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France is back – let’s call them “NATO fries” February 26, 2009

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by Anita Kirpalani

Nicolas Sarkozy hit again with his politics of reform. But this time, by deciding to bring France back into NATO’s military command, he struck against the mythology of his own political family. It is too bad that, for once, the Gaullist narrative of independence from the United States is, in France, actually shared by both the left and the right.

NATO Summit: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. (Photo: AFP)

The fearless President is trying to bring down what appears to be a national monument, creating havoc at a particularly dreary time of strikes and plummeting public support, and not so long after a French NATO soldier was killed in Afghanistan. At least, one must grant Sarkozy that he finally managed to bring consensus amongst the French political elite – against him.

But if Charles de Gaulle would probably turn in his grave in protestation, US President Barack Obama might hope for more. Will France finally become tame and docile and pull the curtain on its dissident period of the opposition to the war in Iraq? Will she take important position in NATO in exchange for sending more troops to Afghanistan, answering Obama’s call? Will she nip in the bud the nascent attempts to create a European defense she actually advocated for? Is this the long anticipated reconciliation between French fries and Freedom Fries? Did somebody actually win?

Farewell hypocrisy

In 1949, France participated in the founding of NATO but in 1966 President de Gaulle decided to lead a different path, away from US domination in the context of the Cold War. NATO became the symbol of allegiance and alignment to the American Way and a threat to France’s sovereignty and independence. France thus remained a member of NATO but left its integrated command, evicted American bases from its soil and NATO headquarters from Paris. The trend was set for the long-lived “Gaullist-Mitterandist-Chiraquist” consensus. Until now.

But for Sarkozy, this is not another episode in the grand narrative of Sarkozy the tradition-breaker. For him, the reintegration of France actually marks the end of French hypocrisy. “The more we said we weren’t in it [NATO], the more we were”, he said at the Munich Conference on security on January 7th. France had always contributed troops to NATO’s missions – Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan – but in 1995, she resumed her participation in NATO’s military committee and, in 2004, she sent officers to the integrated commands of Mons and Norfolk.

Uncle Sam needs you

US Vice-President Joseph Biden, at the Munich Conference, expressed America’s eagerness to see France’s comeback: “America will do more, but America will ask for more from our partners”.

This is exactly what some French politicians fear: that France will become yet another puppet of the USA after so many years of resistance. “You can be independent when you are an ally, but you can’t be independent when you are integrated”, said François Bayrou the leader of the Modem, a centrist opposition political party. He is concerned that a dissenting political stance – like opposing the war in Iraq – would no longer be possible.

“We should not be fighting wars that are not ours”, said Paul Quiles, a former socialist secretary of defense, in a column in the newspaper Libération. He warned against the dangerous signal that it would give to foreign countries – that of the assimilation between France and the USA – especially in the muddle of the Middle East.

Sarkozy’s project is not new and had already given rise to much opposition. But even with the new American administration, suspicion remains especially concerning a supposed deal on Afghanistan. The French journalist J-D. Merchet revealed that France might get the Norfolk Command which focuses on the reforms of NATO and the regional command of Lisbon. But would that mean sending more troops to Afghanistan in compensation? For now, the French administration completely rules it out: “France has already made a considerable effort […] it’s out of the question to be sending more troops”, said Hervé Morin, the French Secretary of Defense to France Inter.

However, the reintegration of France in the military structures of NATO could have concrete consequences on Afghanistan, as France would finally have an official say on the design of the overall strategies of NATO’s missions. This might mean the reconciliation of the French global approach which refuses a sole military solution for Afghanistan and of the American one which focuses on security. Biden at Munich acknowledged the necessity of both. But the decision to send 30 000 troops following the Petraeus strategy in Iraq reveals a different set of mind and casts doubt on the ability of France and the USA to surmount their differences.

The end of Europe?

Another fear regards the European Security and Defense Policy which was Sarkozy’s hobby-horse during the French presidency of the EU. Who would need a common European defense initiative if European countries already are in NATO and if there is no one left to make it work? The antique opposition between the two sides of the Atlantic resurfaces.

“Everybody would benefit from Europe of Defense. Including the USA”, reassured Sarkozy in Munich, followed by Biden. The schizophrenia of Sarkozy’s politics is actually not that evident. For him, Europe and NATO are complementary and the acceptance of a European defense by the USA is the condition sine qua none to France’s commitment to NATO. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general, even argued to the French Parliament that “France is a key actor because she is the only one who has the capacity to symbolize the complementarity between NATO and a European defense ».

