On Wednesday French diplomat Gérard Araud, who since 2014 has served as Ambassador of France to the United States, visited the LBJ School of Public Affairs as part of the Dean’s Distinguished Leaders Series.
Only two months into the job, Vogue reported that Araud made a splash in Washington’s formal social circles with his forthrightness and fiery Twitter feed, adding that “adhering to political correctness isn’t Araud’s style.” During his more than thirty-year career in diplomacy, Araud has served as France’s ambassador to Israel, a Middle East expert for the French Embassy in DC and as permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. Over the course of his career, he has developed specialized knowledge in two key areas: the Middle East and strategic and security issues, having also served as the French negotiator on the Iranian nuclear issue from 2006 – 2009.
During his visit with students, Araud discussed climate change, secularism and a globalized world facing rising nationalism.
Araud opened the discussion with the Paris climate agreement, citing its significance for two main reasons:
- The Paris climate agreement marked the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement. Araud said, “For the first time, everyone was on board.”
- The agreement included not only countries, but also cities, corporations and other stakeholders.
Araud explained that the approach to fighting climate change has to associate everyone, rather than be top-down. He also said that the French government would work with U.S. cities and states if the United States federal government did indeed withdraw from the agreement.
Araud provided context to the controversial French ban on face coverings, which includes the burqa, citing the frameworks of our different societies. While both the U.S. and France are secular countries, he said the U.S. is still a deeply religious country.
Reinforcing that perspective, U.S. President Donald Trump said in his State of the Union speech, “In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. Our motto is, ‘In God we trust.’”
Araud stated, “An atheist will never be elected President in the U.S. In France, religion is private.”
He explained that French society was unprepared for a religion with public expressions when public spaces must be religion-neutral.
Globalization and Nationalism
“It’s a very unstable world,” Araud said.
He explained that the world is currently facing an issue of balance of power, and that the United States is in a unique position.
“The U.S. is bad at that [a balance of power] because you have never been threatened by your neighbors,” Araud said. “You’re not obliged to look at your environment and consider your security.”
However, both France and the United States face rising nationalism. Araud speculated that people may feel lost in the global world, so they cling to their state. He said he was unsure of what kind of world he would leave students like those of the LBJ School upon retirement, but fears nationalism is the future.