passed the famous Article 1441, on
the disarmament of Iraq and banning its development or storage of weapons of
mass destruction, both the Americans and the Europeans were happy. Then the
Americans started the war and it turned out that it was this Article that
caused all the misunderstandings
– how did that happen?
J.-F.D.: The explanation is different interpretations of Article 1441. Each side saw in
it what they wanted and interpreted it their own way. This kind of vagueness is
characteristic of all official texts drawn up in English. English is ideal for
reaching consensus, but not for making concrete distinctions. French is the
classical language of diplomacy. It has a Cartesian accuracy. But now,
unfortunately, international institutions prefer to work in English. This is
the cause of many diplomatic misunderstandings, legal lacunae, differing
interpretations. Take the word of an experienced diplomat: there is nothing
worse for politics than false compromises. Starting from the same words, each
leader draws his own conclusions. This can be the cause of conflicts and wars.
H.E.: Nevertheless, English is now indispensable. The rise in American patriotism has
seen to that.
J.-F.D.: This periodic rise in American patriotism has always worried me. After September
11 patriotic fervour reached such a pitch that the actions American leaders may
take in the future have become completely unpredictable. For example the
‘Patriot Act’, which makes police action easier and limits civic freedom, was used for the
arrest and detention of several hundred people. It is significant that only one
Senator, Russell Feingold, voted against this legislation. It was only thanks
to debate in the American press, that a decision to create a state network of
informers was withdrawn at the last moment! The TIPS project (Terrorist
Information and Prevention System) was intended to recruit more than a million
citizens: taxi drivers, postmen, plumbers, bus drivers and so on.
H.E.: A totally Stalinist idea you might say!
J.-F.D.: Sometimes I even wonder who is more dangerous for the fragile minds across the
– Stalin or Stallone? American imperialism is expressed not in a colonial form
similar to the British, French and Russian-Soviet type, but in a completely
different way: in economic, financial and of course cultural expansion.
Hollywood films, Broadway musicals, rock and roll, pulp fiction
…a powerful force!
H.E.: Overall you are not too optimistic for the future?
J.-F.D.: At the moment we cannot talk about optimism or pessimism: the world has become
too unpredictable a place. I love precise sciences like physics and maths but
precise sciences hardly exist anymore. People are happy to study sociology,
politics, historical theory. I see this is as a dangerous trend. I don
’t think that in the future the Americans will be able to lay down their laws and
dictate to others so easily. For today and tomorrow America will remain the
superpower. But the world will preserve itself only when we learn to live
together as one big family. We may have different ideas, but we should all live
side by side without interference. I believe in a multipolar world. Everyone
would benefit from this, including the Americans.
Interview by Kirill Privalov