Driving forces in war-wary nations

The stances of France, Germany, Russia, and China are colored by economic and national interests.

For months, diplomats from France, Germany, Russia, and China have bobbed and weaved in the hushed chamber of the UN Security Council, attempting to slow or block what many in their countries see as a US rush toward war with Iraq.

Much of their opposition stems from a genuine adversity toward combat, at least in this instance. But besides its principles, each nation is also considering a mix of economic realities and national interests that tend to color its decision.

France

Among these issues: domestic constituencies strongly opposed to war with Iraq; leaders' desires to undercut the US on the world stage; lucrative contracts to develop oil fields with Iraq; and billions Iraq owes them in unpaid foreign debt.

It's this mix of higher ideals and lower desires that has helped make the Security Council debate so protracted, say some experts. An examination of some of these motives might help explain why arguments in coming days - as the Council considers actions that make make war all but inevitable - could well become explosive.

"These countries have cross-cutting interests," says Jim Walsh, an expert on international security at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "I think all of them genuinely think this is a bad idea. But these countries all have things they want to accomplish that would be much easier if they have a positive relationship with the US."

Among the five permanent Security Council members, France is the most adamant against moving too quickly toward war with Iraq.

As many as 6 million of its 60 million people are Muslim, and most of the country - 77 percent according to a French poll earlier this month - oppose war with Iraq.

Moreover, both France and Germany have dealt with terrorism much longer than the US, going back to the early 1970s. And both countries, experts say, are worried that a war with Iraq will increase the likelihood of retaliatory terrorist strikes on their countries.

But France also has economic interests that would be more lucrative if Saddam Hussein stays in power. Iraq France's TotalFinaElf has contracts with Iraq to develop the Majnoon and Bin Umar fields, once sanctions are lifted. In addition, Iraq owes France billions in foreign debt accrued from arms sales in the 1970s and '80s, which experts say could be virtually uncollectible in the case of war.

"Most of these governments stand to make some money, so they do have some interest in the current Iraqi government surviving," says Mike Lynch, managing director of Strategic Energy and Economic Resources in Boston. "It's not trivial amounts of money. Once it's developed, the oil will be 2.5 million barrels per day."

France, too, has a desire to reclaim a leading role in Europe, if not the world. "France wants to undercut the US and reduce its superpower status and try to create a greater place in Europe for France," says Robert Pfaltzgraf, an international-relations expert at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass.

But Mr. Pfaltzgraf asserts there's a paradox in that desire. He points out that the parity France has with the US on the Security Council is likely to be undermined if France protests too much, or goes as far as to veto the new resolution. If the Security Council is marginalized, as President Bush argues it will be if it becomes only a debating vehicle with no strength, then France will have undermined its own position.

Germany

Germany is not one of the permanent five members of the Security Council, but is currently serving as rotating president of the larger 15-member Council.

Germany's domestic issues and economic interests are similar to France's. A recent Gallup poll showed 50 percent of Germans are not in favor of war, and 71 percent are against supporting military action in Iraq, even if the UN sanctions it.

Germany, too, is owed billions by Iraq in foreign debt. And German companies are positioning themselves for a piece of the Iraqi economic pie. For example, DaimlerChrysler was awarded six Iraqi contracts for trucks and spare parts totaling $13 million last year, according to the UN. And the company is negotiating to sell Iraq another 100 trucks.

Moreover, after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was narrowly reelected last year - running on an antiwar campaign - the relationship between him and Mr. Bush has been far from cordial.

"After that election, a very personal and insulting exchange occurred between President Bush and Chancellor Schröder," says Harvard's Mr. Walsh. "Then, Germans were even more insulted because Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled them part of 'old Europe.' "

Russia

One of the permanent five, Russia has vacillated in its support for disarming the Iraqi regime. That is due, experts say, to Russia's economic and political interests in Iraq, as well as its wish to reattain superpower status.

"I think their concerns are much more of the strategic kind," Walsh says. "They want to assert themselves as leaders on the world stage, but they don't want to burn any bridges with the US."

On the economic front, Iraq owes Russia at least $6 billion in foreign debt. And Russia's LUKoil and several smaller oil companies have signed contracts to develop about a dozen oil fields, once sanctions are lifted.

"These contracts, reported to provide annual returns of near 20 percent, offer the potential for enormous production growth," says Adam Sieminski, an oil analyst with Deutsche Bank in London.

China

Of the permanent five, China has the most tenuous relations with the US.

Those relations have vacillated in the past two years - from a tense standoff in 2001 during the spy-plane incident to China's unflagging support for the US following the 9/11 attacks.

But China, experts say, does not have a strategic interest in the Middle East: China has only one small contract with Iraq to develop one oil field.

Experts also say that China needs the US for full economic integration into the rest of the world.

And for the time being, Beijing is more worried about the North Korea crisis and other entanglements in its region.

* * *

Experts say that it may be harder than in the past to bring these countries into conformity with the US and British positions, but they do think it will happen.

"The classic case so far has been to complain, drag their feet, then capitulate," says Walsh. "They might make a big stink, force the US to delay, but then go back to their publics and say, 'We did everything we could to avert a war.' That sort of inoculates them politically."

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