Why France Wants to Rejoin NATO


French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will decide by late 2008 or early 2009 whether France will fully rejoin the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is one of the more important issues left unresolved at the recently concluded Bucharest Summit, where Sarkozy proclaimed: “I reaffirm here France’s determination to pursue the process of renovating its relations with NATO.”

General Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO’s military structure in 1966 in protest over American dominance of the Atlantic Alliance. And more than 40 years later, the issue of American influence over European security remains a fundamental stumbling block to improved Franco-US relations.

But France has been toying with the idea of rejoining NATO for more than a decade. Indeed, in 1995, Sarkozy’s predecessor, the neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac, told US President Bill Clinton of his desire to bring France back into the Alliance command structure. But the effort was abandoned when the Clinton Administration rejected French conditions for full re-integration, and when Chirac lost his governing majority in snap parliamentary elections in 1997.

Sarkozy, who has been called “an American neo-conservative with a French passport” because of his desire to mend relations with the United States, first announced the possibility of a French rapprochement with NATO in a September 2007 interview with The New York Times. But even if Sarkozy has pro-American leanings, he also is thoroughly Europe-centric in his worldview; correspondingly, he has spelled out French conditions for rejoining NATO that are very similar to those of Chirac: American acceptance of an independent European defense capability and a leading French role in NATO’s command structures.

Sarkozy reiterated his demands in November, when, in an address to the US Congress, he called on “the Alliance to evolve concurrently with the development and strengthening of a European defense.” France’s Minister for Europe, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, echoed this by saying: “We want to make openings with regard to NATO. […] But let’s be clear: We are ready to make these openings only if they allow the strengthening of a real European security and defense policy.”

But French calls for an autonomous European military capability have been greeted with skepticism by several European countries that are reluctant to undermine the existing security links with the United States established through NATO. Indeed, some of the more US-leaning European states suspect that France’s renewed interest in rejoining NATO is in fact a Trojan horse designed, ultimately, to destroy the Atlantic Alliance from within.

Sarkozy, therefore, seems to have concluded that if he wants to advance the cause of autonomous European defense, he will first have to placate euroskeptics on both sides of the Atlantic by proving his commitment to NATO. But France is unlikely to rejoin NATO if it does not promote European integration. Indeed, the President of the EU Military Committee, French General Henri Bentégeat, has said: “I think that if France normalizes its relations with NATO, European defense projects will become easier to progress.” Says Sarkozy: “The more we are friends with the Americans, the more we can be independent.”

Nowhere are French proposals for an autonomous European defense capability more controversial than in euroskeptic Britain, whose government is seeking ratification of the highly unpopular Lisbon Treaty (the repackaged European Constitution) this summer. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had earlier promised to hold a popular referendum on the Treaty, has now decided it will be easier to obtain a “yes” vote by sidelining British voters altogether and instead submitting the document directly to Parliament for ratification.

With this in mind, Brown presumably advised Sarkozy during his first official visit to Britain on March 26-27 to frame his proposals for European defense in such a way as to avoid endangering the Lisbon Treaty ratification process. Indeed, Jouyet, the French Minister for Europe, recently said that: “We will obviously take care not to jeopardize the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty, because we know that in certain countries these issues are sensitive.”

This probably explains why the symbolically important issue of French re-integration into NATO has been postponed to a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of foreign ministers in December 2008, or even perhaps to NATO’s 60th anniversary summit in April 2009.

An EU Army to Rival NATO?


France will assume the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1, 2008. And Sarkozy has already made it clear that the centerpiece of his (exceptionally ambitious) agenda will be the full development of an autonomous European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP).

The full extent of Sarkozy’s vision for European defense will be published in the forthcoming “White Book” on French defense sector reform. But according to senior aides, Sarkozy’s central proposal for the French presidency of the EU revolves around using provisions in the Lisbon Treaty that call for “permanent structured cooperation” to create what many believe in effect will become a common EU army.

In practice, the French plan is to proceed around an inner core of the biggest European countries (“strengthened cooperation” in eurospeak) called the G-6: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. (Other countries can join this initial group at any time.) France wants each G-6 country 1) to contribute 10,000 troops to a 60,000-strong “common intervention force” and 2) to commit to spending a minimum of 2 percent of GDP on defense.

France also wants the EU to have its own independent military planning capability (with its headquarters in Brussels). Says Europe Minister Jouyet: “We propose that Europe acquires the operational means for intervention with a planning center in Brussels.” This has been echoed by French Defense Minister Hervé Morin: “An own planning staff in Brussels forms part of our ideas.”