More than that, France actually wants to Europeanize NATO. Again, the necessity of a European defense which is already so hard to build is questioned. Europe might have to choose between integration and alliance on the military level. But most of all will there be consensus on what Europeanization means to all, including Great Britain?

The seismic consequence of Sarkozy’s proposal is highly symbolic for France and he plans to launch a national debate before France hosts the next NATO summit in April. The Socialist Party calls for a Parliamentary debate, while the Modem demands a referendum. But as Morin put it “de Gaulle left NATO with a simple letter [to Johnson]”. Why would Sarkozy need to do more than that? The debate might fall through and the recent meetings of high political figures from NATO, the US, France and Germany actually seem to foretell that the decision has already been taken.

Comments»

1. François Miguet - February 27, 2009

Further on this topic.
The French Secretary of Defense’s answers to Rue89 (in French) :

http://www.rue89.com/2009/02/26/herve-morin-pas-de-renforts-francais-prevus-en-afghanistan

2. YAzdgerd J Bilimoria - March 15, 2009

Briefly explain why this statement of a mind state made to elaborate Relations with Countires and NATO.. “The schizophrenia of Sarkozy’s politics is actually not that evident. For him, Europe and NATO are complementary and the acceptance of a European defense by the USA is the condition sine qua none to France’s commitment to NATO.”

Anita, this is the guy you met at Colaba Causeway purchasing a book..

Yazd

3. Yazdgerd J Bilimoria - April 27, 2011

Yazdgerd J Bilimoria on April 27, 2011 at 11:09 am
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
Hey Anita,

It’s me the guy you met years back, ( at the street bookshop in Colaba Causeway.. Do you still have the paoulo coelho book..? Listen I ain’t trying to dig in?? YAzdgerd J Bilimoria, y_bilimoria@rediffmail.com, #+91 9869765188)

You never answered to my email and your email i do still have more so you have to add me on to facebook , thanx for introducing me to FACEBOOK..!!

By the way, still writing at the moment my book & am a copywriter with an advertising agency now..!! SUNFLOWER ADvtt

How long back was that, 4 years and you did say hi on a blog so you did picture me & hope now you haven’t forgotten!! (lol)

Any ways, you cheer france.. this is an article about chinese war philosophy and tibettan dogma.. read on lemme know??

Bye sweet sugar Anita..

Yazd. B

MCLEODGANJ: An India-born 43-year-old Harvard Law School associate professor Dr Lobsang Sangay, whom China has dubbed as a “terrorist”, was elected as the prime minister of Tibetan government-in-exile on Wednesday. Sangay may have to shoulder most of the responsibilities the Dalai Lama is abdicating.

A section of Tibetans feels Sangay could be effective as he comes from the same school as the US president Barack Obama and has a massive network of contacts to push the Tibetan cause.

The chief election commissioner of Tibet government-in-exile Jampal Choesang announced the result- Dr Sangay got 27021 votes and 55% vote share out of a total of 49184 votes polled in the March 20 election across the globe. Voting for the prime minister took place in around 90 countries with India, Nepal, Bhutan, Europe and US having the largest number of voters.

Sangay defeated his nearest rival Tenzin Namgyal Tethong by around 8500 votes. Tethong got 18,405 votes and the third candidate Tashi Wangdi got 3173 votes.

Sangay had been maintaining his lead of around 10,000 votes since primaries were held in October. One of the MPs said Sangay was the only candidate who went to almost all major polling stations. His campaign was more organized.

The CEC said that due to the pressure from the Chinese, 13941 voters in Nepal could not vote. However, the voters in Bhutan could exercise their franchise.

The new prime minister will replace a scholar professor Samdhong Rimpoche who has completed his two terms of five years each. The prime minister-elect is still in the USA and may reach India in May to get a briefing from senior leaders. He will officially take over on August 15, a day after the present PM’s term ends.

Realising his responsibility, Dr Sangay has already started networking through his Harvard contacts. However, Sangay’s election may affect the redrafting of the Tibetan constitution forced due to the Dalai Lama relinquishing his temporal responsibilities. A lot of them are likely to be taken by Sangay.

Election for 43 seats of the parliament were also announced. The new House will be formed from May 30.

Sangay was born on March 10, 1968 at Darjeeling. He did his early schooling at the hill station and did his law graduation and post graduation from Delhi University before moving for doctoral studies to Harvard. He has been holding international conferences involving Chinese expatriates on the issue of Tibet.


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