NATO's door open for French return but at what price?

18th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

18 September 2007, BRUSSELS (AFP) - France has raised the possibility that it might fully reintegrate into NATO apparently in hope of boosting the European Union's nascent military structure but success is not guaranteed, experts say.

18 September 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) - France has raised the possibility that it might fully reintegrate into NATO apparently in hope of boosting the European Union's nascent military structure but success is not guaranteed, experts say.

President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to link development at the EU's defence arm -- often derided as ineffective or a potential competitor for NATO -- to France fully integrating into the alliance's military command structure.

Twenty-one of NATO's 26 nations are also members of the EU and "many of them don't want rivalry or doubling up, hence Paris's desire to unblock the situation," said Strategic Research Foundation expert Yves Boyer.

The debate, which comes 41 years after French leader Charles De Gaulle's decision to withdraw, has only just begun and will have to await publication at the end of March of a defence strategy "white paper" ordered by Sarkozy.

It is also important to know exactly what conditions France will place on its return to the fold and how the United States and Britain, the latter accused by Paris lately of blocking EU military progress, welcome it.

Among the compensation France might ask for could be, according to Bastian Giegerich at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, to reinforce an EU military headquarters opened in Brussels in January.

Whatever is requested, NATO officers are happy that, 12 years after a first attempt at rapprochement which ended in France's partial reintegration, France through Sarkozy is finally talking publicly about finishing that process off.

"It would be a very welcome development if it was to occur," said one high-ranking officer at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on condition of anonymity.

"Certainly everybody is following the public discussion," he said. "It generated a kind of buzz around here."

He said that "French officers and military contribute significantly to operations right now" but he acknowledged that real integration, were it to happen, would have a big "psychological impact".

While he was unsure what it would mean day to day, the officer did say that "it is reasonable to say that should they rejoin this would open additional staff and command positions to them".

A European diplomat, whose country might have to surrender some senior military posts to accommodate the French, said: "I can only see a positive impact from this."

Dana Allen, IISS director of transatlantic relations, noted: "It is generally assumed that French military rather favour such a 'reintegration', whilst Quai d'Orsay (foreign ministry) diplomats would be more sceptical."

On September 5, in a report on globalisation ordered by Sarkozy, former foreign minister Hubert Vedrine warned that France would have nothing to gain by aligning itself more closely with the United States.  

Doing so would "give France influence comparable to that of other allies" of the United States, that is: "virtually nil", the report said.

Defence Minister Herve Morin also agreed that France "must not dismiss" the risk of a "weakening of our international position, which could appear more aligned" -- reflecting the view that independence gives Paris strategic clout.

But the positives appeared to outweigh the drawbacks.

He said, in a keynote speech last week, that France could increase its "influence" on operations, "usefully steer" the alliance's transformation, and could end its habit of "quibbling and shilly-shallying" at NATO.

Former French army chief of staff Henri Bentegeat, now head of the EU's military committee, also underlined that "if France's position in NATO was normalised, it would help remove a lot of suspicion against it."

AFP

Subject: German news

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