Hosted by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC), Meet in Mitte is an insightful new lecture series in the heart of Berlin, where leading thinkers debate essential ideas in an impartial environment. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former Prime Minister of France, delivered his address on new alliances for peace at the DOC’s Berlin headquarters on 10 September 2019.
I am happy to be here in Berlin during a particularly interesting period of international relations. First of all, it is indeed 30 years of what has been considerable upheaval since the fall of the wall.
And today we are in a particularly complex and particularly dangerous international situation, which means we much to discuss: there was the latest G7 summit, held in Biarritz, France; we have an electoral campaign in the United States, which is starting, or more precisely, which never stops; there is the seventieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, with demonstrations of extremely powerful force; in Europe, we also have a complex problem that is approaching an impasse when it comes to Brexit; and of course there are also the initiatives of President Macron that we will talk about, particularly regarding his last speech to the French ambassadors putting Russia back as a priority of French diplomacy. All this in an extremely dangerous context with this brutal commercial war between China and the United States.
I am happy, therefore, to speak to you here at the Dialogue of Civilizations. The foundation that I preside over, Leaders for Peace, is very motivated by collaboration on the topics which we will discuss together tonight; and that is why I thank you for your reception and it is my great pleasure to speak in front of you today.
I do not speak with the French style of arrogance or insolence that would ignore the problems of my own country. I speak from the point of view of a balancing power that is unaligned. In ‘former Prime Minister’, ‘former’ means free, and so I speak to you as a free man, an observer of European life for 40 years and involved in the relationship between Europe and China for 50 years, since next year I will celebrate my 50 years with China, which I have visited more than a hundred times, so that today I am the special representative of the President of the French Republic for Chinese issues.
We will try to think, as the subject invites us, of alliances; of the alliances imposed on us by the circumstances and of the strategies of the respective actors. We will look at the circumstances of the new international situation. In my opinion, three major elements define the new international situation. First, the tension between the United States and China. For me, this tension is lasting. I am not a sinologist but there was a French diplomat named Paul Claudel, a great writer, who when asked his opinion of the Chinese answered with real emphasis, “Your question embarrasses me; I do not do not know everyone”. I am in this situation. But I have been an observer for a number of years, and I tell you, this Sino-American tension is the first factor that characterises our international situation. The second factor is the uncertainties and fragilities of the construction of the European project, or rather, the threats of deconstruction. And thirdly, what we might call the emergence of Eurasia.
On the Sino-American situation, I think we are obviously witnessing an intense trade war, but as everyone recognises, the war goes well beyond the commercial dimension and what we can see is essentially a competition between systems and a tension between the systems. In European diplomacy, we speak of the ‘Thucydides trap’, referring to his analysis of the competition between Athens and Sparta, explaining that those in first position have no alternative but to wage a war on those in second position if they want to remain first. The process of history later demonstrated this as a valid theory. We might also think of Carthago delenda est; Rome had to destroy Carthage if it did not want to be overtaken by Carthage.
So we can see that in the United States, international supremacy is a major concern and in recent election campaigns, public opinion has been accustomed to this idea of a competition with China and attacks against China, arguing it prevents America developing more strongly. Until now, election campaigns have always been marked by competition with China but the day after the election the president-elect’s attitude tended to be moderate and generally not warlike. This includes Hillary Clinton when she campaigned against Obama and then became Secretary of State. She had a very pointed campaign against China, but in the first week of her tenure as Secretary of State, she went to Beijing and there were no questions of human rights, no questions of tariffs, no questions of upsetting subjects; things were appeased.
The Chinese were accustomed to the campaigns being agitated but later the ground was smoothed over. But then with Trump, the battle continued. And this battle, they believe, will last because it is an element that could be decisive in his re-election. And so there is an outlook that basically says Trump will continue and install this theme permanently, in order to further his own campaign. This determination is very strong.
