I Say NATO, You Say No NATO

I Say NATO, You Say No NATO

Mini Teaser: Will France call the whole thing off?

by Author(s): Marcel H. Van Herpen

In this view, the security of Europe cannot be decoupled from the security of the rest of the world. Therefore, a global NATO needs to go anywhere in the world to combat terrorism and destroy its safe havens. Since most of them are failed states, NATO needs to have a reconstruction division. Finally, a global NATO acts as a check on certain regional powers becoming too dominant vis-à-vis their neighbors (for instance, Russia versus the Baltic states, Georgia and Ukraine; China versus Taiwan).

Moreover, the United States considers itself-along with Europe-the world's main supporter of the rule of law, democracy and human rights. In a world with instantly available, real-time information, where the United States and its allies have the ability to intervene on short notice, it is no longer possible to passively stand aside when massacres and genocides take place that could be prevented or stopped at no great risk.

In transforming NATO along these lines, the United States expects its European allies to follow its lead. But disagreements are already beginning to surface. France is very critical of transforming the existing relationships with the so-called contact countries-Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea-into full-fledged partnerships. It would radically change the character and scope of NATO and lay the groundwork for the "global NATO" the French do not want.

Another problem is that appeals to common transatlantic democratic values ignore the existence of a broad, bipartisan undercurrent of latent and manifest anti-Americanism in French public opinion. This sentiment could easily be stirred up by the (still) substantial part of the French political elite that clings to France's special position in the West.

These hard-core paleo-Gaullists cannot only be found in Sarkozy's Gaullist UMP, but equally in the Socialist Party and in the smaller parties on the right and on the left. We should not forget that the socialist president François Mitterrand was, in his foreign and defense policy, more Gaullist than the centrist Giscard d'Estaing and, maybe, even more than Chirac. One of these "socialist Gaullists" is Hubert Védrine, a former foreign-policy advisor of Mitterrand and minister of foreign affairs in the government of Lionel Jospin. Curiously enough, shortly after his inauguration, Sarkozy invited Védrine to write a report on France and globalization. In his report, published on September 5, 2007, Védrine launched a frontal attack on "la tentation occidentaliste." In his eyes, this "Western temptation" (a virus, by which-tacitly-he might think Sarkozy to be infected) led to a vision in which the common values between the United States and Europe were overemphasized.

Hubert Védrine clearly does not have much sympathy for this perspective, and he doubts that it would reinforce France's position vis-à-vis the United States. "That would give France," he wrote, "an influence on the United States comparable with that of the other allies, that is to say almost nonexistent." Védrine's remarks are writing on the wall: not only on the right side of the political spectrum, but also on the left, there are still many opposed to Sarkozy's about-face in French security policy. This paleo-Gaullist elite is only waiting for the first cracks to appear in the newfound Franco-American friendship to stir up French public opinion, which has never lost its latent anti-American undercurrent.

The question is how Sarkozy will manage to steer between Scylla and Charybdis, trying to avoid a swelling of the opposition at home on the one hand and not giving in too much to U.S. demands on the other. The likely answer is that Sarkozy, aware of the fact that a European defense can only be built inside, not outside and against, NATO, will return to the fold. But even as a full-fledged NATO member, France will not be the easiest ally for the United States to handle.


Marcel H. Van Herpen is director of the Cicero Foundation (www.cicerofoundation.org), an independent pro-EU and pro-Atlantic think tank.


1Such a rapprochement between France and NATO is not new. After all, Chirac made a similar proposal to reintegrate France at the beginning of his presidency, on the condition that a European (read: French) officer would head NATO's Mediterranean South Command, a proposal which was promptly refused by the United States.

2The technological superiority of the U.S. Army certainly was one of the "pull" factors for Sarkozy to seek closer cooperation with the United States. This is also stressed by G. John Ikenberry, who in a report for the National Intelligence Council wrote: "To the extent that the United States continues to be at the leading edge of modernization, the other major states will ultimately find reasons to work with and engage the United States." G. John Ikenberry, Strategic Reactions to American Preeminence: Great Power Politics in the Age of Unipolarity, National Intelligence Council, July 28, 2003.

3This raises the question of Turkey's prospects to join the European Union. In the presidential campaign, Sarkozy took up a position against Turkish membership in the EU and proposed instead that Turkey become a member of some nebulous "Mediterranean Union." But Turkey, as a NATO member, has a substantial influence on decisions of the alliance. EU-led missions that would make use of NATO assets according to the Berlin Plus agreement would, for instance, need case-by-case approval of the North Atlantic Council. This would give Turkey the possibility of using its veto. This does not mean that Turkey could block the return of France into the militarily integrated structure of NATO, but it could veto a proposal to appoint a French deputy SACEUR, which is the prize Sarkozy needs in order to make his NATO U-turn acceptable to French public opinion.

4Take the view expressed by U.S. defense analysts Ivo Daalder (who is part of Senator Obama's foreign-policy team) and James Goldgeier: "NATO must become larger and more global by admitting any democratic state that is willing and able to contribute to the fulfillment of the alliance's new responsibilities." These democratic countries would include Australia, Brazil, Japan, India, New Zealand, South Africa and South Korea. Ivo Daalder and James Goldgeier, "For Global Security, Expand the Alliance," International Herald Tribune, October 12, 2006.

Essay Types: Book Review