Another French proposal involves the creation of common EU arms market and the “definition of a common European disarmament and arms control policy.” Says Jouyet: “We are ready for an internal market and an arms agency at the European level which will allow us to reinforce our industrial bases.” Indeed, the European Commission recently proposed two new directives: one on defense procurement and another on intra-EU transfers of defense products.

France is also expected to proceed with a plan that would create a “common arms export policy” based on a proposal recently passed by the European Parliament. Furthermore, France wants to harmonize military training in Europe, as well as to “Europeanize” the foreign military bases of EU member states.

For the United States (and other pro-NATO allies), Sarkozy’s plans pose a dilemma. On the one hand, the Americans want the Europeans to assume more of the burden for transatlantic defense. On the other hand, they want the Europeans to do this in a way that does not undermine NATO. And most of Sarkozy’s proposals seem to be geared toward creating a rival European defense structure that over time will duplicate but not double NATO resources.

For example, the 60,000-strong EU force would draw on the very same troops that are currently committed to NATO. For such an EU force to be viable, troops would need to be on constant standby for EU missions. Considering that all EU countries are already stretched to the limit, Sarkozy’s plans would almost certainly divert manpower away from the NATO mission in Afghanistan. And nearly all observers agree that the future of the Atlantic Alliance hinges on success or failure in Afghanistan.

Several European countries, especially Britain, have also resisted the creation of an autonomous EU military planning cell because of fears that it will duplicate the existing operational planning center at NATO known as SHAPE. And some EU countries are concerned that the creation of an internal EU arms market will make it more difficult for them to reach bilateral agreements with third countries (such as the United States) in relation to the licensing of exports of military equipment.

In an effort to alleviate some of these concerns, NATO in March 2003 reached a series of agreements with the EU known as the Berlin Plus arrangements. These guarantee that NATO not only maintains the right of first refusal to conduct crisis management operations (if the EU wishes to use NATO resources, it may only act independently in an international crisis if NATO chooses not to), but that all members have an effective veto by virtue of the fact that the EU may only draw on NATO assets if the whole alliance approves.

But the Berlin Plus agreements (and thus the whole debate over the EU’s institutional relationship with NATO) will be reopened as a quid pro quo for France rejoining NATO. And if Sarkozy succeeds in creating an independent EU military, it will be at the expense of NATO, which in turn will dilute American influence over European security policy.

French Pro-Americanism Unlikely to Outlast Sarkozy

Although some analysts believe the pro-American Sarkozy is filling the shoes vacated by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, most of the French political class does not share their president’s enthusiasm for things American. Indeed, their goal for more than 60 years has been to reduce American influence in Europe. Thus it seems doubtful that Sarkozy’s overtures to the United States will outlast his own administration.

This was foreshadowed on April 8, when Sarkozy faced down a vote of no confidence because of his plans to deploy a battalion of 800 French troops to Afghanistan (France already has 1,600 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly around the capital, Kabul.) French leftists accused Sarkozy of a dangerous “Atlanticist drift” that risked turning France into Bush’s lackey. The leader of the “moderate” opposition Socialists, François Hollande, said Sarkozy decided to send French troops to Afghanistan “under pressure from the Americans” and that France risked losing its independence on the world stage.

For most of the French ruling elite (the anti-American Left and the nationalist Right), the United States is considered to be the main problem in international affairs because of its reluctance to share its power. The only solution, in their view, is a French-led EU superstate that can counterbalance America on the global stage. And a unified EU foreign and defense policy that is completely independent from NATO (ie, the United States) is essential to achieve equal status. Until then, anti-Americanism will continue to be the preferred means to accelerate the process of loosening the transatlantic link.

Sarkozy may be sincere in his desire to rejoin to NATO. But by conditioning such a move on support for an independent EU defense capability, he is saying that to be more European tomorrow, he has to be more Atlantic today.


Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. This analysis was first published by World Politics Review on April 23, 2008 .

Hindsight and foresight

@ Atlanticist

Hindsight and foresight.  That is the crux of the matter.  Does Armor possess those qualities?  One must doubt it, based on his failure the grasp the primary importance of 'culture' in safeguarding the future of ourselves and our posterity.  So, your answer was both smart and funny.  I guess the Boy scout motto is a good one.   

We live in 1 and the same world (Al Gore and Tony Blair would say) and the "transatlantic defense" will have to take place in 'world fora' (like the UN), but also in many places around the world, because they will come to define the (inevitable) future battlefields and constellations of forces.    

re: a transatlantic defense against what?