Faced with this, there is great Chinese concern. The Chinese are hostile but at the same time fascinated by the United States. Many of the children of their leaders, who were previously educated in Paris or London, are now studying in the United States. There is great Chinese interest in the United States; a nervousness, but an interest.
In addition, due to their complex and sophisticated thinking process, the Chinese do not seek tensions and try to avoid tensions in this balance of power that they refer to as ‘the potential situation’, whereby the good Chinese general is the one who wins the war without having to deliver it. That is to say, the tensions are creating a balance of power that they are not seeking.
So they are uncomfortable with this tension, especially as they fear – in the short term – that the Trump election will make them lose face internationally, as this debate between China and the United States is occupying the whole world’s media and an election is near. This also means it will be part of the next presidential mandate, so China is likely to lose out and it is viewing this with an intense nervousness. China is convinced that it will win in the medium term; it is convinced that the future is favourable but it fears failure in the short term.
The Chinese have a number of assets that they want to put forward. They know very well that in any case, the digital and technological society of the future will go through problems of scarcity and they also know that two-thirds of science and technology graduates in the United States are of Asian origin. So they have assets in society but for the moment they fear this tension.
And so the Chinese are in a situation where they want to negotiate, where they are willing to make concessions and are ready to make important concessions. And so I think that the United States regularly stops the tension to garner satisfaction, then the tensions start again: we are in a situation of stop and go where we see that the Chinese seek agreement with the United States and the United States seeks conflict for political reasons. We have seen China recently take relatively moderate positions regarding Iran, even though it is Iran’s primary customer and supplier, because it is trying not to irritate the United States.
This situation is, especially for Europe but also for all the other world powers, rather unpleasant because of two possible outcomes: one where one of the two powers prevails, such that it dominates the world; and another where there is a risk of vassalisation, whereby a duopoly settles – in that moment it will be very difficult to be the third party outside of a marriage of the other two.
Our situation is dangerously fragile because of these tensions. And even if it is only commercial, the use of the word ‘war’ is something that countries that have known war in their country – which the United States has not, or at least, not an international war – are sometimes deeply afraid of. We fear that wars may be triggered by errors or hazardous circumstances. So this is a tension that is before us and will mark our international landscape indefinitely.
My second point concerns European uncertainties. I’m going quickly but you can see that this Brexit affair has serious consequences. We can see that there is no good solution. This is something very difficult, very difficult for the British first: they promised that the output would cost less and in fact the output is more expensive. And so they are in a situation where today the promise is the opposite of reality. And so anyway, things cannot turn out well and we still see that there are a number of very difficult consequences.
This is seen even in the domestic politics of Brexit. We can see that in the rise of the populists – also in the Italian and Spanish situations. Germany certainly remains powerful but we still speak of a political transition which means that there are some uncertainties.
And thus we can see that Europe today is facing a situation of fragility. Fragility with international pressures, firstly from the Americans. Frankly, I do not know what General De Gaulle would have said, but when Mr Trump arrives in London and announces as his first statement “we must liberate the United Kingdom from the chains of Europe” – if this really is not interference in European affairs, then what is it? So we clearly see a painful situation, and this is not to mention the Eurozone, which is still very much disputed by the Americans, particularly by the financial community.
In this context, we can see that Europe’s relations with its various partners, particularly the great powers, are far from their best. It is clear that on the difficult issue of Syria, the hesitations of Obama on the one hand, and the discussions between France and the United States on the other hand, have led to a situation that does not correspond to the initial strategy. All this has allowed Vladimir Putin to assume leadership in this area, which has contributed to the return of Russia to the forefront of global powers.
All this creates a number of tensions. In a way, there is tension with China, because Europe has not really had an operational response, at least not a proactive one, to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Europe is dealing with the 17+1 format of Chinese cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries – meaning this space to the east with which China works on the BRI – on the one hand, and with this so-called strategy of ‘connectivity’ we want to articulate with the BRI on the other hand.
