Editor's note: Richard Gowan will be writing the Continentalist column for the month of December.
Is France the most influential nation at the United Nations today? To anybody who doesn’t follow events at the U.N. closely, this may sound silly. The United States still has more political and financial clout than any other member of the organization, even if it has to endure frequent criticism from poorer countries. Russia has used its status as a permanent member of the Security Council as a blunt instrument to protect Syria from U.N. sanctions for more than a year. China has become an assertive player in New York, often taking a low profile but using its influence to help friends such as Iran and North Korea.
In the face of these three powers, France and Britain -- the two permanent European members of the Security Council -- may seem to have comparatively little leverage. Both have had to trim their policies at the U.N. to meet calls for austerity from home by, for example, trying to hold down the costs of peacekeeping operations. France has also slashed back its development and humanitarian aid budgets.