French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the world now stands at a major crossroads, but that acting together the United States and Europe could lead the way in solving economic imbalances, ethnic and religious tensions, and the threat to the planet’s natural resources.
“Faced with global disorder, we have a choice: Either we maintain the competition among our states, or we resolutely embark on the path of cooperation,” de Villepin told a packed crowd at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Friday (March 16). “There is no power in standing alone.”
As French foreign minister in 2003, de Villepin was perhaps one of the most visible opponents of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. But while asserting that the war “shattered America’s image” and “undermined the image of the West as a whole,” he did not linger on past differences.
He urged the United States to focus more on political rather than military solutions.
“The United States’ true strength isn’t its army,” he said. “It is its ability to embody progress and modernity; it is its mastery of cutting-edge technologies; it is the attractiveness of its land and its culture to the rest of the world.”
Conversely, he said Europe must accept its political responsibilities and “assume its role as a military power.”
De Villepin said a top priority is to build a lasting peace in the Middle East. He called on a renewed push to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a restoration of aid to the Palestinian government. He urged the United States to pull its troops from Iraq within a year, and called for a greater regional and international role in the future of the country. And while saying that Iran with a nuclear capability “is unacceptable,” he said Iran’s regional role should be recognized.
De Villepin also spoke personally about the importance of experience in shaping young people. He told the audience that he once considered coming to Harvard. Instead, urged by his father, he traveled to Asia and, profoundly moved by his experiences, decided to embark on a career in the foreign service.
“I always tell my son: Meet different people, go in the Foreign Legion, go out of a plane in a parachute, take risks,” he told the audience. “Life is good when you take risks, then you will learn something very important that you won’t learn, always, in university or school. You will learn something about yourself. You will learn that when you believe you have limits, you may go a little further.”