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Gallic Rebuke: France and the US Rules-based Order

Gérard Araud was not mincing his words. As France’s former ambassador to Washington, he had seen enough. At a November 14 panel hosted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft titled “Is America Ready for a Multipolar Word?”, Araud decried the “economic warfare” being waged by the United States against China, expressing the view that Europe was concerned by the evident “containment policy” being pursued.

Araud is very much the diplomat establishment figure, having also served as French representative to the United Nations from 2009 to 2014. But despite his pedigree, he was most keen to fire off a few salvos against such concepts as the “rules-based order” so treasured by the Anglosphere and the “West” more broadly defined. “To be frank, I’ve always been extremely sceptical about this idea of a ‘rules-based order’.” Both he and the French in general loved the United Nations, “but the Americans not too much.”

With unerring frankness, he also noted that the UN and broader international hierarchy was dominated by the US-European bloc. The undersecretaries to the organisation reflected that fact, as did the stewardship of the World Bank and the IMF. “So that’s the first element: this order is our order.”

The second element was historical: the balance of power as it was in the war-ruined world of 1945. “Really people forget that, if China and Russia are obliged to oppose [with] their veto, it is because frankly the Security Council is most of the time, 95% of the time, has a Western-oriented majority.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has adopted elements of Araud’s thinking, notably regarding the problems and limits of US domination, while still reasserting the value of France’s own global imprint. Such actions and sombre strategizing are taking place in the shadow of the West’s decline. In a recent closed-door meeting with his top diplomats, Macron remarked that “the international order is being upended in a whole new way. It is a transformation of the international order. I must admit that Western hegemony may be coming to an end.”

This theme of decline in Macron’s is an ongoing Spenglerian motif. It surfaced at the end of the G-7 summit in 2019, where he reflected on the decline of Western dominance while pondering the finance-obsessed nature of the global market economy. This was pretty rich coming from a banker, though he was certainly right on the issue of greater multipolarity.

To his diplomats, Macron paddled in the waters of history, reflecting on French power in the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution led by Britain in the 19th century, and the brute dominance of the United States from the 20th century. With typically Gallic, broad stroke synthesis, he suggested that “France is culture, England is industry, and America is war.”

Then came the finger pointing, sharply directed at the biggest of culprits and the underminers of the West. “Within Western countries, many wrong choices the United States has made in the face of crises have deeply shaken our hegemony.” It was not something that began with the Trump administration; previous US presidents “made other wrong choices long before Trump, Clinton’s China policy, Bush’s war policy, Obama’s world financial crisis, and quantitative easing policy.”

To this swipe at Washington could be added the role of emerging powers, which were underestimated by the West “not just two years ago, but as early as ten or twenty years ago.” He admitted that “China and Russia have achieved great success over the years under different leadership styles.”

Despite such rueful admissions about decline, Macron is still keen to pursue a form of geopolitical balancing, notably in the Indo-Pacific. This is code for the pursuing French interests in a region that is increasingly looking like exploding into a folly-driven conflict between the Chinese and US camps. But Paris is hardly going to miss out pushing the credentials of its defence industry, which took a bruising with the scuppering of the Attack Class submarine deal with the Australian government in September last year.

In February, Macron convinced Jakarta to ink a deal worth $8.1 billion for 42 Rafale fighter jets produced by Dassault Aviation. Two diesel-electric Scorpène-class attack submarines produced by the Naval Group have also been added to the mix, along with ammunition, making the arrangements with Jakarta some of the most lucrative for France in Southeast Asia.

On his current visit to Washington, Macron is facing those old problems of US power. While Australia was designated assassin in killing off the submarine contract, the ammunition came from Washington as part of the AUKUS security pact, a spear pointing at China in the Indo-Pacific. President Joe Biden has merely described the handling of the whole matter as “clumsy”.

Then come such issues as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which gives advantageous climate subsidies to US companies over their European counterparts, and how the Ukraine War is to be addressed. Biden has no inclination to speak to Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, content to let the war rage as long as it bleeds Russia; Macron has been more than willing to keep the lines open, acknowledging that diplomacy, however frail, must at least be drip-fed.

