The Challenges of the 21st Century: A clash of interests or a clash of civilizations ?
Challenges of the 21st Century : A clash of interests or a clash of
delivered by the French Minister for Defense, Mrs Michèle Alliot-Marie,
on "The Challenges of the 21st Century" at the French American Foundation. New York City, October 20, 2006.
Source: DICoD, Paris.
A little bit
more than five years ago, the New York bomb attacks shook the American and
international public opinions.
places that are as distant from one another as Madrid, London, Rabat, Istanbul,
Bali, Karachi, Charm al-Sheikh, were the victims of such attacks. France, hit
by terrorist attacks in 1986 and 1995, does not underestimate such threats.
September the 11th, the international community has joined forces
against terrorism. However, in
Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Somalia, extremism seems to be scoring
efforts of the international community to restore the sovereignty and stability
of state, every week, Afghans, troops of the international force who came to
foster peace, are killed in bomb attacks.
At the onset
of the 21st century, numerous questions are raised. Is this scenario
forecast by some political pundits of the 90s going to take shape?
Is the clash
between the West and the rest of the world, expected by the extremists, on the
move? Are we faced with a conflict of civilisations between the western culture
and the rest of the world, or with a conflict of interests?
Samuel Huntington reckoned that the clash of civilizations would rule the world
to come. I do not believe this clash to be inevitable. And I do not want it
because it would be fatal to us all.
In order to
tackle this question dispassionately, one should not forget that the relations
between the West and the non-Western civilizations have never been easy.
For a long
time, the Westerners behaved as conquistadors. As early as in the 11th century,
the crusades were true military campaigns. Their goal was to defend the
Christian values against the other religions, especially Islam, as well as to
take possession of riches.
lasting hindrances in the relations between the West and the rest of the world.
Many Muslims never forgot the sack of Constantinople by Europeans, more
themselves followed a policy of sometimes military, sometimes religious
conquests. They reached Poitiers in the VIIIth century. In Africa, Islam
conquered the Western coast as early as in the XVIth century.
years went by – and especially during the XIXth and XXth centuries - the French,
British, Dutch, Spanish colonization reached African, Asian or South American
people with Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, animist and other denominations
were occupied by the Westerners.
recently, at the end of the Second World War, the winning powers, in 1945,
established an international political order in their image. The Cold War froze
this distribution into areas of influence.
today, the world of 2006 is not ruled by the western political and cultural
principles only : it is a multipolar and complex world.
colonization is only a memory. The Westerners no longer have the monopoly of
values. The Asians, the Arabs, the Persians, the Latin Americans, the Africans
also claim to have concepts and ways of living of their own.
development makes new demographic, economic and cultural poles emerge
· It is the
case of China and India, demographic and economic powers having long-standing
and strong traditions. These two countries are both exporting staples and
importing raw materials, especially hydrocarbons. Their influence on the world
scene is growing.
· In the
Arab-Muslim world, the oil-producing countries are a conditioning element for
growth. In some Arab countries, extremist Islamic movements are exploiting the
fact that the people feel they have been treated unfairly so as to lead them to
political totalitarianism and cultural nationalism.
· For its
part, Africa is sinking into inter-ethnic conflicts. In numerous countries,
state is falling apart. Poverty is spreading. Turning in on nationalism helps
the governments find scapegoats.
there are no clashes between civilizations. There are clashes between countries
having different economic and social interests. There are also clashes within
civilizations, between those who advocate opening up to others and those who
advocate turning in on their own values. Therefore, we
are confronted with the same problems of intolerance, with the rise of
fundamentalism, as well as with economic, environmental, energy and security
regions of the world justly claim their share of prosperity, of modernity, of
identity. We must accept that. We Americans, we Europeans are attached to our
values and principles: liberty, democracy, and human rights. Giving up the
ambition to make it possible for as many people as possible to enjoy this is out
of question. But we must admit differences, respect identities, take into
consideration the pace civilizations need for their own evolution. This is the
only way we can avoid the feeling shared by many people that we are despising
them. We will then avoid the confusion that brings about a confrontation of
cultures. We should strive to convince people and not impose ideas.
