CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1This article aims to describe and explain what was presented between 2003 and 2006 as “French policy” on the “Iranian nuclear crisis”: a period of time during which a group of states sought to ensure that the nuclear activities of a third country could not have potentially military consequences. More generally, by underlining the “negative effects” of the actions taken, [1] this study seeks to understand the way in which the international environment can shape the foreign policies adopted by various states.

2During 2002, American authorities accused Iran and Iraq, among other nations, of looking to acquire “weapons of mass destruction” – biological, chemical and nuclear – and announced their determination to prevent such projects from reaching fruition. In March 2003, the United States declared war on Iraq. In doing so, American leaders demonstrated both their political and military ability to impose their will on others despite the protests mounted by a number of their traditional allies. Indeed, key European governments were divided as to which was the most appropriate policy to follow. Whilst Great Britain endorsed America’s initiative and sent troops, France, with added support from Germany, opposed the move and issued a rare threat to use its veto at the United Nations Security Council. Shortly after this major “transatlantic dispute”, the three aforementioned European countries (France, Great Britain and Germany) joined forces in the summer of 2003 to elaborate an alternative to American policy on Iran, despite the fact that inspectors had recently discovered nuclear material and facilities in the country that had previously been concealed. For almost two and a half years, this ad hoc contact group held negotiations with the Iranian government in order to obtain the controlled suspension of those activities deemed dangerous. Two agreements were signed in 2003 and 2004, without the support of the United States. For France’s political leaders, beyond the prevention of “nuclear proliferation”, [2] this particular foreign initiative provided an opportunity to make clear their intention to “count” in international affairs. Nevertheless, in early 2005, leaders looked to the United States for support in order to increase the resources at their disposal. Then, faced with both Iran’s rejection of the offer of conditional engagement and the resumption of its nuclear activities, the three European countries ultimately rallied behind the initial American position and the dossier was referred to the Security Council in February 2006. This article seeks to elucidate both the French diplomatic initiative and the decision to broaden the format of the negotiations. [3]

3This diplomatic conflict has been the subject of a wealth of literature often characterised by the mixing of genres. It includes research in which theoretical proposals stand alongside more practical reflections on the most appropriate measures to adopt in order to prevent the dissemination of nuclear weapons. [4] The approach adopted in this article focuses on what is happening within this strategic interaction. [5] However, not everything is played out during official interactions between leaders, given that such interactions take place in structured spaces. In fact, whilst this discussion focuses on the way in which a diplomatic negotiation process can acquire its own, unique dynamic, I also seek to consider the way in which those involved in negotiations encounter social “structures” during the course of their work and adapt to them, in the absence of any other viable option. [6] In doing so, I shall pay close attention to the diplomatic practices deployed when dealing with the United States. My analysis is underpinned by a critical reading of the works of Kenneth Waltz. These works emphasize the need to do more than simply analyse the interactions and the properties of the national spaces in which foreign policy is made in order to properly evaluate states’ behaviour. [7] For Waltz, the frequency with which inter-state conflicts occur can only be explained by taking into account the unequal distribution of resources between actors anxious to retain their independence and their position in a social environment built on interdependence and competition. In order to consider the ways in which the “structural effects” of the international system influence the calculations, perceptions and practices of actors outside the bounds of an “accounting logic”, this article intends to nuance this approach by reviving the familiar sociological concept according to which the individual components of social systems each come to perform specific functions. The hypothesis put forward in this article is of a different nature than, albeit entirely compatible with, the broader hypothesis which contends that a number of spheres of differentiated activity coexist on an international level (military, economic, artistic, scientific, etc.). [8] I shall postulate that within the international political or diplomatic-strategic universe, an increasingly specialized division of labour occurs among actors. [9] When applied to an analysis of French policy on the Iran dossier between 2003 and 2006, this perspective allows us to appreciate the gap between the intentions which French leaders claimed to harbour and the results which they ultimately achieved. By investigating the key factors which motivated this diplomatic initiative in 2003-2004, this analysis first highlights the fact that what was at stake was the country’s chance to reposition itself within the international arena, in addition to the more evident goal of achieving non-proliferation. It then emphasizes that French practices during 2005 were shaped by a space in which what was possible in negotiations and what was credible as a move towards Iran was ultimately defined by the behaviour of the United States.

Identifying the effects of the constraints specific to the international arena

4The crucial line of argument which underpins Kenneth Waltz’s work on the international system is inspired by the structure upon which this system is built: the sphere of international politics cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts, because each state and its behaviour are partially shaped by the position which this state has assumed in relation to the others. This theory that a country’s diplomatic practices are defined by their relationships with others loses credibility when we consider the uncertainty surrounding just how objective the international system has in fact been since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Drawing upon a discussion of how the works of Emile Durkheim [10] are used as part of this approach, the hypothesis that diplomatic tasks are, to a certain extent, divided between states is here presented in broad brushstrokes in order to portray an alternative vision of the properties of the international context.

The enigma surrounding the current state of the international system

5Basing his work on a specific interpretation of Durkheim, Kenneth Waltz formulates two hypotheses on the way in which the unique structure of the international system – that is, how states are positioned within it – tends to shape diplomatic practices, regardless of the perceptions and intentions of the actors who comprise this system. Examining French foreign policy between 2003 and 2006 regarding the issue of Iran’s apparent nuclear activity helps us reflect on how these two broad theories might ultimately connect in a tangible fashion. The first hypothesis discredits the idea that functional integration is present within the international arena: it argues that the division of labour and the extent to which states are interdependent within the international arena are inevitably much less significant than the division of labour and the level of interdependence present within individual states. The international political order, characterised by anarchy and mechanical solidarity, stands in stark contrast to domestic political systems, marked by hierarchy and organic solidarity. [11] In the international system, in the absence of a unit functionally specialized in the use of violence, all actors are obliged to adhere to the “principle of self-help” in order to ensure their survival as independent entities. By adhering to this principle, states ensure that they do not depend on others regarding the production of goods, the development of technology and the accomplishment of tasks deemed essential in nature. It is the unequal distribution of resources (political, economic, military, etc.) which alone determines the place that these actors occupy in this theatre of struggles. Changes to the configuration of the international system are limited to changes in the number of “poles” or “major powers” which it contains (in other words, the number of countries in this system which are not specialized and are therefore able to deal with any task which they may be attributed). This understanding of international politics seeks to demonstrate a classic, rather erudite concept common in the field: the recurrence of the “balance of powers” or rather, of so-called “power rebalancing activities” (territorial compensation, alliances or even attempts to facilitate rearmament): all activities reputed to prevent the domination of a single state. [12] More specifically, it provides a particularly parsimonious explanation for the bitter competition in which the United States and the USSR engaged during the “Cold War”.

6The advantage of this perspective which aims to understand the international system and its own unique constraints lies in the fact that, in stark contrast to the substantialist bias of previous approaches, [13] it is decidedly impersonal and views states’ behaviour solely within the context of their relationships with others. This perspective can be likened to, rather than pitted against, [14] Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory. [15] Nevertheless, since the early 1990s, this approach has been adversely affected by the fact that significant upheaval has occurred within the international environment, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and consequently of the East-West clash. [16] Since this point in time, an international system unanimously interpreted as “bipolar” has given way to a patently different configuration, despite the fact that there remains a lack of consensus around how it should be defined in its current form. However, for a number of American authors, there is no doubt whatsoever about the current state of play. For these experts, the United States controls a disproportionate share of the efficient resources available: they are the sole “major power” on the stage. [17] As far as Waltz’s theoretical model is concerned, the argument that the system as it currently stands is unipolar – a postulation produced by a simple calculation linked to the displacement of one of the system’s two chief competitors – constitutes a serious anomaly. [18] More than anything else, it has allowed experts to sidestep a broader discussion on the shortcomings and oversights of an approach which culminates in the total neglect of that other perspective, according to which states’ actions are viewed in the context of their relationships to others within the international system. It has done so by reducing the definition of the objective relationships between states to mere “accounting logic”, whereby the system is analysed according to the number of “poles” it contains. Indeed, as soon as we consider that a social whole is what makes a system, given that it is something other than the combination or the sum of its parts, the way in which it is organized cannot simply be reduced to a mechanical operation in which things are added or taken away. [19] Consequently, it is beneficial to consider that the structure of the current international system is not simply a tool to be used for analysis, but also something which can itself be a subject of research.

7Tracking the properties of the international context via the gradual transformation of the nature of competition between states (the “balancing of power”), rather than via the unequal distribution of resources between these states (the “balance of power”) makes it possible to avoid the difficulties associated with the concept of “polarity”. And yet, since the end of the Cold War, internationalists have debated whether or not other powers, in particular European countries, are in fact absent from the “rebalancing activities” in which the United States is engaged. [20] From the works of authors who highlight the fact that no rivals to the United States appear to have emerged, we can distil and connect two main arguments as to why this is the case. The first of these is that the cost of challenging the United States is apparently deemed too high by the other states in the system, given the size of the imbalance present. [21] Moreover, it would appear that there exists little incentive for these other states to take action, given the fact that America is not seen as posing a threat and that its values and political interests are shared by other members of the international system. [22] Thus, the actions taken by European countries to prevent Iran from amassing nuclear weapons in fact appear to demonstrate the close alignment of their values with those of the United States. [23] However, as soon as such (re)positioning activities are not (oddly enough) identified solely with military efforts or conscious strategies, it becomes immediately apparent that the major powers on the international stage are gradually seeking to distance themselves from the United States through a process of “sluggish balancing”. [24] In this way, the European diplomatic initiative regarding Iran can be termed a so-called “soft-balancing” activity: a strategy whose aim is to oppose a number of bellicose pieces of American foreign policy, notably via international organisations and diplomatic arrangements. [25]

Political specialisation between states

8The second hypothesis formulated by Waltz on the rationale underpinning the international situation, and one which provides an explanation as to how “major powers” succeed in putting aside their differences to resolve common problems, is much less developed. Perhaps most importantly, it is not entirely consistent with the first, in that it acknowledges the fact that, to a certain extent, the division of labour at the international level is linked to the disparity between the capacities of individual states to take action. Continuing to apply Durkheim’s ideas, Waltz indicates that previously similar social segments become functionally distinct as soon as some among them take charge of “system-wide tasks”: in other words, from the moment they begin to assume responsibility for the management of collective goods, mirroring the work of governments within domestic political systems. Waltz goes on to describe how as a result of their singular position within the system, two states – in his case the United States and the USSR – joined forces and coordinated global affairs by taking charge of tasks which other states had neither the incentive, nor the ability to accomplish. He continues by explaining that if these dominant actors did not do so (with particular reference to the management of nuclear proliferation), no other major player would be able to fill their shoes. [26] Despite failing to appreciate all the logical consequences of such a scenario, Waltz thus highlights the differentiation of political activities at the international level, via the notion that the “structure” of the international system grants specific roles to the entities most capable of assuming them – an argument which is not utterly devoid of functionalist traits.

