President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to unveil a series of proposals
for rejoining NATO's integrated military command structure at the
Bucharest Summit on April 2-4. Sarkozy will hold talks this week in
London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown aimed at securing
British support for the French proposal. Paris will reportedly offer an
additional troop contribution for the NATO mission in Afghanistan,
including a deployment of elite paratroopers to the east of the
country, allowing the United States to move more troops to the main
theater of operations in the south. In return, Paris will seek British and American backing for an independent European Union defense structure.
Sarkozy first announced the possibility of a French rapprochement over NATO in an interview in September 2007. According to The New York Times,
he made two demands: "American acceptance of an independent European
defense capability and a leading French role in NATO's command
He repeated the theme in his address to Congress in November, where he
called on "the Alliance to evolve concurrently with the development and
strengthening of a European defence."
offer of an olive branch to the NATO Alliance will be France's second
attempt to rejoin the organization's command, following former
President Jacques Chirac's unsuccessful effort in 1997, when Paris was
rebuffed by the Clinton Administration. However, once again, the ransom
being demanded by Paris for a return to the NATO fold is too high a
price for the United States and Great Britain to pay.
important that Washington is not tempted to bargain away the future of
the transatlantic alliance for the promise of a few hundred or perhaps
a thousand more troops in Afghanistan. As former U.K. Shadow Defence
Secretary Bernard Jenkin has noted, France's involvement with NATO
should be considered only if Paris reaffirms NATO supremacy in European
defense and security and if NATO can be confident that France will not
engage in deliberately disruptive policies.
relationship with NATO has always been complex and troubled, and it is
highly unlikely that her introduction into the organization's command
structure would improve the effectiveness of NATO's operations. Indeed,
it would have the opposite effect by creating a rival E.U. command
structure among NATO member states, a move that could tear NATO in half
and ultimately destroy it.
The French Proposal: A Shift Away from Berlin Plus
The full development of an independent European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP)
is a long-term French policy goal and will be the centrepiece of the
French Presidency of the European Union, starting July 1, 2008. In
terms of French strategic thinking, the NATO issue is an important
bargaining tool for Paris to strengthen its own vision of a
French-driven E.U. as a powerful world player in the political,
economic, and military spheres.
Under the Berlin Plus arrangements,
not only does the NATO Alliance maintain the right of first refusal to
conduct crisis management operations (if the E.U. wishes to use NATO
resources, it may act independently in an international crisis only if
NATO chooses not to), but all members have an effective veto by virtue
of the fact that the E.U. may draw on NATO assets only if the whole
Alliance approves. Turkey has chosen to exercise this veto power in the
past, delaying the deployment of Operation Concordia in Macedonia by
more than five months to get adequate mutual assurances from the E.U.
If French ambitions for a separate defense identity are realized, the United States will effectively
lose its veto power. The ESDP would become a powerful autonomous force
within the Alliance, with access to NATO's resources and capabilities,
as opposed to an instrument that should be activated only where NATO
does not want to act as a whole. An autonomous E.U. defense identity
within NATO could become the motor of the Alliance, representing a
significant dilution of U.S. and British influence over decision-making.
A Shift in U.S. Strategic Thinking on Europe?
Paris sees London and not Washington as the main barrier to French
reintegration into the upper echelons of NATO. Gordon Brown is known to
be skeptical regarding the French proposal, and according to The Guardian,
"French officials have expressed disappointment at the lukewarm
reaction so far," with a French diplomat quoted as saying, "we had
hoped for a more welcoming response from Britain."
contrast, Bush Administration officials have begun to send positive,
conciliatory messages to the Sarkozy administration, which clearly
indicate that the United States may be open to a French proposal to
rejoin the NATO club on Paris's terms.
In a major speech to the Press Club in Paris last month, Ambassador Victoria Nuland, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, said the following to her French audience:
I am here today in Paris to say that we agree with France--Europe
needs, the United States needs, NATO needs, the democratic world
needs--a stronger, more capable European defense capacity. An ESDP with
only soft power is not enough…. [W]e need a stronger E.U., we need a
stronger NATO and if Afghanistan has taught us anything, we need a
stronger, more seamless relationship between them. I would go
further: If we truly believe in a transatlantic comprehensive approach
to security--one that combines the best of our soft and hard power--we
need a place where we can plan and train for such missions as a
NATO-E.U. family…. In this city, we have a president that is prepared
to use his E.U. presidency to strengthen Europe's defense contribution
and then bring France back into a renovated NATO. With a French engine
in both organizations, we have an opportunity now to bring them closer
together. In Washington, leaders of all stripes are calling for more,
not less Europe, and applauding President Sarkozy's appeal for the
European Union and NATO to "march hand in hand."