In his own reflections on what could be done regarding the US-Western parochialism of the rules-based order, Araud made the obvious point. Any genuine international system purporting to be undergirded by rules had to integrate “all the major stakeholders into managing of the world, you know really bringing in the Chinese, the Indians, and really other countries, and trying to build with them, on an equal basis, the world of tomorrow.” What a daring idea, and one that is bound to avoid a global conflict. For that reason, it won’t be embraced.


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  1. Harry Lime

    Pity it’s too late for the frogs to welch on the Louisiana Purchase.,we might be in a different place now.Ah, the vicissitudes of history.Another loss for Napoleon.

  2. RomeoCharlie29

    Love the hypocrisy of the United States talking up the rules-based order when it has defiled the term and the principle so many times and in so many ways.

  3. A Commentator

    I’ve noticed (on a range of political sites) that there is a particular cherry picking style of discourse that relies on identifying a point made by a prominent figure.
    For example, there is a Henry Kissinger comment that is often quoted by anti US/western democracy types. This is despite the fact that they would probably disagree with almost every other position that Kissinger holds.
    It’s a university student style of debate – the need to find approval through attribution rather than relying on independent and persuasive intelligence, logic and ethics.
    I think this article falls into that category.
    Not stated by Dr Kampmark is that Gérard Araud is currently on the payroll of Madeline Albright’s consulting business. How does that work?
    I’d say- self (and business) promotion is also a motivation for being contentious.

  4. Clakka

    “Rules-based order” and “Multipolarism”; ha ha ha haar – what a piss-poor joke, such diplomatic double-speak for the propagation of action and reaction via the the means of industrialised murder and destruction. The largest most wasteful and unregulated industry enfranchised by the nonsense of noblesse oblige, bravery, nationalism and racism.

    Goodness, diversity essential, they know that the marrying of cousins may lead to generational one-eyedness and lunacy, but they persist that marrying with others without subjugation first may lead to wrong-wayedness.

    Now that we have the sciences and their tools and means of communications well developed, we increasingly have the ability for all to thrive via agriculture, preservation and transportation – of course before “technology” the ability to thrive has been writ in our DNA for eons. And of course, in arts and culture, the fear of strangeness is giving way to appreciation of that we once called other.

    So what of the unimaginative self-aggrandising emperors, their ballistics, their gangs of toadies and media monkeys, and their cloaked preachers of mythology and paranoia? As we pay the price of folly, the imperative of survival and sustainability will, like so much bling, render them to the scrapheap.

    The rhetoric, however, not subject to atrophy, will inevitably be recycled until the world stops spinning.

    Vive la France, all the way with USA, and business as usual ……. hysterical, maga-nificent and desperate!

  5. Steve Davis

    AC has attacked the author of the article rather than the content of the article.

    I regard that, to use AC’s words, as “a university-student style of debate.”

    As for the credibility of Gérard Araud, who is also the subject of a personal attack by AC, (a university student style of attack if you will,) to use a religious analogy, if the Devil articulates a spiritual truth, does that make it any less truthful?

    Or, to use AC’s own example, if Henry Kissinger articulates a political truth, does that make it any less truthful?

    AC has deplored the lack of ” independent and persuasive intelligence, logic and ethics” in the article and on many political sites. It’s a feature with which he is well familiar.

  6. A Commentator

    Ive posted my views on numerous occasions.
    It’s hardly necessary that I repeat them every time I comment.
    On this occasion I decided to make a different point.
    And that is, the way quoting “experts” is replacing intelligent discourse on political blogs.
    There is a well informed, articulate advocate for just about every position in international relations.
    People are tending to just provide links to their preferred “experts” rather than bothering to argue their case, with their personal views, and (possible) intelligence.
    For example, I’ve noticed on some sites that some pro Putin types will quote a retired US military colonel, without realising-

    there are about 40,000 current colonels in the US military, and a similar number of retired ones

    the individual they quote was a failed Trump nominee, who is now making a living from providing dubious opinion on the speaking circuit.

    If blogs simply become a process of arguing about who has the most qualified “expert” , they’ll become dull and barren places.
    I took the opportunity to point this out.