Good question. I suppose someone could have asked a similar question at any moment throughout the period of the late 19th century  when Britain still had an empire, and so did Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman turks. If somebody living at that time had suggested to their contemporaries that, in the course of only a few decades, all this would change and a 'Great War' would sweep away the old order forever, they'd propably have called that individual a fool. But, with hindsight and foresight, you don't have to be a Boy Scout to appreciate the motto,"Be Prepared".





talking geopolitics

Soeren Kern: "But even if Sarkozy has pro-American leanings, he also is thoroughly Europe-centric in his worldview"

It would be truer to say that Sarkozy is Jewish-centric and Muslim-centric. He continues the population replacement policy. One of his recent suggestions was that each French pupil in the last year of primary school should learn the name of a Jewish child that died in a concentration camp. He has come up with the idea of a "Mediterranean Union" with the Arabs. Only, last week, he said in an interview that he opposed Turkey joining the EU. "His comments came a day after his government said it would scrap a constitutional amendment that requires France to hold a referendum on any future enlargement of the EU." source
(This provision for a referendum to be hold in france whenever Turkey is ready to enter the EU had been introduced by Chirac in 2005 so that the french would be more enclined to vote Yes to the EU Treaty referendum).
So, in the same week, Sarkozy says he opposes Turkey's entry into the EU, and he prepares Turkey's entry into the EU.

"the Americans want the Europeans to assume more of the burden for transatlantic defense"

a transatlantic defense against what ?!

"and that France risked losing its independence on the world stage."

France is an empty shell which is being filled with muslim immigrants. How can an empty shell have an independent policy on the world stage?

onecent: "Bat Ye'or has tried to alert the US to this....."Eurabia is the future of Europe." www.frontpagemag.com "

Onecent's link leads to an 2004 interview of Bat Ye'or by Jamie Glazov. If you are looking for enemies of the USA, you can hardly find anyone worse than Glazov, who favors the replacement of European-Americans with third-world immigrants. An excerpt of Bat Ye'or's interview:
"France and the rest of Western Europe cannot change their policy anymore. Their future is Eurabia. Period. I don't see how they can reverse the movement they set in motion thirty years ago. Nor do Eurabians want to modify this policy. It is a project that was conceived, planned and pursued consistently through immigration policy, propaganda, church support, economic associations and aid, cultural, media and academic collaboration. Generations grew up within this political framework; they were educated and conditioned to support it and go along with it. This is the source of the strong anti-American feeling in Europe and of the paranoiac obsession with Israel, two elements that form the cornerstone of Eurabia."

I think Bat Ye'or is talking hooey. The only reason "our" mass media are obsessed with Israel is the number of Jews in the mass media. Besides, there is no reason to exclude the possibility of expelling Arab immigrants, unless you don't want them to be expelled. The ideology of immigration is exactly the same in Europe and in the USA. Mexifornia (or MexiUSA?) is the US equivalent of Eurabia/Europistan. Some will argue that muslim immigration is worse than Mexican immigration, but I think our western governments really welcome mass immigration from any third-world country. I don't think there is a particular Eurabian plan.

FrankLee:"If Sarkozy is seriously considering rejoining NATO, that probably means two things: he thinks it would benefit France to do so, and he thinks it would hurt America to do so."

I don't think Sarkozy is interested in defending french interests, unless it benefits the french to be replaced by third-world immigrants? I don't think the White House in interested in defending American interests either.

Franco-American relations # 3

@ onecent

You are not addressing the subject of your title.  You are simply espousing your negative views about France, and speculate about Sarkozy's intentions.

Your views are understandable, given French behavior in recent history, but they should not blind you to future opportunities and to the US's interest. 

One should start from the common-sense assumption that all governments are primarily motivated by self-interest.  But, some governments are better than others at separating their own narrow interest (as a government to get re-elected) from the national interest of their nation.  

Some points for your consideration:

-- Not all "enemies" are the same.  And France is - nor will be - not necessarily always be an enemy.

-- France canNOT have been America's oldest "enemy".  Without France, George Washington could not - and would not - have succeeded in his 'independence' struggle.  US and French interests were then 'aligned', and they can surely be in the future as well.

--  That France seeks an accomodation with its Arab near-neighbors is just as understandable as your 'anger' at France.  It is in the US interest to influence the 'nature' of that accomodation.

-- I think it is too early to be able to definitively pass judgement on Sarkozy's motivations and intentions.

I agree with you that the "free ride" of European governments in NATO should end, and I believe that that is slowly happening.  It should happen, not only for the US's sake, but for theirs as well.  They have to 'educate' their publics better about the realities of the world.  


"They have to 'educate' their publics better about the realities of the world."

