France is a charter member of the United Nations (UN) and holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. France is a signatory to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and for the first time since 1966, France participated in a NATO military peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1997.
In the late-1990s, France was deeply enmeshed in the former Yugoslavia crisis. It had the largest contingent of troops in the UN peacekeeping forces on the ground. France argued vociferously, both through diplomatic channels and publicly, for a more active role for other Western democracies.
France's relations with other countries are cordial. Especially in former colonial holdings, France participates in a wide range of social and humanitarian programs throughout the world and is committed to establishing and maintaining democracy and human rights worldwide. France and the United States share similar values and tend to enact similar policies on important issues. When conflicts arise, they are addressed in a spirit of close cooperation. In Europe, France is a significant power and has chosen to work closely with Germany in order to strengthen the institutions and influence of the EU, economically as well as strategically. In January 1999, France joined with 10 other European nations in launching the euro, which began circulation in January 2002.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on 11 September 2001, Chirac pledged to support the United States in its efforts against terrorism. U.S. President George W. Bush praised France as an ally.
In 2002–03, Chirac was faced with a major foreign policy dilemma, regarding the situation with Iraq. The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441 on 8 November 2002, calling on Iraq to disarm itself of any chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or weapons capabilities it might possess, to allow for the return of UN and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weapons inspectors, and to comply with all previous UN resolutions regarding the country since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. The United States and the United Kingdom were amassing troops in the Persian Gulf region, and if Iraq did not comply with Resolution 1441, "serious consequences" were to result. Chirac was strident in demanding UN and IAEA weapons inspectors be allowed to continue their work, and threatened to use France's veto power in the Security Council should the United States and the United Kingdom call for another resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Diplomatic efforts at conflict resolution ended in March 2003, and on 19 March, the U.S.-led coalition went to war in Iraq. After the fall of the Iraqi regime in April, Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and Russian President Vladimir Putin united to call for a leading role for the UN in reconstructing Iraq. The conflict over Iraq has led to a serious rift in U.S.-French relations. Although after the war ended, Chirac proclaimed, "France, like all democracies, rejoices" at the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime, he maintained that the war had been illegitimate under international law, would encourage international terrorism, and further destabilize the Middle East. Iraq owes France around US $8 billion in debt, a part or all of which the United States has indicated France should forgive, so that a new Iraqi regime will not be burdened by it. In assuming the voice of leadership against the war in Iraq, Chirac has staked out a new independent path for France in international politics.