  7. A Commentator

    And by the way, there is a similar inclination in the pro Putin brigade in Australia. On John Menadue’s blog, there’s an author who is regularly quoted.
    He’s was a major in the Australian army. He reached that rank after about 20 years service.
    No one seems to quite understand that being a major is no great achievement. There are currently 4000 of them. Probably as many retired like him
    A major is 7 rungs down the chain of command, not exactly at the strategic level of decision making. That’s his level after decades of service
    So I’m again pointing out that blandly quoting “experts” isn’t always persuasive

  8. Steve Davis

    AC is persisting with the pointless argument that “blandly quoting experts isn’t always persuasive” despite it being pointed out to him that reputation is not relevant, it’s the evidence for the point that counts.

    AC has not tackled points made by the author or by Araud, so I’ll make it easy for him.

    Here’s the substance of the article, found in the last paragraph. “Araud made the obvious point. Any genuine international system purporting to be undergirded by rules had to integrate “all the major stakeholders into managing of the world, you know really bringing in the Chinese, the Indians, and really other countries, and trying to build with them, on an equal basis, the world of tomorrow.” What a daring idea, and one that is bound to avoid a global conflict. For that reason, it won’t be embraced.”

    Considering the global situation as it stands right now, that is a pertinent contribution. AC should address that observation, support it or refute it, or admit that his only interest in the article is to criticise the author.

  9. Douglas Pritchard

    The destruction in Ukraine will go on until such time as no-one gets a financial advantage from it.
    In that part of the globe this is just another war, and they are conditioned to the brutal hardships.
    For the rest of us its costing in the hip pocket.
    The USA gets its trading advantage from Mexicans and cheap labour.
    The French get theirs from cheap African labour, and the Germans use the Turks.
    So if the US can scupper the big advantage that Europe has then it must sabotage the cheap gas energy from Russia.
    They have no qualms about chucking Europe under the bus, and trashing the Euro.
    Thats what this whole proxy war is about, and they have blown the pipelines so thats sorted.
    Now its the turn of US energy busines , and the military complex to make a cash profit for as long as they can hang this thing out.
    And main stream media has never had it so good.

  10. Michael Taylor

    … or admit that his only interest in the article is to criticise the author.

    I think that’s fairly evident, Steve. He attacks the author relentlessly rather than tackling the argument. I’m tired of it. Seriously tired of it.

    AC will now come back with a diatribe endorsing his self-righteousness. But I won’t be reading it, and I’d recommend we all ignore it. Let him piss into the wind.

  11. A Commentator

    With regard to the article…

    1# From an Australian perspective, China would hardly be a country to complain about “economic warfare”
    They are experts in this form of diplomacy* We’re currently on the receiving end of CCP opprobrium and trade sanctions. We should also recall the trade sanctions the CCP applied to Norway when they objected to the winner of a Nobel prize.
    It is disingenuous to talk about China as a victim of economic warfare, the fact is- they are a serious activist.
    * It should be noted that “diplomacy” includes all action short of war. Sanctions/”economic warfare” is diplomacy.

    2# The article discusses US finance dominance, but neglects to identify the role of the market that is about the same size as China’s- the European Union.
    Also…BRICS is looking at proposals that would disrupt existing international trade and finance structures, it is hardly surprising that the parties with most interest in maintaining those existing structures would seek to protect their trade and financial interests

    3# The article neglects to address the genuine elephant in the room. The archaic structure of the UN Security Council. Oddly in looking for a greater role for emerging countries,such as India, there is no offer that France relinquish its permanent membership of the UNSC.

    4# As for Biden not wishing to engage in diplomacy, I note that Biden has expressed a willingness to meet Putin. Putin’s proposal in response was that the US accept Russia’s annexation of Ukraine territory.
    Blame Putin for the lack of diplomacy.

    5# As for “multipolarity”, ice previously said that I’d prefer that there weren’t superpowers. But since we have them, I’m glad one is a (flawed) western democracy. I simply don’t find the prospect of the CCP and the Putin regime with an expanded sphere of influence appealing.

    6# I’m not bothered if people reply or not to my comments, and MT you’re entirely welcome to choose to scroll past if you wish.