And, just who is "they"? Get real. "They" aren't going to do any education of the public outside of the ongoing multi-culti and pc fascism they spew. Your naivete is incredible. Hoping that "they" will intervene is what is killing Europe. Get off of your knees and create a new "they" for God's sake.

France is America's most consistent enemy. Period. George Washington was a long time ago.

You don't seem to be able to refute the points I've made. France's accomodation of its Arab neighbors such as arms sales isn't "justifiable", it's weasely. American(and Israeli) anger on that issue is justifiable too. You are part of the problem, my friend.

"What has America to gain"...

What has America to gain from improved relations with France?

Nada. Nothing. Zilch.  France is our oldest enemy, there is even a well documented book by that name:



Sarkozy's game is to weaken NATO for his Arab clients. The French have been and are arms dealers to every thug in the ME that will buy their stuff. France with an 8% Muslim population reached the tipping point where they might as well throw their lot in with Muslim countries, that plus their perpetual ideas of granduer.  Bat Ye'or has tried to alert the US to this....."Eurabia is the future of Europe. Its driving force, the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation, was created in Paris in 1974."  In Paris, of course!




If Sarkozy thinks he can create a European military to rival NATO, that's a laugh. Who's going to pay for it at the expense of the socialist welfare state?  The Europeans won't even pay their fair share of NATO expenses. They've has a free ride for decades.


Franco-American relations # 2

@ Frank Lee

1) France is one of the few European nations which occasionally - very occasionally - still displays a political will to actually fight against terror groups and rogue nations around the world.  If improved Franco-American relations could yield more active assistance in maintaining 'order' in some parts of the world and political support (through influence on other nations) for containing growing dangers from authoritarians in China and Russia in a variety of theatres (including  space), then that would be important and useful.  It could also be very useful in the continuing confrontation with 'islam'  (with Iran presently in the 'lead' so to speak, but other countries will follow).  However, Mr kern's speculations about French motivations suggest a less rosy scenario.  So, the matter of French 're-integration' in the military part of NATO will ultimately have to be judged on the basis of the negotiated 'terms'.  If these terms should indicate that it remains France's goal to weaken US influence in Europe, then clearly the US has no interest in making that happen (and neither does Europe's interest, in my opinion). Let's hope that Hillary and Obama understand that.

2)  When thinking of a 'character' like De Villepin, it would of course be easy to agree on an emotional level with your 'rejectionism'.  But America's interests are better served by cool and rational thought, rather than emotion.  It surely is in that interest to have "good relations" with as many countries as possible, including France, particularly since France is still an important country on the world stage, at least for the moment.  And, who knows, the French might be capable of 'evolution', although I would not count on it.

3) The growing military cooperation between the US and Australia, Japan, and even India, is probably a major factor behind French 'calculations'.   So, it is likely that the prospects for "improved relations with France" will depend to some extent on developments in America's relations elsewhere.  It will probably also be greatly influenced by the rapidly escalating internal American debate between (a) continued leadership/internationalism and (b) a renewed period of isolationism.  The rest of the world is in for a big shock if (b) will come out on top, but that realisation will be slow in coming (given people's short memories). 

Improved Franco-American relations

Mr. Kern writes, "[T]he issue of American influence over European security remains a fundamental stumbling block to improved Franco-US relations."  That made me wonder what exactly improved relations between France and America would yield.  What has America to gain from improved relations with France?  If Sarkozy is seriously considering rejoining NATO, that probably means two things:  he thinks it would benefit France to do so, and he thinks it would hurt America to do so.  For this reason, I as an American have no great desire to see France rejoin the alliance or to see improved Franco-American relations in general, which similarly the French would never pursue unless it meant something negative for America.  Bad relations between the two states have been revealing, as when de Villepin couldn't bring himself to say that France prefered a U.S.-led victory over Iraq to a victory for Saddam at the expense of the Americans.  It's best we know that than to have France's position disguised behind a fake smile.

Abolish NATO

It's time for NATO to go.


(I'm not referring to France here) How can they keep expanding this collective-security pact.. the borders are expanding to all sorts of regions in the Eurasian world.  And do any enemies of any NATO country really take the threat of a unified response credibly?

NATO is already at the breaking point in Afghanistan, and that's a low intensity theater.

The various European nations need to step up to the plate and massively invest in thier militaries.

This aint going to happen though.. so why should we in the United States be chained to events over there. 


The world is getting way to unwound for us to have so many commitments to so many countries. And with the leadership that we have now in our government, the commitments we have made would be betrayed in a second by these gutless lying corrupt Democrats.


Very sad state of affairs and we aint seen anything  yet.