Nuland's support for "a stronger, more capable European defense
capacity" stands in stark contrast to earlier warnings by U.S.
officials against what former Secretary of State Colin Powell referred
to as "independent E.U. structures that duplicate existing NATO
capabilities." In a 2003 press briefing,
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns made it categorically clear that
under the Berlin Plus agreement, "the E.U. will not seek to create
We could not support and will not
support the creation of an alternative E.U. military headquarters,
whether it's in Tervuren or some other place, in Brussels or elsewhere.
That would be, we think, duplicative, needlessly costly, and that would
in essence, we think, be a contradiction to the Berlin Plus Agreements.
Neither will we support a planning facility either.
2007, the E.U. established a military Operations Center in Brussels,
which last year conducted "a nine-day exercise involving the virtual
deployment of 2,000 European soldiers to deal with a crisis in the
fictional country of Alisia."
The operational center, a Franco-German-inspired project, is without
doubt a fledgling E.U. military headquarters that will eventually
compete with the NATO command. As Robin Harris, a former member of the
Downing Street Policy Unit, has written, "The NATO Web site proudly
boasts that there is a ‘strategic partnership' between NATO and the
E.U. There is no such thing, only an incipient strategic competition
between America and Europe."
French proposal for an independent European defense structure will
build upon the foundations laid by the new E.U. military headquarters.
If the United States agrees to the French plan, it will represent yet
another reversal of the Berlin Plus arrangements and a further erosion
of the supremacy of NATO in Europe.
France's Existing Role in NATO
exclusion from NATO's integrated military command structures does not
prevent it from being a full and active member of the Alliance. The
command issue is largely a political one and has little practical
impact on France's day-to-day involvement in NATO operations. The
notion that Paris has to be brought into the NATO command in order to
play a full role in the Alliance is a myth.
France is already an
active (though at times half-hearted) NATO member, and approximately
one-third of its 10,000 forward deployed troops are currently under
NATO command. More than 1,500 French troops participate in NATO's ISAF mission,
and more than 2,200 troops participate in KFOR in Kosovo, of which
Paris recently took command. Detachment from NATO's military command
structures, following General Charles De Gaulle's withdrawal in 1966,
merely excludes Paris from NATO's overall defense planning. However, it
is a full member of all key decision-making bodies and transformation
initiatives, including the Military Committee, the Allied Command
Transformation, and the NATO Response Force, and there are 290 French military staff currently serving with NATO.
No Quid Pro Quo with France
the Bush Administration to endorse the French plan for rejoining NATO's
command, agreeing to support an independent E.U. defense structure,
would represent a sea change in U.S. strategic thinking that would have
a dramatic, negative impact on the future of the Alliance. It would
shift the political balance of power within NATO away from Washington
and London and toward the main centers of power within the European
Union: Paris, Berlin, and Brussels. Far from encouraging European
countries from spending more on defense, it would foster an even
greater culture of dependence on NATO resources within continental
Europe. It would lead to a duplication of the NATO command structure
without a doubling of manpower or material.
It is vital that
both Washington and London reject any French proposal that calls for
American and British support for an independent European defense
organization that would undermine the centrality of the NATO Alliance.
Paris should be welcomed back into NATO's leadership club only on terms
that are acceptable to all NATO members.
It is difficult to see
how a greater E.U. defense capability will actually strengthen the NATO
mission or the broader transatlantic alliance. As a supranational body,
the European Union has frequently clashed with the United States over
major foreign policy questions--from Iraq and Iran to America's overall
handling of the war against Islamist terrorism. Washington and Brussels
are frequently oceans apart on some of the biggest issues of the day,
and encouraging a bigger military role for the E.U. can only make
NATO's task more complicated.
NATO has been the most successful
post-war multilateral organization because it is a truly transatlantic
defense and security alliance of independent nation-states with a
single command. The French proposal to build up a separate E.U. defense
structure--a competitor to NATO sucking up valuable NATO resources--is
simply unacceptable and should be firmly rejected.
Munkwitz assisted with research for this paper.
Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, before the Congress of the United States, November 7, 2007.
an in-depth assessment of the ESDP, see Sally McNamara, "The European
Security and Defense Policy: A Challenge to the Transatlantic Security
Alliance," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2053, July 18, 2007, at www.heritage.org/Research/Europe/bg2053.cfm.
Borger, "Sarkozy Hopes Talks with Brown Will Cement Anglo-French Alliance to Steer E.U. Policy."
"Bush Reaffirms Warning Against Undermining NATO," Agence France-Presse, December 4, 2003.
"En Garde: French Defense Policy," The Economist, January 19, 2008.
"News from France," French Embassy Press and Information Service, Vol. 08, February 1, 22, 2008.