  12. Steve Davis

    I’m sorry Michael, your advice is good and I understand your frustration. You’ve been exposed to this for longer than I. But I just can’t help myself. I cannot let nonsense go unchallenged.

    AC was asked to address the article, but instead has spewed out a number of his pet topics and then objected to their not being covered in the article. The arrogance is breathtaking.

    We even saw misrepresentation. The article noted Araud’s reasonable criticism of UN structures and operations, to which AC responded by claiming that the article “neglects to address the genuine elephant in the room. The archaic structure of the UN Security Council.” Yes, that’s the very topic covered in paragraphs 3 and 4. AC is making stuff up as he goes along.

    Amid all the straw men and misrepresentation we saw one reasonable statement. “I simply don’t find the prospect of the CCP and the Putin regime with an expanded sphere of influence appealing.” This is an opinion, and one to which AC is entitled. I happen to disagree with it, and AC has offered no evidence to support it. I disagree because participation in the economic framework being established by Russia and China is entirely voluntary. What sort of person could disagree with a trading bloc based on voluntary association?

    AC is so opinionated on a range of subjects, (even giving free advice on how a blog should be run) that he should be running his own blog. Instead of taking that honourable path, he takes delight in attempting to make serious and well-informed contributors look shallow and superficial. Without success.

    I have referred in the past to the strange habit of AC to give us unpleasant insights as to his character, and he has done so again on this occasion. He stated “It should be noted that “diplomacy” includes all action short of war. Sanctions/”economic warfare” is diplomacy.”

    Making stuff up again. Dictionary definitions of diplomacy focus on negotiation and tact and skill, not on blunt instruments of aggression such as sanctions and economic warfare. Furthermore, actions that, for example, prevent innocent civilians from accessing medications or baby formula, actions that kill people, actions that have become frequently used by those currently controlling global trade, are but one of the reasons that there is a steady flow of countries showing interest in associating with the new economic framework developed by Russia and China.

    There must be a term, a label, for those who see no merit, see nothing “appealing” in the legitimate right of nations to pursue independent economic development, and free association with like-minded members of a trading bloc in which economic warfare plays no part. I wonder what that term could be?

  13. A Commentator

    Each of the first five points I made are directly relevant to the article.
    I’ve outlined a reasonable critique.
    It’s indicative that even when I address the issues, your response is odd repetition of character analysis.
    Although you did identify that you would prefer a greater role in international affairs for brutal autocratic regimes.
    No thanks.
    Other than that- zilch …”diplomacy, the established method of influencing the decisions and behaviour of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence.”
    Economic aid is part of the diplomatic framework, so are economic sanctions.

  14. Steve Davis

    AC claims that “Each of the first five points I made are directly relevant to the article.”

    A bold claim. Let’s see.

    The first point is classic what-aboutism that is not relevant to the article. The article was not about an Australian perspective, it was about a French perspective. If AC wants to write about an Australian perspective he should submit an article for publication.

    The second point makes a claim for which no evidence is given, that a new trading bloc “would disrupt existing international trade and finance structures.” But AC inadvertently let slip an unintended admission – that the only disruption would be to “the parties with most interest in maintaining those existing structures…(who) seek to protect their trade and financial interests.” That’s what this is all about – the protection of financial interests.

    The third point is a blatant misrepresentation about the UN for which AC has failed to apologise, and the fourth blames Putin for a lack of diplomacy even though he tried for years to establish a security arrangement that protected all parties and was rebuffed. AC says “Biden has expressed a willingness to meet Putin” as though that makes Biden some sort of statesman. The reality is that Biden did not show any interest in diplomacy until his proxy war produced blow-back that sees Russian export revenue increasing, NATO running out of armaments, and inflation in the West almost out of control.

    The fifth point is an opinion based on another misrepresentation. To refer to the Russian government as a regime, and later as an autocratic regime, is pure misrepresentation. Russia has a parliamentary system with a functioning opposition, parliamentary debates etc. Does their system have flaws? Most likely, every democracy has flaws, as AC admits in the case of the USA. AC’s argument can be put as “but our flaws are better flaws than their flaws, because…because…Democracy !”

