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U.S./Europe: Blair Warns Against French 'Multipolar' Vision

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned that any attempt by Europe to set itself up as a rival center of power to the U.S. would be "dangerous and destabilizing." Blair's comments are seen as a direct challenge to France's President Jacques Chirac and his vision of a "multipolar" world.

Prague, 29 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Divisions between Washington and Paris over Iraq appeared to take an alarming turn this week when a French publication mockingly reported a U.S.-led invasion of France.

"American, British, and Monaco forces land in France," the newspaper "The Monde" reported. "[French President Jacques] Chirac calls for resistance...Pro-American uprising on the Left Bank."

It's a spoof, of course -- a send-up of the split between supporters of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and France, one of the war's most vocal opponents.

But one of Washington's closest allies has warned that the split does indeed pose grave dangers.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday it would be, "a disaster for the world" if the rift over Iraq developed into divisions last seen in the Cold War.

Blair challenged Chirac's vision of a "multipolar" world. This vision says it's dangerous for one country -- in this case the U.S. -- to have too much power. There have to be counterweights to this power -- like a strong Europe -- in order to restrain the U.S.

But Blair said this would be dangerous and destabilizing, and it would encourage America to act alone.

Instead, he said an effort must be made to try and bridge the trans-Atlantic divide. That way, he said, Europeans can have more influence over the U.S.

"I think it's extremely important that everybody understand that, notwithstanding whatever differences may have arisen over the war in Iraq, there is a deeply strategic identity of interests between European nations and North American nations."

John Weston is a former British ambassador to NATO and the UN. He says it's "frivolous" to think that rival power centers would be able to tackle the really big problems facing the world -- such as population growth, mass migration, and poverty.

And he agrees that the best way to restrain U.S unilateralist tendencies is to try and keep the U.S. as a "team player."

"I'm against the U.S. going off at a tangent by itself because it believes it has some inner truth that is denied to the rest of us. But the way to prevent that from happening in my view is not to seek to create alternative poles of power that rival the U.S. It is to seek by every way to simply keep them engaged in the multilateral exercise and persuade them that their own enlightened self interest is much better handled through that dimension."

Just today, France and three other European countries opposed to the war held a minisummit on defense -- a meeting that drew immediate criticism from Britain and other European countries whose governments backed the war.

Critics to the British position, like Yves Boyer, the assistant director of Paris's Foundation for Strategic Research, is disparaging about Blair's recipe for how to restrain American unilateralism. He says it amounts to "Do as the U.S. wants -- or else it will do what it wants anyway."

"It's precisely because there is not a multipolar world that the U.S. feels it's able to act unilaterally. The more there will be a multipolar world, the more the U.S. will find interest to participate in this multipolar world and to engage in these negotiations with other countries. As long as they perceive themselves as so powerful they don't need to negotiate or to take advice, they don't need that. They withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol [on global warming], or at least they will not ratify. They withdrew from the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] treaty and so on, which proves a strong unilateralist tendency in the present U.S. administration."

Boyer says that if Iraq divided Europe, Blair himself must shoulder the blame.

"Precisely because the U.K. so early in the crisis sided unilaterally with he U.S. without any consultation with European partners, we reached the point where we have a great dividing line within the EU. So it's very paradoxical that he says so, because he was the first one to move, to go rapidly to Washington and say 'OK, I side with you,' without prior consultation with his European colleagues." Boyer also questions Blair's credentials as a "bridge" between Europe and the U.S. It's a tall order, he says, when Britain is so isolated from Europe's two other big players, France and Germany.