9Waltz’s rejection of the idea that such differentiation is in fact present within the international arena appears to bear some similarities with the rejection of functionalism on the part of authors whose work his own calls into question. [27] For example, Durkheim indicates that “major societies can only remain in a state of balance if the tasks allotted to them are specialized [and] if the division of labour is the main, if not the only, source of social solidarity”. [28] With this statement, he argues that there is a strong link between the increasing specialization of social functions, a source of mutual dependency, and harmony and social integration. In the main body of his discussion, when Durkheim refers to a division of labour between European countries, he highlights the fact that such a distribution of roles among individuals who do not belong to the same society relies upon the existence of a shared conscience. [29] The work of Hedley Bull offers a harmonious vision of the international division of labour. In order to make this vision a reality, he suggests that an “international society” be formed, comprised of a group of states with specific political rights and duties, all acting within the framework of common institutions and recognizing themselves as bound to each other by a set of rules governing their behaviour (respect for each state’s independence, for commitments made, and for specific limits on the use of violence). [30] However, by drawing inspiration from the works of Durkheim himself, it is possible to envision a form of structural differentiation which is utterly devoid of any functionalist bias, by imagining the international distribution of political labour as a source of conflict. In one article, John Barkdull criticises Waltz for both the rigour and the depth of his interpretation of Durkheim, in which the concepts of the division of labour and integration are confused. [31] For Barkdull, the international system was characterised by what Durkheim terms a restricted division of labour: a type of social differentiation in which the use of force is of pivotal importance. It is one of the “abnormal” forms of labour division which is unique in that it does not produce solidarity between the system’s various social segments. According to Durkheim, the division of labour is restricted when actors are no longer satisfied with the role “which is allocated to them either by tradition or the law” and they aspire to fulfil other functions. It is believed that this discordance between the labour attributed and individual aspirations, thought to have stemmed from changes which have occurred within society, may trigger “internal wars […] due to the way in which the work is distributed”. [32] Moreover, for Bertrand Badie, the Iranian nuclear crisis serves as an illustration of connivance or “club” diplomacy, which reinforces the oligarchical management of the international system, in which the handful of states that consider themselves as the most powerful attempt to divvy up the task of world leadership among themselves. According to Badie, this concentration of power does not produce international solidarity but rather humiliation, resentment and violence, which in turn reduce the chances that problems will be resolved. This is one factor among many which explains the failure of the nuclear nonproliferation policy. The next step would be to develop an anomic method for labour division, another “pathological” method of labour division identified by Durkheim, and one which jeopardizes the establishment of shared rules. [33] The viewpoints of these two authors focus explicitly on “North-South” power relations and do not take specific actors or practices into account. In order to understand both the efforts made by French leaders to exist within the international system and the limits within which it would be both possible and conceivable for them to act on the Iran issue, I have chosen to focus on the struggles and the differentiation of the tasks allotted to the states who claim to “govern” the international political domain. The hypothesis according to which the structural differentiation present within the international domain stands as a refractive surface between actors’ intentions and the results obtained, when illustrated with a specific case, provides a channel through which to develop an empirical understanding of the effects of the constraints specific to the international domain.

Sources of empirical investigation

The method of “process-tracing” adopted here, the aim of which is to piece together the causal processes leading to any action on the part of the state, involves conducting a highly detailed analysis. [34] And yet, the topic selected for investigation is a state policy considered “sensitive” by those who developed it. Indeed, over the course of this investigation, access to the field and to the backstage of the political theatre in which “the French position” was created was both difficult and limited: it was not possible to consult the archives of either the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Presidency of the Republic. Nor was it possible to organise participatory observation for the purposes of my research. These rather common circumstances tend to perpetuate the idea that studies conducted in international relations do not apply standard methodologies. In spite of the difficulties encountered, my argument is based on a vast and varied range of empirical evidence obtained first-hand, meaning that the results presented in this article may be presumed to possess sufficient validity. The sources used were selected first of all from freely accessible public archives (newspaper articles, speeches, statements, press releases published by state authorities, international agreements, official documents from multilateral organisations, etc.) which together enabled me to elaborate an accurate portrait of the progress of diplomatic processes which were conducted in the public domain. This wealth of material was supplemented by semi-structured, anonymous interviews conducted between March 2006 and January 2010 with over 30 French civil servants working in a variety of positions (Quai d’Orsay diplomats, members of the Ministry of Defence or France’s Atomic Energy Commission and advisers to the various political cabinets). Although these actors could play their cards close to their chests by carefully choosing their words, by dissecting and linking the interviews together I was able to complement the official picture of diplomatic activity and reveal details that had previously remained under wraps. Finally, in an attempt to adopt a more innovative research method, my analysis drew upon several American diplomatic telegrams published on the internet by the non-governmental organisation Wikileaks, the first of which appeared in late November 2010 (in late August 2011 the documents were published in their entirety: This virtual box from the archives, containing 251,287 communications between the State Department and its embassies, consulates or diplomatic missions – which in theory were not intended for immediate publication – provides information on the behind-the-scenes interactions between the French and American diplomatic corps.

A game within a game

10From the summer of 2002 onwards, a whole host of public statements regarding the state of Iran’s nuclear programme began to cast doubt over the country’s claim that its nuclear power was intended for entirely civilian use. Throughout 2003 and 2004, the French government, with Germany and Great Britain by its side, promoted itself as the initiator of a negotiated solution to what was labelled a proliferation problem. Involving the use of both resources and economic relations as tools for negotiation, the motivation behind this diplomatic manœuvre appeared twofold. Leaders wished both to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capacity and avoid going through the United Nations Security Council, as the United States had suggested. An overview of the backdrop against which this action was taking place, a backdrop whose defining feature was the Iraq war, makes it clear that for those behind it, this initiative was more than an attempt to respond to the immediate issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. It was also a chance for these countries to “score points” against the system’s dominant power by confirming their place in the coordination of global affairs.

Competing with American policy

11Between late 2002 and early 2003, over the course of a series of incidents, the interpretation of Iran’s nuclear activity became a key issue on the international political agenda. It was the actors themselves who jointly declared the matter open in August 2002, following a press conference given by the National Resistance Council of Iran – the political branch of the People’s Mujahedin and one of the few Iranian opposition movements with an in-country base. At this press conference it was revealed that Iran housed two secret nuclear facilities. This information about sites which had not been declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [35] appeared to confirm the accusations heard time and time again from American authorities regarding Iran’s clandestine efforts to amass military nuclear power. [36] In December 2002, Mohamed El-Baradei, the IAEA’s Director General, called upon the Iranian government to accept on-the-ground checks and to apply the Additional Protocol of the NPT, an agreement established in 1997 which Iran had failed to sign. Application of this additional protocol by a particular country allows the IAEA to conduct in-depth inspections of its nuclear facilities, whether these facilities have been declared or not. Within this context, the Iranian government justified the existence of its nuclear programme and affirmed its commitment to abide by the non-proliferation rule. [37]

12In June 2003, shortly before the publication of an IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear programme, [38] representatives from the most powerful states were unanimous in calling upon Iran, on behalf of the international community as a whole, to sign the additional protocol “without delay and unconditionally” in view of the “proliferation risk” posed by the country’s nuclear programme. [39] At the same time, within the American administration a number of leaders were taking action to ensure that the Iran dossier was referred to the Security Council in September. [40] During the summer, diplomatic corps from across Europe proposed an alternative to the policies tabled by the United States. On 4 August 2003, the French, British and German Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Dominique de Villepin, Jack Straw and Joschka Fischer, respectively) sent a letter to their Iranian counterpart, but did not go public with their actions. Making use of both quid pro quo and incentivizing tactics to coax their opponent into action, leaders proposed that Iran suspend all activities linked to the enrichment of uranium, cooperate fully with the IAEA, and sign the additional protocol. In exchange, Iran would avoid referral to the Security Council and would see their economic ties with the rest of the international community strengthened. According to the first-hand accounts I collected, the contents of the letter and therefore the tactics adopted were not defined by the signatories alone. The document was a compromise which took into consideration the “red lines” [41] established by the both the Russian and American diplomatic corps. This ultimately saw signatories refrain from offering to cooperate with Iran on civilian nuclear power, in order to satisfy American demands. Furthermore, the term “ceasing enrichment” was replaced with “suspension of enrichment” in order to fulfil Russian demands.

