Tuesday, 31 March 2009

France Rejoins NATO Military Structure

On March 17, the French National Assembly confirmed President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement that France would rejoin NATO's integrated military command. This overturns 50 years of French policy, and most importantly in domestic terms, the legacy of General de Gaulle, who expelled NATO and US forces from France in 1966, partly because the US had refused to reveal details of US nuclear forces in France, or the circumstances in which they would be used.

The result of the vote last week was never in question, since Prime Minister Francois Fillon had made the vote a question of confidence in the government. He also insisted that was a matter of foreign and defence policy, which is a presidential prerogative under the French Constitution.

This parliamentary manoeuvre ensured that Gaullist opposition to rejoining the military structures of the Alliance was muted, since most Deputies were not willing to bring down the government over the issue. However, many commentators suggested that if the vote were secret then at least a third of government Deputies would vote no, enough to make the measure fail. Major figures like former Prime Ministers Dominique de Villepin and Alain Juppé, as well as Francois Bayrou, a former leader of the forerunner of Sarkozy's UMP party and twice presidential candidate, spoke out strongly against the move. In the end, the threat of domestic political chaos was enough to persuade most doubters and the final vote was 329 to 268 in favour.

France will now take command of Joint Command Lisbon, which notably includes responsibility for running the NATO Response Force and mounting missions using allied Combined Joint Task Forces. These mechanisms are most likely to be used to project force beyond the NATO area. The JCL also has responsibility for military components of the Mediterranean Dialogue. France will also lead the Allied Command transformation, based in Norfolk, Virgina. The command has responsibility for managing the transformation of the Alliance from a static defence organisation to a flexible, expeditionary Alliance that can support security needs across the globe.

In 1996, when President Chirac failed to get France back into the military command, he wanted command of Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH), the major NATO command in the Mediterranean. During the debate on the 17th, Fillon was taunted that Sarkozy had failed to get this command (now known as Allied Joint Force Command Naples), and settled for two lesser commands instead.

France will also join the Defence Planning Committee (although not its Nuclear Planning Group), and will assign some 800 officers to positions within NATO's military structures.

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