France is in the diplomatic spotlight at the United Nations as it’s not only leading the Security Council for the month of July, but it is also just finishing up hosting the long-awaited Generation Equality Forum, a UN-led gathering that brings together governments, corporations and citizens groups to secure commitments for achieving gender equality.
France’s priority this month is humanitarian aid. That includes renewing the one remaining cross-border mechanism that moves crucial aid from Turkey into Syria. The Security Council has until July 10 to extend the aid delivery into northwest Syria, and a draft resolution to renew the mechanism is circulating in the Council, where it could be blocked by Russia and China.
The broader topic of humanitarian work in Africa and the Middle East is also on France’s list. Given President Emmanuel Macron’s recent announcement to significantly reduce troops on the ground in West Africa and end Operation Barkhane, France’s antiterror military operation, this month could see a push by France to reinforce multilateralism and humanitarian aid in that region. It could also push for more sharing of counterterrorism intelligence by the G5 Sahel Joint Force, created in 2017 by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and Minusma, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali. The mission’s mandate was renewed on June 29.
“It’s a transformation, not a withdrawal,” Nathalie Broadhurst, France’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, told PassBlue, referring to Macron’s announcement. “I think the level of France’s commitment will remain very high. The idea is really to address the threats, together with our partners from the G5 Sahel . . . in the context of the international coalition for the Sahel that France has really pushed and contributed to directly. The idea is not to withdraw, but to have a different kind of cooperation alongside this coalition.”
Franck Petiteville, a professor of political science at Sciences Po Grenoble, thinks the French foreign ministry’s decision to cancel Barkhane has to do with general fatigue in France and its intervention in West Africa. Other influences include the presidential elections in 2022 and the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan — “what has been called endless wars, or endless external military interventions,” Dr. Petiteville said. “At some point, if there is no significant improvement on the ground, this has to come to an end. France has no specific legitimacy, but as a former colonial power [it has had] to bear the responsibility of providing security for Mali for years.”
France plans to hold only in-person Council meetings in July. Its priorities include preserving humanitarian space in armed-conflict settings, the subject of a briefing on July 16. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to New York City to attend and will preside over a meeting of foreign ministers the day before on the monitoring of the cease-fire in Libya. Meetings on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia and Cyprus are also on the Council’s agenda.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors or other high-level diplomats as their countries assume the presidency of the Security Council. This column follows ones this year on Tunisia, Britain, the US, Vietnam, China and Estonia.
To hear an original analysis with more details on France’s presidency and insights from Dr. Petiteville, download PassBlue’s podcast, UN-Scripted, on Patreon or SoundCloud. (Excerpts of the podcast are below.) To read more about France’s ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Rivière, and its last Council presidency, in June 2020, click here.
France’s deputy ambassador to the UN: Nathalie Broadhurst
Deputy ambassador to UN since: August 2020
Languages: French, English, Spanish, Mandarin, Latin, German
Education: Degrees from Sciences Po and Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA)
Her story, briefly: Nathalie Broadhurst was born in Tunis, Tunisia’s capital, and spent her first 10 years in nearby Carthage. Her family then moved to Aurillac, a town in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France. “My mother was from Paris, so I would spend a lot of time there,” she said, and another part of her family is from Burgundy and Normandy, “so I have a little bit of background everywhere in France.”
Broadhurst initially wanted to be a journalist, but while at Sciences Po she slowly but surely changed her mind. “At Sciences Po, you are taught not by professors but a lot of high-level civil servants, including diplomats.” They helped inspire her to apply to ENA, which in turn introduced her to diplomatic work in China. Still, she thinks she could have made a career as a journalist: “I still find that it’s a fascinating job to be traveling and writing a lot. There’s a lot of common points between diplomats and journalists, to be honest.”
She has since held high-level postings in Beijing and Washington, where she worked for the foreign service; and in Paris, where she was deputy assistant secretary for the UN and multilateral organizations at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and director of its office of Development Policies.