13In France at this time, and until 2005, the social space in which this foreign policy was negotiated was restricted in nature. [42] Within the confines of this space, the Quai d’Orsay took the “lead” on this dossier, to use a term originally coined in the field of international relations. Dominique de Villepin, who was a close friend of both the President of the Republic Jacques Chirac and his strategic affairs advisor Bruno Le Maire, personally took responsibility for the dossier. Le Maire was a unique asset to the French government when it came to dealing with Iran, as he possessed an intimate knowledge of the (non-) proliferation issue and had established a relationship of trust with de Villepin. Indeed, in the preceding years, Le Maire, who then held a position in the disarmament and non-proliferation divisions, had succeeded in binding his social destiny to the diplomat who became Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 2002, by drafting notes for de Villepin during his time as Secretary-General of the Presidency. The Ministry’s political director, Stanislas Laboulaye, a non-specialized diplomat who had held his post since 2002, spearheaded negotiations. He received day-to-day support in his endeavours from members of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation division (Department of Political Affairs and Security) rather than from the Middle East division (Department of North Africa and the Middle East) despite the fact that the latter was ordinarily in charge of bilateral relations with Iran. Since July 2002, the department for nuclear issues had been led by François Richier, an expert in strategic affairs in general and in non-proliferation in particular. Richier first began to follow these issues in 1993 whilst working in the ministerial cabinet and later continued to do so at the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. In more general terms, one of the pre-requisites for French involvement in the Iran dossier was the presence within the French administration of several groups of experts in (non-) proliferation who had already classified Iran’s nuclear programme as a “problem”: [43] experts working at the Quai d’Orsay, the Ministry of Defence and at the Atomic Energy Commission. In 2003, “when the issue began to emerge, it was in no way a thunderbolt in an otherwise clear sky”. [44] The file had already been shaped to a large extent by the input from these actors who saw both their political views and their official position papers on the situation consolidated, and routines had already been established with a view to monitoring suspicious purchasing activity on the part of Iran.

14Following an initial IAEA resolution adopted in September, which implicitly threatened Iran with referral to the Security Council in November, the particular involvement of these three European governments became patently clear on 21 October 2003. On that day, the three Foreign Affairs ministers signed an agreement in Iran following arduous negotiations, largely ignoring both existing institutional mechanisms and their European partners. [45] The joint statement, which referred to the need for “dialogue based on longer-term cooperation” between the two parties, signalled the Iranian government’s commitment to suspend “all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA” and to sign the additional protocol. [46] In their public statements, the French authorities were careful to claim credit for this diplomatic initiative, which was held up as a success. However, in spite of this progress, during 2004 discussions which had been scheduled regarding a long-term economic cooperation agreement between Europe and Iran did not take place. These discussions were replaced by bargaining between the two sides on the exact meaning of the clause contained in the recently signed agreement which referred to the “suspension” of activities linked to the enrichment of uranium. Whilst the American diplomatic corps suggested to their European counterparts that the initiative had failed and that they should call upon the United States to intervene in order to resolve the situation, [47] the European governments went down the negotiation route once more, holding talks in late October and early November in order to avoid having to carry out the threat of referring the dossier to the Security Council. On 15 November 2004, a new agreement was formally signed in Paris with the Iranian government. The text stipulated that all activities linked to the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium were to be suspended for the duration of negotiations on a long-term agreement on economic cooperation, as well as on cooperation in the areas of security and civil nuclear power. [48] Particularly noteworthy was the commitment of European governments to support Iran’s application to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the reference to their intention to supply the country with a nuclear reactor. This agreement also provided an opportunity for increased involvement on the part of the European Union, through the participation in negotiations of Javier Solana, the High Representative of the CFSP. Furthermore, Solana himself was among the agreement’s signatories and, within the body of the text itself, the English acronym “E3/EU” was invented in order to underline the new structure of the European negotiating party. Ensuring the involvement of the European institutions allowed the three leading governments to avoid criticism from other European partners. It also served to strengthen their position in the conflict with Iran, by making the signing of a trade agreement which was at the time under negotiation with the European Union conditional upon the success of discussions on the country’s nuclear programme. The European governments sacrificed little in order to achieve these two results, given that they continued to hold the monopoly on establishing codes of conduct in diplomatic negotiations. With this diplomatic initiative, Europe was seeking to acquire international recognition in the field rather than to develop a policy which was strictly European. [49] The strategic function of this agreement means it is perhaps appropriate, at least within the context of this specific domain of research, to nuance the vision of the European Union as an “international actor”, independent and able to act of its own accord within the realm of foreign policy. [50] Before retracing the course of events in 2005, it is worth describing the unique characteristics of the international situation in order to fully understand the backdrop against which the French initiative emerged and the form which it took.

Rebalancing American power

15France’s involvement in the Iran affair unfolded against a backdrop of transatlantic relations that was doubly restrictive and which led these actors to calculate that it was both possible and beneficial to act without the United States. First of all, the initiative formed part of the diplomatic history shared by America and Iran – a history which, since the 1980s, gave the impression of being a game with just one player as a result of the absence of the American administration. This absence was a source of opportunity for European governments. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and in particular since the early 1990s, the United States and the European Union had adopted opposing policies towards Iran. [51] The regular reinforcement of the economic sanctions that America placed on Iran allowed European countries to become the primary trading partners of this former American ally. The perception that the Iranian economy was weak and dependent upon the European Union fostered the notion within the French administration that “postponing the decision to grant economic and trading advantages” was an effective way of exerting pressure on the Iranian government. [52] Furthermore, the descriptions given during interviews of the attitude adopted by American leaders during 2003 and 2004 strengthened the belief that the United States were pursuing a policy of “regime change” where Iran was concerned, and that they were only sceptically letting the Europeans go ahead (“they said that all this effort would just waste time”). [53] Consequently, one of the immediate triggers of the French initiative was the American authorities’ refusal, in May 2003, to sit at the negotiating table with the Iranian government and discuss a road map promising “major bargaining” on everything including their nuclear programme. [54] Secondly, France’s changing attitudes on the Iran issue were also partly linked to the fact that the key diplomats and political leaders involved had been in charge of the Iraq dossier only a few weeks earlier. By many French actors, this episode was perceived to be – and presented as – a break with the United States, which brought with it certain constraints. On 10 March 2003, after several months of intense wrangling at the UN and faced with America’s submission to the Security Council of a draft resolution which would authorise the use of force to disarm Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac indicated that France was ready and willing to use its veto powers, a privilege granted to permanent members of the Security Council. However, the French government, which was united with Germany and Russia in its decision to defy the United States, was ultimately not given the opportunity to carry out its threat, as the resolution was not put to a vote. [55] In a televised address on 17 March, the American president George W. Bush stripped the UN of all credibility and issued an ultimatum to the Iraqi leader; three days later, the bombs began to fall on Baghdad. American leaders used Iraq to demonstrate their ability to mobilize every ounce of their military strength and to topple a government in just three weeks, without the approval of the Security Council. Given that the war lacked any clear strategic motives, many scholars have attempted to explain the conflict based on the internal characteristics of the American political and bureaucratic game. [56] It is also entirely realistic to imagine that the conditions which made America’s intervention possible were also linked to the changing nature of the international stage as a whole, and to the defining structural characteristics of “unipolarity” which granted the American authorities a significant degree of freedom to act as they so desired. [57]

16For these authors, within this context, the diplomatic initiative in question did not simply concern Iran and nuclear power. Rather, it was also an issue of crucial transatlantic importance. [58] The dissemination of nuclear weapons was not the only threat which French civil servants had to contain. The latter were also obliged to try new tactics in dealing with Iran in order to avoid a new preventative war. [59]


“We said to ourselves, after the attack on Iraq, that there was trouble ahead, that we needed to avoid crises surfacing one after the other […], avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation again.” [60]

18Subsequently, the efforts made by the French diplomatic corps between 2003 and 2004 to clearly define their response to American policy and isolate themselves from it could be read not just in their use of oppositional tactics, but also in the justification for such tactics. The initiative undertaken was presented by French authorities as a challenge to both the established international hierarchy and the way in which political labour was divided. Through the use of particular turns of phrase, signs and operators of differentiation, leaders attempted to ensure that the outside world both saw and had faith in their ability to stand up and be counted in international efforts to resolve conflict. Traces of France’s desire to firmly establish its reputation as a major player in the field become evident when examining the days following the agreement signed with Iran on 21 October 2003, and are particularly clear in a statement signed by the then French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominique de Villepin. The argument deployed in the statement presented Iran as having “a test value”, in particular where the place of both France and Europe in the international arena was concerned, in view of the fact that “the initiative [which] extends beyond Iran” illustrates “just how much Europe’s governments can accomplish, when they are able to independently evaluate threats, define responses and implement these responses”. [61] As the affair continued to unfold, a former advisor to the minister declared in an interview:


“We wish to prove that Europe really does wield a significant degree of political clout and that it is capable of dealing not only with neutral questions or issues of development, but also with strategic matters as decisive as nuclear proliferation.” [62]

20In more general terms, with the Iran affair European governments expressed a desire to “teach the American authorities a lesson” by demonstrating the effectiveness of a diplomacy whose ultimate aim, it was claimed, was preserving the unity of the group. [63] This ambition was underpinned by the European Union’s “shared strategy”, adopted in December 2003, in which the pivotal concept of “effective multilateralism” provided a rational explanation for the alternative proposed. Condemning the unilateral nature of America’s foreign policy as not respectful of established international procedure was a standard way of challenging the country by calling in to question the legitimacy of both its position in the world and its behaviour. [64] These negotiations with Iran can in fact be seen as forming part of a broader challenge to the domination of the United States mounted at the end of the Cold War. According to those qualified to speak on its behalf, France is supposed to shoulder specific responsibilities within the international sphere: these notably included that of “rebalancing” the excesses of its American ally, through the constant promotion of two particular diplomatic concepts, “multipolarity” and “multilateralism”.

