NEW YORK—François Delattre firmly believes that a world without the United Nations would be a nasty and brutish place. Rivalries between various competing powers would cause global instability, marking a return to an earlier age when empires carved out spheres of influence and ruled unchallenged. Delattre, France’s ambassador to the UN, calls it “the law of the jungle.”
Previously France’s ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2014, Delattre now navigates the crosscurrents of international diplomacy. He recently helped negotiate a Security Council resolution that toughened sanctions against North Korea to pressure it into halting its nuclear and ballistic missile tests – though one that had to be watered down to win the approval of veto-wielding members Russia and China.
Delattre also criticized President Trump in June for pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement, saying he was placing America “on the wrong side of history.” For Delattre—and the government he represents under President Emmanuel Macron—a multilateral approach that stresses cooperation and dialogue among nations is key to solving many of the world’s urgent issues. US power, he says, is the anchor of global stability.
The New York Transatlantic met Friday with Delattre to discuss the UN’s shifting global role and the challenges it faces.
New York Transatlantic: The United Nations has been a fixture in global affairs since its founding in 1945. What are some of the challenges it faces and how has its role changed over the years?
François Delattre: I believe the UN is more important than ever for at least three reasons. Number one, because the world is facing global challenges like migration, terrorism and proliferation that require global responses that the UN is well-equipped to bring. Number two, because the UN is needed to structure the multipolar world that is taking shape before our eyes, in order to make it based on partnership between the poles of the world rather than rivalry. You need a well-functioning UN for that. Finally, the UN epitomizes the rule of law. We need it in today’s world, otherwise it would be the law of the jungle.
And where has the UN succeeded and where is there still work to be done?
There is a lot of work to be done by definition since the world is not in good shape. One of the successes of the UN is the sustainable development goals— bringing together close to 200 nations of the world to create a sustainable development agenda spanning education, wealth and the fight against poverty. This has been a big achievement.
In terms of peace and security, the UN has had some successes. But as you can see in Syria and in many other places, it’s never enough. The UN is a reflection of what the world is, a human construction that’s not perfect. But it’s a needed tool where all the countries of the world can talk—it can bring people and nations together for the common good. It’s really needed.
You mentioned the war in Syria, where hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in the violence. Yet gridlock in the UN Security Council has prevented international action from being taken, so is there anything different the UN can do to help end the conflict?
I believe so. And you’re right to ask about the conflict in Syria, which is the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. Here I believe we must never give up and there is a chance if we roll up our sleeves and the international community joins forces to help end the war.
With American leadership on the international stage increasingly uncertain, can the international community expect France and Europe to assume a greater role in global affairs?
Yes, in the sense that we have no choice. We, the French and Europeans, have to assume a greater role. But we need American leadership. As I said earlier, the role of the UN is more important than ever but at the same time, we need an American commitment to world affairs and the UN. That’s really my call to my American friends.
We need America more than ever, because of its power and also for its values that we share. They are our values – the values of Enlightenment and the French and American revolutions. If the US retreats or if there is even a perception of an American retreat, then these values we all hold dear will be weakened. We need an America that is strongly committed to world affairs.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Photo: François Delattre meets with attendees at a panel discussing the United Nations at the Albertine bookstore on Oct. 6. (Joseph Zeballos-Roig for the New York Transatlantic)