No one at our Dean’s Discussion with French Ambassador Gérard Araud on Friday knew that at that moment, Islamic State militants were launching calculated attacks in six locations across Paris, killing at least 129 people and wounding 352 others.
Araud, Ambassador of France to the United States, was visiting SIS to discuss French foreign policy with Dean James Goldgeier, students, and faculty. In light of the Paris attacks, the discussion, originally titled “French Foreign Policy in an Unstable World,” reveals the urgency of finding policy solutions for a world that is now even less stable.
A career diplomat, Araud was appointed Ambassador of France to the United States in September 2014. He previously held numerous positions within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, including: Director for Strategic Affairs, Security and Disarmament, Ambassador of France to Israel, Director General for Political Affairs and Security, and, most recently Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations in New York.
Over the course of his career, Araud has developed specialized knowledge in two key areas: the Middle East and strategic and security issues. Regarding the latter, he was the French negotiator on the Iranian nuclear issue from 2006-2009. In New York, at the Security Council, he notably contributed to the adoption of resolutions on Libya, Côte d‘Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic, as well as participated in debates on the Syrian and Ukrainian crises.
Goldgeier began the discussion by asking the ambassador how diplomats can effectively address foreign policy issues.
“It is very frustrating being a diplomat,” Araud responded. “Unfortunately in the diplomatic world, being right or wrong is irrelevant. Instead, you have to examine the balance of power, the intention of the actors, and then, to try and move the position on both sides in the direction of your interests. You have to look at the real world. And the real world is a tough world. It is difficult. It is bleak. My ultimate advice would be that when you are informed of a conflict, determine how diplomacy can change the balance of power between the sides in that situation.”
Goldgeier then asked Araud a question that has gained even greater importance in the past few days—How should we be thinking about the Syrian conflict and its impact on Europe?
“In Syria, as is the case in any civil war, the extremists—the rebels—have taken the upper hand. The jihadists are becoming more and more powerful,” Araud said. “Regarding the impact of the conflict as a whole, there are many factors to consider. You have a United States administration that is closed off to the conflict. You have the Arab countries that have been destabilized by Iran, Russia, and in a sense, the restraint of the United States, their usual protector. And then you have the Europeans whose vital interests are at stake. For Europeans, this war is a total disaster. Thousands of young Europeans are going to Syria to fight. Thousands. For France alone, we have identified 1,600 to date. There may be more. And these men are coming back military-trained, radicalized, and rabidly anti-Semitic.”
We now know that the militants in Paris sought revenge for France’s intervention in Syria. Another issue that Araud addressed—and since the attacks, has resurfaced in international politics—is how to manage the Syrian refugee crisis.
“The refugee crisis is a human tragedy. In political terms, the fragmented response to the crisis also shows that the western democracies are facing the same challenges. The middle class is diminishing due to globalization and many are looking for a scapegoat, the scapegoat being the immigrants. We are in a deep political crisis in Europe and meanwhile, the jihadists are becoming stronger and stronger,” said Araud. “I try, but unfortunately, I am not that optimistic.”
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