21The continual refrain heard from French actors regarding their “good” practices, in entire compliance with existing legislation, should not make us forget that any hint of legalism is best kept at arm’s length. [65] Indeed, two very different uses of the rule of international law can be identified, both corresponding to a single attempt to defy the American government. As far as the Iraq dossier was concerned, France sought to force the United States to act within the Security Council; with the Iran dossier, the aim was avoiding the case’s referral to the Security Council as advocated by the United States. France’s condemnation of American foreign policy on Iraq went hand-in-hand with a more general defence of the legitimacy and value of the UN arena, which is historically the place in which the French representatives are on an equal footing with their American counterparts (as both countries hold the same veto powers on the Security Council). This struggle against the greater degree of freedom afforded by the possibility of side-stepping the rules appeared to French authorities to be the most appropriate strategy for curbing American intervention. Nevertheless, the affair’s outcome demonstrated to the various French actors involved the limits of veto power as an explicit rule supposed to define the limits within which the dominant power can behave as it desires. In relation to the Iran dossier, the European diplomatic operation conveyed the impression that France and its allies were seeking to prevent the discrediting of their institutional membership by avoiding a situation whereby the Iraq dossier became a precedent. In a statement to the press in September 2005, the three Foreign Affairs ministers and the High Representative for the CFSP acknowledged that “pursuant to the rules of the IAEA, the case of Iran ought to have been brought before the United Nations’ Security Council two years ago”. [66] This point of view was voiced by actors time and time again during the interviews I conducted. In other words, in order to demonstrate that compliance with the procedures of international organisations and “the customary channels of the law” [67] could be effective in resolving a proliferation crisis, the strategy adopted involved not adhering to the statutes of the IAEA. According to John Ikenberry, existing international standards and institutions are “sticky”. They affect diplomatic practices because it would be costly for national authorities to act outside of them. Consequently, Ikenberry alleges that since the end of the Cold War, the domination of the United States has been accepted because it was believed that this “benevolent” country would exercise self-restraint by acting within the framework of the international institutional system. [68] Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that if multilateral organisations do indeed impact international politics, they do so as part of a somewhat different scenario. In pitting international institutions against countries, Ikenberry forgets that countries are themselves also international institutions. Following this argument, one might therefore expect strategies on the part of European countries whose aim was to “bind” America’s power and freedom to act, as part of activities designed to channel certain conflicts through the multilateral organisations that are a source of legitimacy. [69] It is useful to consider alliances between states as more than just attempts to combine powers with a view to bolstering either influence or security. The aim of these alliances can also be to control allies, including those with the largest wealth of resources. [70]

22Although a state’s desire to improve its position with regards to a third country is one of the classic secondary motives behind the decision to engage in diplomatic negotiations, beyond the most obvious issue at stake, we will now see that this type of negotiation can also produce undesirable side effects. [71] During 2005, things began to reach a state of gridlock for the French actors involved and their position in negotiations wavered and began to disintegrate. The results of a given initiative are not necessarily those which were intentionally calculated: effects can also be produced that are specific to the structure of the international system.

A gulf between intentions and results

23In 2005, it became clear that the laissez-faire attitude of the United States and the will of French leaders were not sufficient for the latter to realistically attempt to control the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. Indeed, the success of Europe’s incentivizing tactics appeared to depend on America’s diplomatic activities. This meant that over the course of the diplomatic initiative, French leaders were forced to make tactical adjustments in order to obtain limited support from America – support which remained insufficient to render credible the exchange offered to the Iranian government. Everything points to the fact that the Americans in fact exercised tight control over the delegation of power to engage with Iran. Thus, negotiations with Iran provided French actors with an opportunity to experience first-hand the effects of functional differentiation within the international political arena, effects linked to the unequal distribution of both the power to act and opportunities to succeed. Their experience led them to conclude that the involvement of the dominant power was a vital pre-requisite for the resolution of the Iranian crisis.

Haggling over a broadened negotiating mandate

24Following the November 2004 Paris Agreement, the pioneering strategy of the European diplomatic corps (Germany, Great Britain and France) towards Iran continued. The operation continued to involve promising Iran economic and political benefits in exchange for the latter’s modified behaviour in the field of nuclear power. During the first half of 2005, three working groups and a steering committee composed of representatives from both Europe and Iran held regular meetings at the IAEA headquarters in Geneva in order to reach a long-term agreement. However, it quickly became apparent that the official positions declared were not solely structured by the moves of the parties present during these formal negotiations, but also, and perhaps chiefly, by the absence of a particular player. Indeed, once the negotiating process with Iran had been launched, the options open to the European states proved limited without the involvement of the United States and the lifting of a number of national sanctions, the existence of which made it impossible to make promises to Iran. This was particularly clear in the areas of civil aviation and nuclear power. European representatives could neither offer replacement parts for ageing Iranian aircraft that had been designed by America (Boeing), nor sell them new European aircraft (Airbus), due to the fact they contained Rolls Royce engines which included American parts. The French nuclear power company Areva could not be called upon to supply Iran with a nuclear reactor, as the industrial giant would risk being cut off from the American market – a market that it could not do without. The Iranians, meanwhile, did not miss an opportunity, either in public or behind the closed doors of the negotiating room, to mock Europe’s dependence on the United States. [72]

25Against this backdrop, the ways in which the situation was defined and the perception of what was possible and desirable within the French administration all pointed towards the idea that a change in American policy was needed in order to lend more credibility to the process already underway. The verdict constantly expressed over the course of my enquiries was that throughout these discussions with European powers, Iran was primarily interested in establishing new bilateral relations with the United States. [73] French authorities were thus not only in negotiations with Iran, but also with the American government in order to persuade it of the initiative’s virtues and to broaden the scope of the negotiating mandate to include moves which were sensible and would produce results. A first attempt to do so by European political directors in early 2005 failed to elicit the desired response. One of the figures participating in these negotiations provided clues as to the European line of thought, as presented by France, which he summed up in a simple phrase which makes no effort to hide Europe’s dependency on the United States at that specific point in time:


“We’ve done everything we can, but if the Americans don’t make any overtures, we’re stuck.” [74]

27According to archival documents, the subject was also tackled at the highest political level, during a presidential dinner on 21 February 2005. Jacques Chirac defended the relevance of the European initiative to George W. Bush, arguing that it was likely to create divisions among Iran’s leaders. The burden of the forthcoming initiative and the prospect of taking risks was shifted with an appeal from Europe for “a few, small gestures” on the part of its American partner/adversary (in order to enable them to approach Iran with an offer to sell it planes and support its application to join the WTO). [75] Without being able to pass judgement on the strength of the causal link between the two phenomena, it is clear that after this event, the structure of the game began to change. On 11 March 2005, the new American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice performed a visible and symbolic U-turn when she announced that the United States would both cease to oppose Iran’s application to join the WTO and lift their embargo on aeronautical replacement parts. It was at this point that French actors were able to boost the credibility of their initiative on Iran in a specific way. For Schelling, what gives a commitment made during negotiations effective credibility is a party’s ability to create an irreversible situation for itself. In other words, in order to ultimately place the decision’s weight on the shoulders of its adversary, a party must ensure that this adversary believes that the party has no other option but to fulfil its promise or carry out its threat. [76] In the negotiations observed, French actors attempted to shift the obligation of decision-making onto their Iranian adversary, not by limiting their own capacity to act, but by relying on the involvement of the United States, as part of a larger set of manœuvres. The goal was to persuade the Iranians that the prospect of normalising their bilateral relations with the United States was at stake in these negotiations over the country’s nuclear programme.

28However, this strategy came at a cost for the French diplomatic corps, as America’s involvement had strings attached. In exchange for public support of the initiative, American leaders received the formal promise from the three European governments that Iran’s case would be referred to the Security Council if the country resumed its nuclear activities. This promise was made official in a letter that these governments sent to the President of the European Union on 10 March. Unusually, the commitment made by the contracting party, by publicly laying its reputation on the line, was in this instance revealed by the other party. The letter was in fact made public by a dispatch released by an American press agency. In light of this information, the three European countries can be likened to agents implicitly entrusted with the task of spearheading a negotiation process within a scope limited by specific instructions. [77] The fact that the European players were not able to reach a position where they could offer Iran a nuclear power plant (without there being any empirical evidence to suggest that this was a conscious tactic to undermine the credibility and the reputation of the negotiating partner) attests to the restrictive nature of the American mandate. Moreover, two distinct strategies appear to have been put in place in order to limit delegates’ independence and the extent to which they could deviate from instructions: they were required to report back on proceedings and to establish a contract for the delegation of powers. [78] First of all, from March 2005 the format of negotiations was broadened: meetings between the three governments driving the negotiations were conducted in the presence of American leaders (which did not mean, however, that there was any contact between American diplomats and their Iranian counterparts). According to several accounts, this format made it easier for French diplomats to become acquainted with the scope of the mandate they had been granted. Finding themselves unable to make credible commitments to Iran without first checking to ensure that these would not be openly challenged by the United States, French diplomats were careful to make sure that their moves during negotiations “did not move entirely beyond the boundaries set, because if they did so and the United States kept too great a distance from negotiations as a result […], that would be disastrous”. [79] Furthermore, during a meeting of the IAEA’s Council of Governors at the end of June, American authorities publicly mapped out the limits of the delegation of powers in order to be sure that these were not ignored. The Americans indicated that in order to be endorsed, the agreement reached would have to include at the very least the suspension of all uranium conversion, enrichment and reprocessing activities. [80] With this statement, the American authorities rendered the debate within France on whether or not Iran should be allowed to retain limited enrichment capacity entirely superfluous. In spite of all the difficulties faced, French diplomats were keen on marking their distance from American policy, signalling their determination not to be led too quickly or easily down the sanctions route. [81] However, the credibility of France’s commitments was also susceptible to being undermined by the threats which America issued to Iran.