Can a global
confrontation between Westerners and non-Westerners be avoided? I believe so.
Instead of focusing on a so-called clash of civilizations, we will have to
manage conflicts of interests cleverly.
First, let us
convince everyone that the problems of today’s world are transverse :
· Environment, first. Global
warming and the production of carbon dioxide are not a prerogative of the
developed world: they hit all the world economies, and more particularly those
that are going through a rapid growth. Finding solutions without impeding the
development of countries is a challenge that has to be taken up together.
- Access to drinking water is a
major stake. While about ten countries possess 60% of the water resources, the
weather disruptions only increase the discrepancies.
- The decrease of oil and gas reserves concerns our countries as well as the
developing countries. The world energy demand is rising, and will continue to
rise. Only together will we be able to find solutions thanks to all the new
· Migrations, related to crises
and low income in some countries, exist within every continent: South America,
Asia, Africa; and between continents. North America, Australia and Europe are
unrivalled hubs for all immigrants running away from hunger, genocides,
crises-related or civil war-related destructions. Even now Maghreb or Gulf
countries are confronted with that problem.
· Lastly, security problems
threaten all the continents:
- Mass terrorism entails a
large number of victims, whatever their nationality or origin. A war on
terrorism can only be fought together.
- The proliferation of nuclear,
biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction can only worry all of us. The
behavior of Iran and North Korea must lead us to safeguard the future of the
Non-Proliferation Treaty. The international community should be united to face
- The regional wars and crises
are increasing, whether in central Asia, in the Middle East or in Africa, with
the humanitarian and sanitary consequences that we know. Only striving for a
global, military, and also diplomatic, economic, educational and social solution
will bring an end to that.
Together with our partners, we must find
concrete solutions to manage these conflicts
make an additional effort for Defense. Since 2002,
spurred by President Jacques Chirac, France has experienced a significant rise
of her military budget. Above all –
together with the United Kingdom and Germany – France has developed European
Defense. For the last four years, the European Union has been setting up
significant tools, like the Battle groups, the operations center, the European
participates in about fifteen operations throughout the world, including two
major military operations, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo.
industrial level, the European cooperation patterns were reinforced during the
last years in order to create armament programs in which numerous European
countries are participating. Today,
European Defense is the most dynamic element of the European building process.
NATO must be
deployed in the framework of long-term heavy military missions, with a
significant American commitment. European
Defense is more dedicated to smaller scale operations where reactivity and
contact with populations is a priority.
solutions exacerbate crises. Therefore, we must re-establish the authority of
the UN, which is, let me remind it, the only keeper of international legitimacy. But whether
the UN is credible in its ability to implement the Security Council’s
resolutions is another matter. And whether
our blue helmets may operate on the field in good conditions, with reliable
rules of engagement if the situation requests it is also another matter.
the sensitive Arab-Muslim region, it is necessary to help the moderates. We must
help them find a balance between a quest for modernity and the respect of
answer is not just security: it is a political, economic and cultural one
conclusion, three years ago, during the debate about Iraq, some authors upheld
that Europe comes from Venus, and that the United States comes from Mars. While
the Americans were ready for a military deployment, the Europeans were taking
pleasure in a certain passiveness.
international situation is not good. There are numerous areas of instability,
not to say chaos. Faced with these difficulties, the international community
sometimes gives the impression that it is somewhat disoriented.
It is a good
reason to act together, in order to highlight our common values and interests.
We will be all the more likely to do so as we perform with a sense of psychology
and human respect.
and solidarity will be more efficient than arrogance and uniformity.
implies the military effort to be continued, because the new world will not be
more lenient to the weakest than the old one.
The world is
reconstructing at a quicker pace. In a multipolar world, it is essential that
Europe and the United States may bring answers together.
means: like equal, respectful and confiding allies.
Let us take
advantage of the improvement of the transatlantic relations to see to it that
the EU and North America work hand in hand to bring an answer adapted to the
major stakes of this world.
us take up the challenges of the beginning of this 21st century!