Broadhurst said that both her professional and personal experiences help further her diplomatic work at the UN. “Having been in Washington during the last five years, during the previous administration, gave me the whole context about all the [political] tensions [in the US] and where they were coming from,” she said. “It helps that my husband is American. I also have a good understanding of some of the aspects of the United States mindset.”
Broadhurst was appointed to the UN last August, during the middle of the pandemic, and is one of about 50 women French ambassadors in a pool of 187. While she acknowledges that there is still a lot of gender-equality work to be done, she’s had mostly positive experiences. “‘Mansplaining’ or ‘maninterrupting’ in meetings — I have noticed that, of course, like any woman in a work environment,” she said, adding however that among her various bosses, “all the ones who have really helped me in my career have always been men.”
Broadhurst and her husband have a 17-year-old son and a daughter, 13. She spoke to PassBlue on June 17. Her remarks have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Last year, France’s priorities during its Security Council presidency are not on this year’s agenda, among them climate change and gender equality. Why is the focus this year so heavily on humanitarian aid? The Generation Equality Forum in Paris focused on that, and there have been a lot of [gender equality] events [at the UN] this year. I think this is really covered. Of course, in each statement and for each file that we have to deal with we also insist on those issues — women, peace and security in particular.
We had a climate change summit last year, and we will discuss it during the General Assembly [annual session]. Preparing for the COP26 [the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, in November] is obviously a top priority. It just happens that in the Security Council in July, the agenda is already very busy and we really wanted to [focus] on the humanitarian protection aspect. It’s important for President Macron, who would like to have an international conference [on the topic] probably later this year. And last year, we also launched with Germany a global call for humanitarian action, and each time we have an initiative we really want to follow up to see what has happened and what we can improve.
President Biden announced that the US was “back” at the UN, but there were a lot of complaints by Security Council members during the negotiations over Israel-Palestine in May, when the US blocked any Security Council resolution or statement for days on the sudden Gaza war that month. Does France feel like the US is back to being a reliable partner at the UN? I think yes, America is definitively back. And as you may have noticed, there have been a lot of French declarations on this topic. This re-engagement of the US in multilateralism in general and the UN environment is so important for us. Of course, the milestone decision to go back and rejoin the Paris agreement [on climate change] was such an important decision for us, we really are happy about it. At our level here, we also have very good relations with the team, with Linda [Thomas-Greenfield] and her deputies and the whole team. We have in-depth discussions on so many issues.
Sometimes, among partners, you agree to disagree. There is a strong difference of approach on Israel and Palestine. At the end of the day, we were all happy to have a statement that was maybe not as strong as France would have hoped, but at least demonstrated the unity of the Council on the basic messages that we wanted to see out there. We know we have the level of trust that allows us to face disagreements in a constructive way. We can work on any issue as like-minded, and we were working very constructively in the Security Council but also in the General Assembly and different [UN] committees.
What is France’s approach to the annual high-level General Assembly meeting in September? Are you hoping for a full-fledged, in-person meeting? We are perfectly aware that a full-fledged meeting in person will still not be possible. The situation of the epidemic is such that in a lot of countries we cannot just go back to normal. But we would still like to have as many in-person meetings as we can, maybe smaller delegations, maybe minister delegations, if we cannot have heads of state. The UN secretary-general has been very cautious and very good at preventing any “spreading” events. We are discussing a hybrid system, where some delegation, some head of state or minister, can still be able to intervene from a distance. Some delegations could come, but the question is, how would you limit their size? How would you limit the number of people altogether on your premises?
Do you think President Macron will attend? I don’t know. To be honest, I think he will probably wait and see if a lot of heads of state go. And he might be one of them. If the secretariat or the host country prefers to have a ministerial delegation, [we] will adapt to what is feasible.
Head of State: Emmanuel Macron (president)
Foreign Affairs Minister: Jean-Yves Le Drian
Type of Government: Presidential constitutional republic
Year France Joined the UN: 1945
Years in the Security Council: One of the five permanent members (with Britain, China, Russia and the US)
Population: 67 million
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.