When saying is not the same thing as promising in foreign policy

29As far as French diplomats were concerned, the United States’ visible failure to support the diplomatic initiative on Iran led by three European countries (Germany, France and Great Britain) in 2003 and 2004 did not mean that the American government’s behaviour did not heavily influence the effects of their negotiations. According to my research, the credibility of the promises which Europe made to the Iranian government seemed anchored in the concomitant threats which America issued concerning the survival of the Iranian regime. [82] As the negotiations continued, the implicit theory that there was an international division of labour at play where the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme was concerned began to develop. According to this theory, between 2003 and 2004 roles were divided between the “bad cop” on the one hand, who threatened military action (the American “stick”), and the “good cop” on the other, who advocated the use of diplomatic means (the European “carrot”). This vision harks back to the traditional idea according to which the presence of a hard-line party in negotiations serving as a foil is useful, as it allows the other party to appear moderate by comparison.


“There was a good cop/bad cop distribution of roles which was not without its advantages. In other words, there were the big bad Americans and then the Europeans who were negotiating. This distribution of roles was spontaneous, rather than deliberate.” [83]

31The theoretical approach here keeps its distance from this rationalization of an opposition between European and American strategy. It is helpful to confuse not an effect of functional specialisation of states at an international level with the idea that there exists a functional division of labour among states. Setting aside the theory that the political roles which contribute to the resolution of international problems are distributed at the international level, this analysis underscores the fact that the credibility of the promises which Europe made to Iran also appear to have been tightly limited by America’s threats of using unbridled force. [84]

32The inability of the European countries to substitute for the dominant power was particularly visible in the content of the offer submitted to the Iranian government at the beginning of August 2005 – an offer that this government immediately rejected. The proposals it contained were faithful to the mandate that the Americans had granted: no activity linked to the production of fissile material was allowed, and there was no provision for a nuclear reactor. Furthermore, the French diplomats I met agreed that the security guarantees offered to Iran constituted the weakest part of the text since it was the least credible, particularly in the aftermath of events in Iraq. These guarantees involved Great Britain and France, as nuclear powers with a permanent seat on the Security Council, reaffirming past commitments not to use their nuclear weapons against states party to the NPT who did not possess them, and to provide assistance to any state without nuclear weapons that fell victim to a nuclear attack. Despite the fact that the French Minister of Foreign Affairs attempted to control the Iranian government’s interpretation of the agreement by declaring in August 2005 that “Europe [was] entirely capable of offering Iran guarantees on its security”, [85] in one interview a French diplomat pondered, like several of his colleagues before him, “how it [was] possible to convince a country to do away with its nuclear weapons programme, if at the same time we are working to destroy it”. [86] Indeed, at this precise point, the American administration were seeking to keep things vague and open concerning the survival of the Iranian regime, repeating that as far as this affair was concerned “all options were on the table”. [87]

33In the international field of political diplomacy “affirming one’s identity […] essentially means having the right to speak and exercising that right; having the right to a place on the stage and taking that place”. [88] Very often in this social universe, “saying is doing”, words are meant to count, statements are intended to trigger action and get things done. Using certain expected words and expressions in order to comply with recognised agreements and procedures is reputed to be a powerful force in and of itself, sparking comments and reactions (when it is not the very act of speaking or remaining silent that conveys meaning). Thus, from 2003 onwards, in countless political statements made at various levels, when discussing the Iran dossier both the French and the European diplomatic corps condemned and deplored the country’s failure to comply with an IAEA guarantee agreement, whilst at the same time reminding observers that the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful means is enshrined within the NPT. They also endorsed, encouraged and hoped to see a negotiated political solution, whilst at the same time urging Iran to agree to international inspections and noting the continued gaps in understanding of the “international community” as regards certain technical aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme: a diplomatic way of saying that problems exist. Discursive practices also served to define the limits of what was acceptable in the negotiations, to emphasize crucial points, and to establish links of necessity and causality in setting obligations, whilst at the same time giving Iran the impression that negotiations would enable them to emerge from isolation and resolve the crisis. However, despite any ideological bias they may possess, [89] words do not have “illocutionary force” and can only allow things to be accomplished under certain social conditions. [90]

34And yet, to use a Durkheimian phrase, it seemed that as far as the Iran dossier was concerned “not everything in the contract [was] contractual”: [91] compliance with any agreement reached between Europe and Iran was not, in reality, the responsibility of the two signatories, but of the United States instead. The rather elaborate analogy used by a member of the Ministry of Defence to describe Iran’s response sums up the perception that the French position depended on an institution whose resources to apply pressure in negotiations were unrivalled:


“The Iranians have perhaps reached the conclusion that the bride was pretty, but that she was only making the commitment for herself, and that she also came with a whole overbearing family, who wasn’t entirely sure that it didn’t want to kill the groom […]. The Americans were able to give them the one thing, or one of the only things that they truly wanted: security guarantees […]. The Europeans were not.” [92]

36In late 2005, despite last-ditch attempts to avoid such an outcome, the three European governments acknowledged that their initiatives had failed and joined the United States in referring the case to the Security Council, [93] more than two and a half years after preliminary American efforts. Here the analysis confirms the theory proposed by Kenneth Waltz, which puts the premise of international anarchy into perspective, and argues that the United States tend to be perceived by foreign leaders as the “policemen of the world”. In dealing with the most important political, military or economic affairs – namely, those which are likely to culminate in violence – the United States’ extraordinary resources mean that “they are often the only country with a reasonable chance of successful intervention”. [94] However, diverging from a functionalist perspective, my analysis suggests that the states with the greatest capacity to act are not necessarily those best placed to resolve the problems at hand, and that the activities linked to the coordination of global affairs are not necessarily carried out by the actors with the most resources available. Furthermore, this analysis provides an opportunity to come at the debate on the state of the international system since the collapse of the USSR from a different angle. Waltz’s argument regarding the necessity of a rapid shift from a “unipolar” configuration to a “multipolar” one [95] only holds water if it is possible to demonstrate that the international system at any given time incorporates structural characteristics which permit change. [96] And yet, in opposition to any homeostatic vision of this social system, [97] the theory that there is an international division of diplomatic labour whose effects, which are beyond the actors’ control, tend to limit the scope of activities whose aim is to challenge the United States or keep its policies at arm’s length, makes it possible to not confuse imbalance with instability.

37Nevertheless, transposing the concept of a division of labour between individuals onto the external behaviours of states produces difficulties as soon as the groups studied do not function as one individual and are difficult to identify with one position. Behind the united image of the institution constructed by public statements, press conferences and legal mechanisms, lie struggles between a plethora of individuals and bureaucratic systems all vying to define and renew the policy of the “state”, and who all possess different resources, preferences and interests. [98] Consequently, reasoning becomes even more complex when the division of labour within a single country is also taken into account. Whilst in 2003 there was visible agreement within the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the appropriate policy to adopt towards Iran, this ceased to be the case in late 2005. As soon as it became clear that sanctions could well be imposed on the country, a classic split emerged within the institution between the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation division and the Middle East division. The ways in which each stakeholder defined the problem and the solutions they proposed varied greatly, according to the positions they had held and the paths they had followed within the organization – with all parties believing that the protection of “national interests” entailed their own personal success. In short, diplomats who were specialized in non-proliferation emphasized that security was at stake and campaigned for the adoption of meaningful sanctions, whilst members of the regional division underscored the importance of France’s economic interests in Iran and advocated for dialogue. Although it may appear that all the actors involved in French foreign policy were equally concerned that France find a place on the world stage and were consequently forced to “make do” with the restrictions placed on them by the structure of the international system, this concern manifested itself in different ways depending on the positions which each occupied in the bureaucratic sphere and the systems underpinning their actions. This perspective invites further analysis of the relationship between the division of labour at national and international levels. Such supplementary analysis could be conducted through, for example, an investigation into the socialisation processes at play in the international political arena which force the various actors working within foreign policy to simply get by and do as best they can within the world as it is structured at any given point in time.


39* *

40At the end of this analysis of the diplomatic practices which France deployed between 2003 and 2006 to deal with the problem of Iran’s nuclear programme, I should first highlight the need to treat with caution any purely subjectivist approaches which establish a firm connection between the social science perspective and efforts made by actors to rationalize their actions. The fact that actors claim to be “rebalancing” the dominant power does not necessarily mean they ultimately do so in reality. In 2003, French leaders took advantage of a particular round of negotiations with Iran to carve out a stance for themselves which would pit them against the United States and allow them to clearly distance themselves from American policy. However, this strategy of creating distance from the United States did not produce the desired effect. Indeed, bringing credible offers of economic and political advantages to the negotiating table for Iran’s consideration required wrangling with the United States in order to obtain their limited support. This in turn blurred the strict boundaries which certain researchers have drawn between the strategies of opposition and those of cooperation used in dealing with the dominant power. Furthermore, this observation supports the hypothesis that there exists a certain degree of differentiation of diplomatic tasks between states, made necessary by the unequal distribution of “the capacity to act”. This modification of Kenneth Waltz’s theory aims to remain separate from any functionalist arguments. Indeed, the specialization of political functions at the international level has proved to be a source of conflict and in no way serves as a guarantee that “problems” of collective security will be dealt with effectively. In my view, it is useful to adopt the perspective that identifying transformations in the way diplomatic or political labour is divided between countries provides an empirical way of discriminating between the various states of the international system’s structure. In this respect, it can be argued that what created the “bipolarity” of the so-called Cold War period was not so much the existence of two “poles” of the same “weight”, as it was the recurrence of clashes between two states who did not necessarily possess the same capacity to act, with each vying to take control of global political affairs. [99] More generally, this hypothesis, which requires further investigation and debate, challenges an erudite theory which has long been widely accepted in the study of international relations: namely, that the problem of the international political order “is entirely different to that of the domestic political order”, due to the anarchy – “in the sense of an absence of a central power greater than that of each constituent unit” – which defines the international sphere. [100] It would appear possible to consider the organization of the violence between states using broad categories of sociological analysis. The fact that this study highlights, as others before it have done, [101] the existence of a sort of hierarchy in the political statuses and responsibilities enjoyed by each state raises the question of which mode of government it is that these units of domination deploy among themselves.


