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The Challenges of the 21<sup>st</sup> Century: A clash of interests or a clash of civilizations ?


The Challenges of the 21st Century : A clash of interests or a clash of civilizations ?


Speech 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.

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A little bit more than five years ago, the New York bomb attacks shook the American and international public opinions.


Since then, 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.


Since 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 points.


Despite the 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?

  • How is it possible to manage conflicts cleverly and jointly ? Is there an actual clash of civilizations ?

In 1993, 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.


This caused 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 specifically Venetians!


The Muslims 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.


Later, as years went by – and especially during the XIXth and XXth centuries - the French, British, Dutch, Spanish colonization reached African, Asian or South American countries.


Numerous people with Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, animist and other denominations were occupied by the Westerners.


More 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.


As seen today, the world of 2006 is not ruled by the western political and cultural principles only : it is a multipolar and complex world.


In 2006, 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.


Economic 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.


In fact, 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 issues.


All the 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.

  • The distribution of resources, then, is particularly unfair:

- 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 energies.

· 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 this problem.

- 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

  • At the security level, we must reinforce our means of action in terms of security and defense:

Everyone must 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 Defense Agency.


Today, EU participates in about fifteen operations throughout the world, including two major military operations, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


At the 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.

  • At the political level, the return of international legitimacy must be fostered.

Unilateral 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.


Besides, in 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 identities.

  • One must convince people and not impose things from the outside.

The answer is not just security: it is a political, economic and cultural one


In 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.


Today, the 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.


  • Diversity and solidarity will be more efficient than arrogance and uniformity.


However, this 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.


  • 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.


Together, let us take up the challenges of the beginning of this 21st century!

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).