We can see that the Chinese are not taking into account the ideological responses. They want practical, operational answers and we are not in a position today to propose concrete projects for which we could say to the Chinese, ‘here is our project, here are our companies, here are our norms and we wish things to happen in such and such a way’.
All of this means Europe is dealing with a bad situation with the United States, a fragile situation with China, and also a situation with Russia marked by sanctions in particular and by this rhetorical process carried out by Russia that contains some truth in saying that sanctions are more an American strategy than a European one and that Europe has followed American guidelines. Incidentally, I note that in the speech of the President of the French Republic on sanctions, he himself says that we must question whether these sanctions really serve our interests. It could be that they serve the interests of others and our relationship with Russia is being disturbed by the interventions of others who do not have the same interests as us.
This issue of sanctions is very important. The question of security in Eastern Europe is also an important issue: when we see that in Sweden, a small booklet has been distributed to talk about the possible war with Russia and how it would happen, we see that the idea of a war with Russia, which is not at all credible in Paris, seems credible in Sweden. Naturally, it also appears credible in Eastern European and Baltic countries. On one side, the Russians are saying that NATO is preparing for war; and on the other side, Eastern Europe is saying that the Russians are preparing for war. What is clear is that security in Eastern Europe is a major subject that needs addressing and new measures have been taken on the French side. I hope that steps will be taken on the European side to readdress the security issue and to rebuild a dialogue with Russia.
Amidst all of this, there are significant uncertainties across Europe, particularly questions that the new commission of Ursula van der Leyden will have to deal with. These include immigration, relations with Africa, and questions of defence. All of this is very difficult.
The emergence of Eurasia
So firstly, we have Sino-American tensions as the backdrop to the international situation; secondly, a continent representing major Western influence is struggling; and thirdly, we have what I call ‘the emergence of Eurasia’.
The power of China – and the power of the Chinese will to generate a number of initiatives around the concept of Eurasia – is key here. It is Chinese power that makes it possible to create unity and develop cooperation. It is not only the powerful project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)but it is also the tools that have been created for the BRI. I am thinking here of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Of the 74 members and 26 prospective members, many received messages from Washington telling them not to sign up, but are now participating in this bank, which has supported more than 50 projects worth over $10 billion.
A new situation has created this emergence of Eurasia: the new relationship between China and Russia, a subject on which we see frequent forecasts. I represented the French president at the two Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation gatherings organised by Xi Jinping. Vladimir Putin was present at both forums and I was sat at the neighbouring table. Two years ago, the relationship between the two presidents was cordial, and this year the relationship was almost fraternal. In terms of their body language, it was almost as if Vladimir Putin were in Moscow surrounded by his own friends.
We cannot deny that something has happened, especially when we know the history, when we see what could have happened, and when we consider that there may always be differences between Russia and China. Firstly, Europe has turned its back on Russia through the sanctions regime. And secondly, China has welcomed Russia through the BRI but also through a number of other initiatives. This means the Russia-China axis has grown considerably, and, although it does not solve all their problems and is not necessarily a complete alliance for the future, we must take it into account. Not only have Russia and China built a number of operational strategies but they have also worked on development strategies and convergent diplomatic strategies.
The emergence of Eurasia spells the return of Russia to the forefront of the world’s diplomatic powers. We are in a situation today whereby, after the difficulties the Russian economy has experienced, the country has seen a marked decline. But after the clear diplomatic withdrawal of the United States during the Obama years, we have seen numerous instances – think of Syria, Turkey, Iran, and in various parts of Africa – of Russia regaining a powerful diplomatic position around the world.
The great diplomatic powers of the world are certainly dependent on their economic power but through its trade, its history, and its ability to understand international relations, Russia still possesses a power of action that makes it a major force across Eurasia. Russia lies to the east of Europe and to the west of Eurasia so through its geographical position, it also wields significant influence.