  • [1]
    Broadly speaking, in the same way as Raymond Boudon, we understand “negative effects” to mean “undesired, though desirable, effects and those effects which are both undesired and undesirable”. In other words, “negative effects” are the “individual or collective effects which arise from the juxtaposition of various individual forms of behavior but which were not included among the goals which actors originally set out to pursue”. Raymond Boudon, Effets pervers et ordre social (Paris: PUF, 2nd edn 1979), 10. In this respect, this article does not seek – as is often the case – to determine whether the French strategy was a failure or a success. Rather, as part of a rich sociological tradition it aims to observe the unintended effects of intentional courses of action. These effects are not necessarily counterproductive, but may be condemned by certain actors as signs of failure. The term “failure” implies a goal. However, it may be the case that the remit of the particular initiative examined was to stand out from others rather than to search for a solution to the problem in question.
  • [2]
    Following the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which today boasts 189 member states, including Iran (since 1970), only the five permanent members of the Security Council are in fact recognised as nuclear powers. The other signatories undertake not to acquire such weapons. For overviews of the myriad works which debate the causes and effects of military nuclear programmes becoming more widespread, see Pascal Vennesson, “La prolifération nucléaire en débat: assurances et périls”, Revue française de science politique, 46(6), 1996, 1000-5; Scott D. Sagan, “The causes and consequences of nuclear proliferation”, Annual Review of Political Science, 14, 2011, 225-44.Online
  • [3]
    At the time of writing, the story of the “Iranian nuclear crisis” has not reached its conclusion. In addition to the progress of Iran’s nuclear programme, the implementation of sanctions from late 2006 onwards, and the presidential elections in France in May 2007 and in the United States in November 2008 are also events which significantly influenced the French position. A study examining a longer period of time, conducted as part of a thesis, provides more detailed information on events in the international sphere. In this article, I have made the conscious decision to focus only on a limited section of this episode in international politics, in order to be able to provide an analysis of the diplomatic practices examined which is both sufficiently precise and supported by adequate evidence.
  • [4]
    For examples of these works – whose status is difficult to define and whose authors often in practice contribute to the policy-making process – see: Wyn Q. Bowen, Joanna Kidd, “The Iranian nuclear challenge”, International Affairs, 80(2), 2004, 257-76; François Géré, L’Iran et le nucléaire. Les tourments perses (Paris: Éditions Lignes de repères, 2006); Thérèse Delpech, L’Iran, la bombe et la démission des nations (Paris: Autrement, 2006); Scott D. Sagan, “Keeping the bomb away from Tehran”, Foreign Affairs, 85(5), 2006, 45-59; François Heisbourg, Iran, le choix des armes? (Paris: Stock, 2007); Bruno Tertrais, Iran, la prochaine guerre (Paris: Le Cherche Midi, 2007); Mark Fitzpatrick, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis. Avoiding Worst-Case Outcomes (Abingdon: Routledge/IISS Adelphi Papers, 2008); Christoph Bertram, Rethinking Iran. From Confrontation to Cooperation, Chaillot Paper n° 11 (Paris: European Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008).
  • [5]
    Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1980 [1960]). For a similar argument, see also, Erving Goffman, Strategic Interaction (New York: Ballantine Books, 2nd edn, 1972); Michel Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po. 2009 [1st edn: 1986]). The stance adopted here on this “international crisis” aims to avoid any form of methodological and theoretical exceptionalism in the construction of the subject. For a summary of the literature which conducts detailed analyses of those phases during which international politics become suddenly dramatic, see Michael Brecher, “Crisis, conflict, war: state of the discipline”, International Political Science Review, 17(2), 1996, 127-39. Online
  • [6]
    By virtue of the place that it occupies in the international arena, the United States has a decisive impact on the development of French foreign policy. The choice to focus on the analysis of transatlantic relations does not, of course, negate the fact that the positions adopted by Britain and Germany might also influence certain aspects of that adopted by France.
  • [7]
    Labelled as “neo-realist”, these works continue to fuel a significant number of the debates among internationalists in the United States, but are still read only rarely in France; Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979); see also the collection of his main articles: Realism and International Politics (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008).
  • [8]
    Barry Buzan, Mathias Albert, “Differentiation: a sociological approach to international relations theory”, European Journal of International Relations, 16(3), 2010, 315-37. The point of view adopted also distinguishes itself from an approach which links international functional differentiation to the erosion of sovereignty seen in certain states: Jack Donnelly, “Sovereign inequalities and hierarchy in anarchy: American power and international society”, European Journal of International Relations, 12(2), 2006, 139-70.Online
  • [9]
    For historical information which explains the capacity of certain states to assume – and ensure that they are granted – certain special political roles, see Paul Schroeder, “Historical reality vs. neo-realist theory”, International Security, 19(1), 1994, 124-8. In addition, David Ambrosetti suggests that in the management of international problems, roles are distributed between states. This conclusion is reached following his analysis of the clientelist relations which exist between France and African countries. David Ambrosetti, Normes et rivalités diplomatiques à l’ONU. Le Conseil de sécurité en audience (Brussels: PIE Peter Lang, 2009), 80-108.
  • [10]
    Émile Durkheim, De la division du travail social (Paris: PUF, 2004 [1st edn: 1893]). For an alternative view on the use of Durkheim’s work by other American international relations experts, see Frédéric Ramel, “Les relations internationales selon Durkheim. Un objet sociologique comme les autres”, Revue Études internationales, 35(3), 2004, 495-514.
  • [11]
    K. N Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 114-15. This debatable notion of a separation can be challenged through a close reading of Durkheim’s work (De la division du travail social, 11). For a critique of this concept of international anarchy, a criterion frequently used to define the scope of international relations as a discipline, see Helen Milner, “The assumption of anarchy in international relations theory: a critique”, in David A. Baldwin (ed.), Neorealism and Neoliberalism. The Contemporary Debate (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 143-69.
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    For historical analyses of the concept of the balance of powers in the theory and practice of international relations, see Michael Sheehan, The Balance of Power. History and Theory (Abingdon: Routledge, 1996); Richard Little, The Balance of Power in International Relations. Metaphors, Myths and Models (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). In his works, Waltz constantly switches between explaining a result (the recurrence of the concept “balancing of power”), and explaining practices (the recurrence of behaviour designed to achieve this “balance of power”). This article argues below that it is more fruitful to favour the second approach.Online
  • [13]
    For example, Hans J. Morgenthau, who draws inspiration from the works of Thomas Hobbes, explains the fact that research on the balancing of powers continues to be produced as a result of “human nature”: an argument which is somewhat difficult to grasp from a sociological point of view. Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006 [1st edn 1948]), especially p. 4.
  • [14]
    Frédéric Mérand, Vincent Pouliot, “Le monde de Pierre Bourdieu: éléments pour une théorie sociale des relations internationales”, Revue canadienne de science politique, 41(3), 2008, 603-25 (614).
  • [15]
    For an initial introduction to the works of these two authors, see Michel Dobry, “Ce dont sont faites les logiques de situation”, in Pierre Favre et al. (eds), L’atelier du politiste (Paris: La Découverte, 2007), 119-48.
  • [16]
    For critiques of both the stasis of this conceptual framework and attempts to broaden the definition of the international system’s structure in order to include the various facets of change, see in particular the contributions of John Ruggie and Richard Ashley in Robert O. Keohane (ed.), Neorealism and its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986); and Barry Buzan, Charles Jones, Richard Little, The Logic of Anarchy. Neorealism to Structural Realism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993). Kenneth Waltz has been criticised on a number of occasions for his inability to understand, or even to foresee, the fall of the USSR: cf. John Lewis Gaddis, “International relations theory and the end of the Cold War”, International Security, 17(3), 1992–1993, 5-58; Charles W. Kegley, “The neoidealist moment in international studies? Realist myths and the new international realities”, International Studies Quarterly, 37(2), 1993, 131-47; Richard N. Lebow, “The long peace, the end of the Cold War, and the failure of realism”, International Organization, 48(2), 1994, 249-77.
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    William C. Wohlforth, “The stability of a unipolar world”, International Security, 24(1), 1999, 5-41; Paul Kennedy, “The greatest superpower ever”, New Perspectives Quarterly, 19(2), 2002, 8-18; G. John Ikenberry, Michael Mastanduno, William C. Wohlforth (eds), International Relations Theory and the Consequences of Unipolarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).Online
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    Indeed, this theoretical model is designed to explain the absence of a dominant “pole” (“two is the lowest possible number”): K. N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 145.
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    Ernest Nagel, “Wholes, sums and organic unities”, Philosophical Studies, 3(2), 1952, 17-32 (26-30).Online
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    For recently published overviews of the current state of the debate, see: Daniel H. Nexon, “The balance of power in the balance”, World Politics, 61(2), 2009, 330-59; Christopher Layne, “The waning of U.S. hegemony – myth or reality? A review essay”, International Security, 34(1), 2009, 147-72.Online
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    W. C. Wohlforth, “The stability of a unipolar world”, article cited in Stephen G. Brooks, William C. Wohlforth, World Out of Balance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).Online
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    G. John Ikenberry (ed.), America Unrivalled (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002); Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2004). For a work that combines these two interpretations, see Dario Battistella, Un monde unidimensionnel (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2011).
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    Keir A. Lieber, Gerard Alexander, “Waiting for balancing: why the world is not pushing back”, International Security, 30(1), 2005, 109-39 (130); Robert Jervis, “Unipolarity: a structural perspective”, in G. J. Ikenberry et al. (eds), International Relations Theory and the Consequences of Unipolarity”, 252-81 (279).
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    Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural realism after the Cold War”, International Security, 25(1), 2000, 5-41 (30). See also Christopher Layne, “The unipolar illusion: why new great powers will rise”, International Security, 17(4), 1993, 5-51.
