France out, India in


WASHINGTON - Sometimes I wish that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council could be chosen like the starting five for the NBA All-Star teams - with a vote by the fans. If so, I would certainly vote France off the council and replace it with India. Then the perm-five would be Russia, China, India, Britain and the United States. That's more like it.

Why replace France with India? Because India is the world's biggest democracy, the world's largest Hindu nation and the world's second-largest Muslim nation, and, quite frankly, India is just so much more serious than France these days.

France is so caught up with its need to differentiate itself from America to feel important, it's become silly. India has grown out of that game. India may be ambivalent about war in Iraq, but it comes to its ambivalence honestly. Also, France can't see how the world has changed since the end of the Cold War. India can.

Throughout the Cold War, France sought to differentiate itself by playing between the Soviet and American blocs. France could get away with this entertaining little game for two reasons: First, it knew that Uncle Sam, in the end, would always protect it from the Soviet bear. So France could tweak America's beak, do business with Iraq and enjoy America's military protection. And second, the Cold War world was, we now realize, a much more stable place. Although it was divided between two nuclear superpowers, both were status quo powers in their own way. They represented different orders, but they both represented order.

That is now gone. Today's world is also divided, but it is increasingly divided between the World of Order - anchored by America, the European Union, Russia, India, China and Japan, and joined by scores of smaller nations - and the World of Disorder, dominated by rogue regimes like Iraq's and North Korea's and various global terrorist networks.

How the World of Order deals with the World of Disorder is the key question of the day. There is room for disagreement. There is no room for a lack of seriousness. And the whole French game on Iraq, spearheaded by its diplomacy-lite foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, lacks seriousness. Most of France's energy is devoted to holding America back from acting alone

The French position is utterly incoherent. The inspections have not worked yet, says Mr. de Villepin, because Mr. Hussein has not fully cooperated, and, therefore, we should triple the number of inspectors.

But the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Mr. Hussein's part, as the French know.

Mr. de Villepin also suggested that Iraq pass "legislation to prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction." That proposal alone is a reminder of why, if America didn't exist and Europe had to rely on France, most Europeans today would be speaking either German or Russian.

I also want to avoid a war - but not by letting Mr. Hussein off the hook, which would undermine the United Nations, set back the winds of change in the Arab world and strengthen the World of Disorder.

The only possible way to coerce Mr. Hussein into compliance - without a war - is for the whole world to line up shoulder-to-shoulder against his misbehavior, without any gaps.

If France were serious about its own position, it would join the United States in setting a deadline for Iraq to comply, and backing it up with a second U.N. resolution authorizing force if Iraq does not. And France would send its prime minister to tell that directly to Mr. Hussein.

Oh, France's prime minister was on the road last week. He was out drumming up business for French companies in the world's biggest emerging computer society. He was in India.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays in The Sun.

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