    AC finished with “Economic aid is part of the diplomatic framework, so are economic sanctions.”

    So sanctions that kill by preventing food and medical aid from reaching innocent people living in poverty are “short of war or violence” and so are “part of the diplomatic framework.”

    That tells us all we need to know about AC.

  15. A Commentator

    1# On a site that is called “The Australian Independent Media Network “… I proved an independent, relevant comment on an Australian perspective. It’s odd that you would object to an Australian perspective on an Australian political site.
    2# Perhaps try a little more research. I named BRICS, it isn’t simply a trading bloc, it has already identified an objective of challenging existing international financial and trading structures
    3# It is simply hypocritical to give the French stance a boost, without paying some attention to what they’re not doing, and their rich history of suppression of indigenous people in the Pacific, the maintenance of overseas colonies…yet somehow claiming that emerging countries deserve a greater role in international affairs, while they don’t even bother to address their archaic role on the UNSC
    4# I think you grudgingly accept that Biden has expressed a willingness to meet Putin, however you neglected to criticise the hardline, uncompromising response of Putin
    5# In describing Putin regime as autocratic, I think you’ll find there’s plenty of evidence for that, for example Amnesty International, transparency index and democracy ranking.
    6# Find a definition of your choice about “diplomacy”

  16. Phil Pryor

    Well put, S Davis and others, for “diplomacy may be defined as the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of relations between nations, ” and “the management of international relations by negotiation.” Alternative idiocy is provocative, negative, useless, attracts derision and fails to support the clear need for talks, now, on matters that are killing the innocent.

  17. Steve Davis

    Thanks Phil. You saved me the trouble of proving another misrepresentation.

    AC has tried to justify his waffle with more waffle. “It’s odd that you would object to an Australian perspective on an Australian political site.” A perspective that is not relevant to the subject of the article. As I said, if he’s not happy with the article, he can write his own. His desperate “look over here” is merely intended to deflect attention from the very worthy thrust of the article.

    He said “BRICS…has already identified an objective of challenging existing international financial and trading structures.” And that’s an argument? Of course it’s challenging existing financial and trading structures. That’s the whole point of it. To establish a trading structure where economic warfare and the killing of infants by sanctions has no part. And the thing that he objects to (as a self-appointed spokesman for the long established rules based order where the rules have never been written down) is that for the first time, a system based on the raw exercise of power is being challenged. It’s not just the nature of the challenge, it’s the fact of the challenge.

    He said “It is simply hypocritical to give the French stance a boost, without paying some attention to what they’re not doing, and their rich history of suppression of indigenous people in the Pacific, the maintenance of overseas colonies… “ There is no hypocrisy at all. The author is quite entitled to give the French stance a boost. When an entity that has committed past wrongs gives an indication that it might be changing course to a more co-operative and inclusive position, should we lecture it on its past misdeeds or assist it to make the transition? Which of those two paths would be more productive?

    He keeps telling us that “Biden has expressed a willingness to meet Putin,…” yet he did not point out the USA’s “rich history of suppression of indigenous people…the maintenance of overseas colonies…” He expects a higher standard of conduct from the author than from the leader of one of the most powerful nations on Earth.

    He says there’s evidence for the Putin government being autocratic. Yet the “sources” he quotes are all Western based. How credible is that? It reminds me of all the economic evidence (from Western experts) that showed Russia to be an economic mess, with a pitiful GDP that was smaller than some US states. That wonderful evidence, that brilliant analysis, led to sanctions that were going to “reduce the ruble to rubble”, but who’s knee-deep in economic chaos now? Supermarkets in Russia are chock-a-block with goods and Russians are enjoying warm showers, but it’s a different story in Europe.

  18. Michael Taylor

    We are independent because no body or organisation owns us.

    You might wish to read our Disclaimer, especially this part:

    “Blog Comments.

    The owners, the administrators or authors of this blog reserve the right to edit or delete any comments submitted to this blog without notice due to:

    Comments deemed to be spam or questionable spam

    Comments including profanity

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    Comments posted with the clear intention of diverting or disrupting the topic.”

    Repeatedly, you’ve fitted in to the last point.

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