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    Stephen M. Walt, Taming American Power. The Global Response to U.S. Privacy (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 131-2. On the concept of “soft-balancing”, see: Robert A. Pape, “Soft balancing against the United States”, International Security, 30(1), 2005, 7-45; T. V. Paul, James J. Wirtz, Michel Fortmann (eds), Balance of Power (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Judith Kelley, “Strategic non-cooperation as soft balancing: why Iraq was not just about Iraq”, International Politics, 42, 2005, 153-73.
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    K. N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 197-9, 208, 210.
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    K. N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 50-8 and 104-7.
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    É. Durkheim, De la division du travail social, 26
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    É. Durkheim, De la division du travail social, 265-6.
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    Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society. A Study of Order in World Politics (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1977), especially pp. 13 and 302.
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    John Barkdull, “Waltz, Durkheim and international relations: the international system as an abnormal form”, American Political Science Review, 89(30), 1995, 669-80.Online
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    É. Durkheim, De la division du travail social, 367. Durkheim refers to “hereditary tendencies, tastes and aptitudes which limit our choices”, with inherited social class particularly in mind. However, there is no reason why this concept cannot be slightly inflected to conceptualise instead ways of thinking and acting which are internalised over the course of a socialization process.
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    Bertrand Badie, La diplomatie de connivence (Paris: La Découverte, 2011), 87 and 233-5.
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    For information on the practicalities and implications of this research method, see Alexander L. George, Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 205-32.
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    This international organization “affiliated” with the United Nations system and based in Vienna is responsible for promoting civilian nuclear power and for ensuring the peaceful use of nuclear equipment and material. It does so by monitoring compliance with guarantee agreements signed with member states. In order to fulfil this second responsibility, the IAEA keeps a detailed record of materials declared and relies on a team of inspectors and a wealth of measuring and monitoring equipment to keep this record up to date.
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    Anthony H. Cordesman, Khalid Al-Rodhan, Iran’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington: The CSIS Press, 2006).
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    Among the numerous statements made in which leaders declared their official position, see in particular this interview with the Iranian Minister of Atomic Energy: “Iran needs neither nuclear weapons nor any other weapons of mass destruction”, Le Monde, 13 March 2003.
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    This document confirmed the parallel development of uranium enrichment and heavy water reactor programmes – the latter facilities known for their ability to produce fissile material in military quantities – and highlighted the lack of transparency on the part of the Iranian authorities. Cf. IAEA, “Mise en œuvre de l’accord de garanties TNP en République Islamique d’Iran”, GOV/2003/40, 10 June 2003.
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    Final statement from the G8 summit at Evian, section entitled “Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”, 2 June 2003.
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    The pioneer behind this initiative was John Bolton, Under-Secretary of State responsible for disarmament and international security issues between 2001 and 2005, as he explains in his own account of the crisis: John Bolton, Surrender Is Not an Option (New York: Threshold, 2007), 138.
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    In diplomatic jargon, the term “red lines” denotes the maximum concessions which can be made during negotiations.
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    On the limited room for manœuvre available when establishing rules for government conduct in strategic affairs, see Sammy Cohen, La monarchie nucléaire, Les coulisses de la politique étrangère sous la Ve République (Paris: Hachette, 1986), and Bastien Irondelle, La Réforme des armées en France (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2011). Online
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    On the ways in which “servants of the state” can help an issue to become a matter of political concern, see, among others, Jean-Michel Eymen, “Frontière ou marches ? De la contribution de la haute administration à la production du politique”, in Jacques Lagroye (ed.), La politisation (Paris: Belin, 2003), 47-77, and Sylvain Laurens, Une politisation feutrée. Les hauts fonctionnaires et l’immigration en France (Paris: Belin, 2009).
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    Interview with a member of staff working at the Atomic Energy Commission, February 2010.
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    For an account of the day’s negotiations written by the then French ambassador, see François Nicoullaud, “Iran nucléaire: je me souviens de 2003”, Revue international et stratégique, 70, 2008, 179-86. Online
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    “Déclaration conjointe à l’issue de la visite des ministres des Affaires étrangères de Grande-Bretagne, de France et d’Allemagne en République Islamique d’Iran”, Tehran, 21 October 2003 (MAE website).
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    United States Embassy in Brussels, “US/EU Policy Planning Talks”, 04BRUSSELS4274, 5 October 2004 (source: Wikileaks).
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    “Agreement Between Iran, Germany, United Kingdom and France…” Paris, 15 November 2004 (MAE website).
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    Cf. Yves Buchet de Neuilly, “Une Europe sans voix: les conditions du recours à la PESC”, in Damien Helly, Franck Petiteville (eds), L’Union européenne, acteur international (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005), 75-90.
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    For outlines and examples of the academic debate on the European Union’s ability to establish itself as an international player, see: Charlotte Bretherton, John Vogler, The European Union as an International Actor (Abingdon: Routledge, 1999); Karen E. Smith, “Beyond the civilian power EU debate”, Politique européenne, 17(3), 2005, 63-82; Bastien Irondelle, Franck Petiteville, “Relations internationales”, in Céline Belot et al. (eds), Science politique de l’Union européenne (Paris: Economica, 2008), 29-52.
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    On this subject, see, among others, the contributions of Geoffrey Kemp and Peter Rudolf in Richard N. Haass (ed.), Transatlantic Tensions. The United States, Europe and Problem Countries (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 1999), and Kenneth M. Pollack, The Persian Puzzle. The Conflict Between Iran and America (New York: Random House, 2004).
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    Philippe Errera [deputy director of the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs], “La crise nucléaire iranienne”, Annuaire français de relations internationales 2005, VI, 2005, 697-711 (709).
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    Interview with a French diplomat working in Washington, March 2006.
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    Dore Gold, The Rise of Nuclear Iran. How Tehran Defies the West (Washington: Regnery, 2009), 159-64.
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    For a detailed account of this diplomatic crisis, see Phillip H. Gordon, Jeremy Shapiro, Allies at War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004).
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    For example: Stefan Halper, Jonathan Clarke, America Alone. The Neo-Conservatives and Global Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Ghassan Salamé, Quand l’Amérique refait le monde (Paris: Fayard, 2005).
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    Cf. Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural realism after the cold war”, International Security, 25(1), 2000, 28-9, and “The United States: alone in the world”, in William I. Zartman (ed.), The Imbalance of Power. US Hegemony and International Order (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009), 27-36. See also: Jonathan Monten, “The roots of the Bush doctrine: power, nationalism, and democracy promotion in U.S. strategy”, International Security, 29(4), 2005, 112-56; Jack Snyder et al., “Free hand abroad, divide and rule at home”, in G. J. Ikenberry et al. (eds), International Relations Theory and the Consequences of Unipolarity, 178-215.
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    On the tendency of those responsible for foreign policy to interpret events and information using historical analogies with events that have affected them personally, cf. Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 218.
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    Cf. Jason W. Davidson, Michael J. Powers, “If you want it done right, do it yourself”, The Nonproliferation Review, 12(3), 2005, 405-33.
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    Interview with a former member of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation division, 2008. The influence of the Iraq affair can be seen at every level, right down to the format of negotiations originally envisaged, given that the initiative on Iran was initially perceived as something which could be spearheaded by France, Germany and Russia.
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    Dominique de Villepin, “Les Européens, l’Iran et l’enjeu nucléaire”, Le Figaro, 23 October 2003.
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    Interview with a member of Dominique de Villepin’s Foreign Affairs cabinet, December 2006.
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    “Entretien du ministre des Affaires étrangères, M. Dominique de Villepin, avec l’association de la presse diplomatique française”, Paris, 19 December 2003 (MAE website).
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    S. M. Walt, Taming American Power…, 162-3.
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    Pierre Bourdieu, “Droit et passe-droit. Les champs des pouvoirs territoriaux et la mise en œuvre des règlements”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 81-82, 1990, 86-96 (91). This analysis is out of sync with any attempt to reduce international institutions to nothing more than entities of joint responsibility playing a coordinating role and participating in “the construction of a more united international order”: cf. Guillaume Devin, “Ces institutions qui font la paix qui fait les institutions”, in Guillaume Devin (ed.), Faire la paix (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2009), 13-14.Online
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    Philippe Douste-Blazy, Joschka Fischer, Javier Solana, Jack Straw, “Iran: rétablir la confiance”, Le Monde, 23 September 2005. The European strategy of negotiating with Iran and bypassing the Security Council enjoyed the support of the IAEA’s director general, Mohamed El Baradei, who avoided using the term “non- compliance” in his reports. By law, the use of this term would force the IAEA’s Council of Governors to refer the case to the Security Council: cf. Mohamed El Baradei, The Age of Deception. Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011), 145.
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    Interview at the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation division, February 2006.
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    G. John Ikenberry, After Victory. Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).Online
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    S. M. Walt, Taming American Power…, 144-52. See also: Martha Finnemore, “Legitimacy, hypocrisy, and the social structure of unipolarity: why being a unipole isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”, in G. J. Ikenberry et al. (eds), International Relations Theory and the Consequences of Unipolarity, 67-98.