Herein lie today’s problems: firstly, we have China and the United States consistently raising problems for Europe of choice and arbitration, the latter being particularly delicate and generally something Europe is ill-equipped for; then there is Europe’s need to rethink its own destiny, whereby we hope for some form of Renaissance, but the future is complex; then we see this great Eurasian continent appearing, which seems all the more impressive as the United States withdraws somewhat from particular situations; and furthermore, there is the China-Russia axis.
In this context of multiple global challenges, I’m going to look at the question of new alliances. For us, the French, there is no international presence or political power without a powerful Franco-German partnership. Franco-German capacity is actually one of the key features in achieving a global balance of power. I say this having attended the meeting at the Élysée Palace last March when, for a state visit by President Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron also received Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker.
In the beginning, I assure you the Chinese were not favourable to this, but they finally accepted and in the end were very content with the situation. Europe was able to express itself and this came largely from one country agreeing to put Europe before its bilateral relationship with China by effectively saying that this relationship depended on a greater bilateral relationship between China and Europe.
This has been very important for some time. I was Jacques Chirac’s prime minister during the Iraq war affair and we strongly opposed George Bush’s military intervention in Iraq. Jacques Chirac sent me to the four countries that had supported us in the Security Council, which were the four countries with which we wanted to develop partnerships and see an economic extension of our political agreement. There was China, there was India, and there were the two neighbours of the United States, which had shown particular courage: Canada and Mexico.
I went to these four countries and listened to what they said about the issues surrounding the Iraq war and the foreign intervention. In a nutshell, what came across very strongly is that the world saw the voice of Chirac, but with Chirac the world could see the Schröder-Chirac agreement. That is to say, it was France and Germany standing together. From a European point of view, the image of France was ubiquitous. But around the world, there was a basic idea that Germany and France were making common cause. I believe this was very important in terms of the balance of power and in terms of international credibility.
In the international situation of today and especially in the balance of power between China and the United States, a powerful relationship between Germany and France is an essential geopolitical strategy. In fact, when you look at the big figures of the two countries together, they equate to the dimensions of a continent. That does not mean we should underestimate other European countries and it does not mean we have to go it alone, and nor does it mean we have to change the European strategy. But what is necessary is that France and Germany, in Europe, have this capacity to act as a pole of balance between these two great powers.
This is a basic core without which moving forward will be impossible. But this core is not enough. And that is why the President of the French Republic has relaunched, with France’s ambassadors, the idea of a new relationship with Russia. Macron made some very important remarks, saying that pushing Russia away from Europe is a deep strategic mistake and that we need to rebuild the trust that we no longer have with Russia.
The Europe-Russia axis is a very important one in the French president’s strategy. I believe it is very important for a large number of European partners as well. What this shows is that deep down, Europe shares a strategic agreement around the vision that there is no European future, no European power, if there is no agreement on security in Eastern Europe, because if we do not have security in Eastern Europe, then there is no European project and there is no security in Eastern Europe if there is no discussion or relationship with Russia.
This renewal in relations is now on offer with the aim of, firstly, affirming and supporting the European dimension of Russia, and, secondly, of getting out of this logic whereby our American partners have sometimes led us to actions vis-à-vis Russia that are in their interests but against ours. We need to question whether the policies we have initiated on sanctions are favourable to us. Generally speaking, this is not the case but this is especially so for a few particular parliamentary structures in Western Europe.
This is a new orientation that is very important. It is a significant commitment, since things have been deteriorating for years. We will have to talk about various difficulties, including of course Ukraine and Syria. But we also have to talk about the convergences, especially Iran. This means there must be a step forward, says the French President, for France vis-à-vis Russia. In recognising this aim, we probably need to acknowledge a history in our administration and in our Foreign Ministry that needs to be overcome in order to draw closer to Russia.
