A few hours away before the opening of the Summit of the NATO in Chicago, Philippe Maze-Sencier, member of the Board of the Thomas More Institute, and Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, Research Fellow to the Thomas More Institute, explain the sense and the reasons of the commitment of France in the Atlantic Alliance | Article published in French in Le Figaro of May 19-20th, 2012
On 19th and 20th May, France’s newly elected President François Hollande will travel to Chicago to attend NATO’s 2012 summit, where critical issues such as the war in Afghanistan, anti-ballistic missile defence and the pooling and sharing of the Allies’ military capabilities will be discussed. In Chicago, the French President will immediately be thrown into the centre of global geo-politics. Indeed, the stakes associated with France’s full integration within NATO go far beyond the “critical policy review” threatened by then presidential candidate Hollande during the campaign.
The 2009 decision taken by President Sarkozy to re-join NATO’s integrated command structure came as the end point of a process initiated by (Socialist) President François Mitterrand and rekindled by his (Gaullist) successor, Jacques Chirac. This decision brought to an end the “French paradox”, i.e. the divergence between France’s historical role within the Atlantic Alliance on the one hand and its frequently “non-aligned rhetoric” on the other. Following this decision, France’s geo-political positioning was more consistent in deeds and in words, and we can only be grateful for this clarification.
France’s full participation in NATO has resulted in France playing a greater role in the organisation’s decision-making process. France’s return to the organisation’s integrated command structure has meant that a number of key positions, such as the Supreme Allied Commander - Transformation, one of NATO’s two foremost commands, are now filled by French uniformed personnel. Allied Command – Transformation is NATO’s leading agent for change, driving for instance the “Smart Defence” project on enhancing pooling and coordination to maintain the organisation’s military capabilities. Last April’s meeting of NATO’s chiefs of staff confirmed France’s increased decision making weight while France will soon have as many generals in NATO’s military structure as the UK does.
President Sarkozy’s 2009 decision and France’s strong investment within NATO have led to the recent marked rapprochement in British and French diplomatic and military positions. The Lancaster House Treaties, signed in November 2010, are a direct result of this change of posture and found their most recent expression in the close bi-lateral cooperation over last year’s Libya campaign. Today, in Europe, only France and the United Kingdom still have the capabilities to undertake major overseas military operations. They can however only hope to retain their global power status through close cooperation.
Calling for a “European defence structure” to justify a form of status quo within NATO would be ill-advised; no European country seriously entertains the thought of a solely European organisation to ensure a common defence. Germany, France’s main ally and partner within the European Union (EU), is focused on affirming itself along geo-economic lines. Defence issues are still not high on its agenda, and Germany also views NATO as a way to counterbalance its trade and energy partnership with Russia.
Indeed, the EU constitutes a large and rather loose pan-European commonwealth that one has a hard time envisioning turning into a solid political and military entity. The current Eurozone crisis as well as internal wrangling brought to the fore the weakness of the EU’s geopolitical and institutional construction, and it has today, far more pressing priorities to focus on than defence issues.
Ultimately, the “one and free Europe” that the West has been seeking to establish since the end of the Cold War rests squarely on distinct and complementary pillars: the EU and NATO. Without America’s military engagement and its corollary in terms of security guarantees, it would certainly be difficult to contain Russia’s pressure on the western fringes of the former Soviet Union or the anomic logic currently experienced in parts of the Arab world and the Middle-East. One could then even imagine a self-centered “every man for himself” logic prevailing in Europe. A solid Atlantic pillar would, on the contrary, help the EU to play on its comparative strengths, through its Mediterranean focused policy, its Eastern partnership or its energy policies.
At the NATO 2012 Summit in Chicago, France must thus position itself at the very heart of both the European and the Atlantic circles. Having the means to do so, France ought to stop procrastinating and actively participate to the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile defence, reinforcing the common security of all Allies. As for Afghanistan, France’s withdrawal should be discussed and executed within the rules of Atlantic multilateralism.
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