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    Robert O. Keohane, “The big influence of small allies”, Foreign Policy, 2, 1971, 161-82; Glenn H. Snyder, Alliance Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 320-9; Patricia A. Weitsman, Dangerous Alliances. Proponents of Peace, Weapons of War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Jeremy Pressman, Warring Friends. Alliance Restraint in International Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008). On the Atlantic alliance more specifically, see Thomas Risse-Kappen, Cooperation Among Democracies. The European Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).
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    Fred Iklé, How Nations Negotiate (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 42-58.
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    See, for example, this interview with Hassan Rohani, the Iranian leader in charge of negotiations: “D’une manière générale, les Européens sont incapables de tenir leurs promesses”, (“Generally speaking, the Europeans are incapable of keeping their promises”) Le Monde, 26 February 2005.
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    Cf. Assemblée nationale, Commission des Affaires Étrangères, “Audition conjointe avec la Commission de la Défense et des forces armées de M. Stanislas Lefebvre de Laboulaye, secrétaire général adjoint du ministère des Affaires étrangères, directeur général des Affaires politiques et de sécurité”, public record, Paris, 11 May 2005 (Assemblée nationale website).
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    Interview with a high-ranking diplomat, June 2009.
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    This statement is based on the work of a journalist who enjoyed access to the presidential archives of Jacques Chirac, archives to which I was denied access. Meeting between President George Bush and President Chirac on Monday 21 February 2005, telegram from the Élysée’s diplomatic hub, presidential archives, 5AG5 DB5, National archives, cited by Vincent Nouzille, Dans le secret des présidents. CIA, Maison-Blanche, Élysée: les dossiers confidentiels 1981–2010 (Paris: Fayard, 2010), 476-8. Details of the meeting can also be found in the following American telegram: United States’ Embassy to Paris, “Iran-EU3: February 24 Meeting Between French President Chirac and Iranian Nuclear Negotiator Hassan Ruhani”, 05PARIS1225, 25 February 2005 (source: Wikileaks).
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    T. C. Schelling, Strategy of Conflict, 22ff.
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    T. C. Schelling, Strategy of Conflict, 142-3 and 29.
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    These are two of the main strategies identified by the literature on the “principal-agent” issue: cf. Darren G. Hawkins, David A. Lake, Daniel L. Nielson, Michael J. Stierney, “Delegation under anarchy: states, international organizations, and principal-agent theory”, in Darren G. Hawkins et al. (eds), Delegation and Agency in International Organization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 26-31.
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    The individual interviewed followed this up with the rhetorical question: “If the United States is not part of an agreement, what credibility does it have?” (interview with a diplomat working in the United States, March 2006).
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    Statement by United States ambassador Jackie Sanders, before the IAEA’s Council of Governors, “Nuclear Verification: Other Safeguards Implementation Issues, Iran’s Nuclear Program”, Vienna, 16 June 2005.
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    United States’ Embassy in Paris, “Iran: EU-3 Letter Warns Tehran Against Changes to Voluntary Suspension”, 05PARIS3234, 12 May 2005; “Staffdel Talwar Discusses Lebanon/Syria, Iran/EU-3, and Iraq with Senior French Officials”, 05PARIS4106, 10 June 2005 (source: Wikileaks).
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    For information on Iran’s concerns following the war against Iran, cf. Saira Khan, Iran and Nuclear Weapons. Protracted Conflict and Proliferation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010), 100-6.
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    Interview with a diplomat working in Washington, early 2006.
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    Robert Einhorn, “A transatlantic strategy on Iran’s nuclear program”, The Washington Quarterly, 27(4), 2004, 21–32 (28-9); Alexander H. Montgomery, “Ringing in proliferation: how to dismantle an atomic bomb network”, International Security, 30(2), 2005, 153-87 (185-6); Curtis H. Martin, “‘Good cop/bad cop’ as a model for nonproliferation diplomacy toward North Korea and Iran”, Nonproliferation Review, 14(1), 2007, 61-88.Online
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    “Interview with Philippe Douste-Blazy, Minister of Foreign Affairs”, Le Monde, 5 August 2005.
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    Interview with the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 2006.
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    “Le Pentagone travaille sur une ‘option militaire’ contre l’Iran”, (“The Pentagon prepares a ‘military option’ against Iran”) Le Monde, 16 August 2005.
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    Yves Buchet de Neuilly, L’Europe de la politique étrangère (Paris: Economica, 2005), 102.
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    Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).Online
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    John L. Austin, Quand dire c’est faire (Paris: Seuil, 1970 [1st edn: 1962]), 49-51.
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    E. Durkheim, De la division du travail social, 189.
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    Interview with a member of the cabinet at the Ministry of Defence, April 2006. On the widely held perception that the “EU3” lacked credibility in their negotiations with Iran as a result of their inability to vouch for the behaviour of the United States, see in particular A. H. Montgomery, “Ringing in proliferation…”, 185-6, and Sebastian Harnisch, “A good non-proliferation cop? The EU faces the Iranian nuclear challenge”, in Gregory Boutherin (ed.), Europe Facing Nuclear Weapons Challenges (Brussels: Bruylant, 2008), 141-51.
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    “E3/EU Statement on the Iran Nuclear Issue”, Berlin, 12 January 2006 (cf. AIEA, “Communication dated 13 January 2006 received from the Permanent Missions of France, Germany and the United Kingdom to the Agency”, INFCIRC/662, 18 January 2006).
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    “Where these matters are concerned, a reasonable chance doesn’t have to mean a big one” (K. N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 206-7). Whilst Waltz doubts that it is possible to halt nuclear proliferation, he does believe that the United States could do more than any other actor to contribute to this goal.
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    K. N. Waltz, “Structural realism after the Cold War”.
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    For a text which identifies this auto-abrasive characteristic of “unipolarity”, see Barry Posen, “From unipolarity to multipolarity: transition in sight?”, in G. J. Ikenberry et al. (eds), International Relations Theory and the Consequences of Unipolarity, 317-41.
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    In 1967, Raymond Aron dismissed the notion that international systems could include automatic rebalancing mechanisms. Raymond Aron, “Qu’est-ce qu’une Théorie des Relations Internationales?”, Revue française de science politique, 17(5), 1967, 837-61 (848). And yet, in analysing Waltz’s approach in which the behaviours which states adopt are supposedly selected on the basis of their consequences (maintaining balance), several authors have identified the influence of Talcott Parsons’ structural functionalism. According to this vision of society, parties existing within any social structure fulfil a particular social function that contributes to the maintenance of the system as a whole, in the same way as organs make up a human body. Cf. Aaron Beers Sampson, “Tropical anarchy: Waltz, Wendt, and the way we imagine international politics”, Alternatives, 27(4), 2002, 429-57 (442); Stacie E. Goddard, Daniel H. Nexon, “Paradigm lost? Reassessing Theory of International Politics”, European Journal of International Relations, 11(1), 2005, 9-61 (33).Online
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    For a traditional analysis of the subject, see Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1971).
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    Consequently, it is no longer problematic that access to Soviet archives suggests more an “imbalance of power” between the two main antagonists, rather than a state of balance. William C. Wohlforth, “A certain idea of science: how international relations theory avoids reviewing the Cold War”, in Odd Arne Westad (ed.), Reviewing the Cold War. Approaches, Interpretations, Theory (London: Frank Cass, 2005), 126-45 (133). Moreover, this perspective leads to an alternative understanding of the phrase “the end of the Cold War”. In 1979, Waltz recalled the USSR’s delay in responding to the USA and sensed that the international system was no longer entirely “bipolar”. Waltz believed that this new configuration was due to the unique position held by the United States in the coordination of world affairs. (K. N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 179-80 and 210).
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    Stanley Hoffman, “L’ordre international”, in Madeleine Grawitz, Jean Leca (eds), Traité de science politique (Paris: PUF, 1985), vol. 3, 666. It has thus been possible to make a comparison between the international political system and the so-called “primitive” domestic political systems: cf. Roger D. Masters, “World politics as a primitive political system”, World Politics, 16(4), 1964, 595-619.
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    H. J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations…, 463-502; K. N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 197-210; Ian Clark, The Hierarchy of States. Reform and Resistance in the International Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Gerry Simpson, Great Power and Outlaw States. Unequal Sovereigns in the International Legal Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); David A. Lake, “Escape from the state of nature: authority and hierarchy in world politics”, International Security, 32(1), 2007, 47-79.Online

This article examines French foreign policy toward the Iranian nuclear problem between 2002 and 2006. For French leaders, this represented an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to play a substantial role in the regulation of international affairs. However, this analysis, by paying particular attention to how the relationship with the US evolved, demonstrates that actors learn the practical boundaries of their scope for action. The hypothesis of a differentiated division of labour in the international arena of diplomatic and political relations provides an explanation for this gap between actors’ intentions and the outcomes they achieve. It also provides a way to empirically grasp the structural effects of the international system.

Florent Pouponneau
A doctor of political science, Florent Pouponneau is a member of the European Centre for Sociology and Political Science (CESSP-CRPS). In December 2012, he defended a dissertation in political science on France’s foreign policy regarding the nuclear non-proliferation standard. He has notably published: “Les changements de la politique française d’exportations nucléaires (1974–1976): un triple double jeu” (“France’s changing policy on nuclear exports (1974–1976): a triple double game”), Critique internationale, 58, January –March 2013. Linking together political sociology, public policy analysis and theories of the international system, his works focus on the international circulation of standards, transatlantic relations and the transformation of the modern international system (CESSP-CRPS, Université Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne, 14, rue Cujas, 75005 Paris).
Translated by 
Alexandra Harwood
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
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