I believe this kind of political strategy is sustainable but that it has a future if it integrates France, Germany, and Russia. It is as France and Germany together that we can speak of a European resistance vis-à-vis the two great powers, these two large bulldozers with the potential to crush us. We must have Franco-Germany unity to exert this kind of power but we must open up to Russia in order to best manage our European logic. We cannot defend the European project if we do not regulate both the place of Russia in Europe and the question of security in the East. This poses major questions and of course there will be numerous criticisms.
We need to strengthen the France-Germany-Russia bond. Naturally, we do not necessarily have the same position on these topics in Germany and France, but there is no European destiny without a close relationship with Russia.
The question now arises as to whether we stop at Franco-German partnership, Franco-German-Russian partnership, or whether we aim for cooperation between France, Germany, Russia, and China. That’s the big question today. I think we should consider this because this Eurasian land mass could be the world’s central continent; the alliance of Asia and Europe could be the power of tomorrow and certainly the space of tomorrow.
We have to take into account Asia’s impressive power when we see that the world today is being redistributed due to the speed of execution and the steep development trajectory, of course of China but also in Japan, Korea, Singapore, and elsewhere. We cannot remain indifferent to the Asian dynamic. Today, this dynamic rivals the United States and it is therefore of fundamental interest to us all.
A decade ago when we had the debt crisis in Europe and the Euro suffered, who defended the Euro? It was not the Americans that bought the Euro; on the contrary, they said the Eurozone was doomed. Who bought the Euro? It was the Chinese. I am not saying the Chinese did this for us. They did it because they did not want to face the United States alone and they preferred a tripolar world to a bipolar world.
This convergence, however, will not happen without Russia. It cannot be done without a complete arc. For there to be a global arc that is a powerful enough alliance to balance Chinese power, I believe France, Germany, and Russia – without excluding others at the European level – have the capacity to generate the necessary influence.
What is tragic in the world is that whereas war can happen by mistake, peace is never so easy as to fall from the sky. Peace takes work. It is a major task that takes a great deal of preparation. Without powers at work against the risks of war, peace will not happen. A county’s allies should not be seen as exclusive alliances; they should be seen as alliances of responsibility that carry out the work of peace, the work of understanding ‘the other’, of building a reciprocity of respect, and of finding agreements and levels of consensus that must be found to build the dynamics of peace.
In order to give substance to the idea of a greater Eurasia and to build fertile cooperation, Russia and Europe may well find cause for cooperation in Africa. Promoting the harmonious development of Africa will not work if we do not function alongside Russian diplomacy, which is still very powerful in Africa, but also alongside Chinese funding. If we do not put all our assets together, we are unlikely to succeed in supporting the harmonious development of Africa.
China alone sometimes creates problems through its initiatives in Africa. If we did all of this together, cooperatively, it would probably be more balanced and more fertile. My personal plea goes a little further than that of my president: whereas President Macron speaks of France and Russia, I tell myself that there is no European power if there is no Franco-German agreement and today there is no European destiny if there is no agreement with Russia. As we share a continental land mass with Asia, there should be an architecture that allows us to develop harmoniously.
None of this means we have to abandon the United States; nor does it mean we have to look for confrontation. It simply means that we must be aware that today we are no longer on the American horizon and we can no longer rely on Americans as we have been able to.
We have political and ideological proximities with the US that we do not share with China and Russia. But today, there is a global interest in sharing the strategy of the great Eurasian continent and in this respect, an Asia that knows what it wants has done the necessary work and already has its ‘Marshall Plan’ in place with the Belt and Road Initiative. From the European side, unity is key and without Russia’s ongoing inclusion we will not establish a sustainable peace.
After the G20, after the G8, after the G7, after all of these institutional configurations, we need a G4. We will find another name for it to be a little more creative, but we should build a clear partnership that advances by agreeing long-term collaboration between France, Germany, Russia, and China.
Special Representative of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for China
To get weekly updates from Dialogue of Civilisations Research Institute subscribe to our Newsletter
You may also be interested in our latest publications: