- defence - French military - NATO
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday embarked on a lengthy explanation of the reasons why France should rejoin NATO’s integrated military command more than four decades after Charles de Gaulle walked out of the Atlantic Alliance's inner circle.
To rejoin NATO is part of a European approach, Sarkozy said on the eve of the Strasburg-Kehl summit marking the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic treaty. “What’s the point of talking with a unified voice if Europe stays silent when weapons are firing?” he asked.
The reason there is still no military Europe to speak of, he added, is because its allies don’t trust France. Indeed, he argued, they suspect Paris of doing everything possible to contradict NATO’s positions.
A reconciliation that ‘strengthens’ France’s independence
Going against the Gaullist tradition, Sarkozy said that “the reconciliation with NATO confirmed France’s independence.” In 1966, General Charles de Gaulle, then the republic’s president, withdrew France from NATO’s united command to protest, among others, against American hegemony.
That decision led to a paradoxical situation, which Sarkozy repeatedly denounced: France holds less than 1% of the command positions yet it provides 7% of all troops committed to NATO operations and contributes to 12% of NATO’s annual budget of two billion euros.
France also sent troops as part of the NATO operations in the Balkans (1996) and in Afghanistan (2001) but did not take part in the strategic decisions. Paris now hopes to weigh in on the organisation of such operations.
If and when Sarkozy’s decision is ratified by parliament, French troops serving under NATO’s integrated command should grow from 100 to 800. By comparison, there are currently 1,700 German troops and one thousand British troops serving under the NATO flag.
NATO’s general secretary Jaap de Hoop Shefer is to announce on April 4 that French generals will take over two NATO command positions.
Debate and transparency
In his speech, Sarkozy paid tributes to his predecessors’ initiatives to develop France’s relations with NATO. “This is a break with a method, not with principles,” Sarkozy said. “I could have conducted a secret diplomacy. But I chose to have a transparent debate.”
“Former presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac took steps to come closer to NATO [in 1992 and 1998] but they didn’t talk about it,” says FRANCE 24’s international news editor, Jean-Bernard Cadier. “Unlike them, Sarkozy does it openly.”
France’s reintegration will be debated in parliament as part of a general discussion on the government’s foreign policy on March 17. Prime Minister François Fillon, who will attend the debate, has sought a vote of confidence.
But the vote should not be a surprise, says Roselyne Febvre, FRANCE 24’s French politics editor. “If the vote results were negative, the government would have to step down. But the majority MPs – including those who, in pure Gaullist fashion, are opposed to France’s return within NATO – won’t dare vote against it.”