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Interview: former French diplomat Hubert Védrine on China and a West 'in disarray'

Former Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, author of 'History Strikes Back,' offers a realist view on a central challenge for Europe and the United States: the rise of China.

By Staff Writer / January 27, 2010


Hubert Védrine is one of France’s foremost foreign affairs thinkers, articulating a “realist” view on what he calls a “West in disarray.” Mr. Védrine served as foreign minister of France from 1997 to 2002. Philip Gordon, the new US point man on Europe, translated Védrine’s latest book, “History Strikes Back,” shortly before joining the Obama administration.

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The Monitor sat down with Védrine last week at his Paris office overlooking the Seine to discuss to “a post-American world,” the China threat, and whether Europe will cease to regard itself as a “great Switzerland,” as Vedrine puts it.

Q: The so called “Eurabia” question is a hot one in Europe – how to deal with new cultures and peoples, especially Muslims. The Swiss vote in November to ban minarets is one of many examples. Does this have repercussions for international relations?

A: My starting point is that “the West” was a conceptual revolution. The Europeans, then Americans, had total mastery over power, concepts, and values for several centuries. This is coming to an end, with huge consequences. Two issues arise as things change: One is how the West will react. Will it be defensive or violent? Or, will there be an intelligent management toward “relative leadership” – shared power and order.

The second question is globalization and its meaning. In my view, globalization is both extraordinary on an economic level -- but also extraordinarily violent on “identity” and the politics that flow from that. On this, I don’t share Thomas Friedman’s point of view.

Q: What are the main differences here between US and Europe?

A: American policy has gone through different moments and trends. Robert Kagan’s view in “The Return of History” is a caricature, but not entirely wrong. The US has retained a culture of power and force. They are not deluded idealists, whereas, since World War II, Europeans cultivated an illusion of becoming a great Switzerland. The Europeans have hope in a post-historic, post-traumatic, post-identity world -- a great international community. It would be possible if there were 6.5 billion Europeans on the planet! That’s why I think America’s attitude is in general more realistic, even though sometimes, the US uses force badly.

Q. You sound like Europe is in denial.