Memorandum submitted by the French International
and Defence Studies Group, European Studies Research Institute, University of Salford,
Any assessment of France's attitude to NATO
must begin by stressing:
(i) the nationally self-conscious French
outlook on all foreign and security issues;
(ii) the importance of history in informing
French defence and security debates and perspectives (See the
1995-96 Rapport d'Information of the French Senate Foreign, Defence
and Armed Services Committee on "The Future of Military Service").
We have followed the format of the Defence Committee's
terms of reference for the inquiry into the "Future of NATO"
as outlined in Shona McGlashan's letter of 19 October 1998.
The international situation since the end of
the Cold War has placed France on a new fault line running to
the South rather than to the East in which NATO's southern flank
is perceived to be of particular sensitivity. Instability along
the North African coast with the risk of both rogue states (Libya)
and internal violence (Algeria) is perceived as an external menace
to France. Some fear the acquisition of WMD capability among these
states will place southern cities (e.g., Marseilles, Nice) within
range of ballistic missiles (rumoured to be of Chinese, North
Korean or Iranian provenance). Connected to this, Islamic fundamentalism
is seen as presenting internal threats (a Moslem immigrant community
of 1.3 million) via terrorism (see Paris metro bombings and Air
France hi-jack in 1994-95). For many French commentators and politicians,
NATO's southern flank is perceived as a potential barrier to the
new "threat from the south".
What arises from this, for the Committee's inquiry,
is France's interest in harnessing NATO to the new French strategic
requirement of providing collective or common security to the
France appears an enthusiastic participant in
supranational peacekeeping roles (rather than peacemaking) which
fits with the "historic mission" of the "armies
of the Republic" e.g., 1992: 10,000 French military personnel
engaged in global peace-keeping operations).
This remains a central plank in the rationale
of the French armed forces and is likely to facilitate co-operation
if conducted under NATO auspices.
TO NATO, AND
Because of the historic "German problem"
for France, Russia has been France's ally in the last hundred
years more often than her enemy (Franco-Russian treaties of 1894,
1935, 1944), the Cold War notwithstanding. De Gaulle encapsulated
this in suggesting that France, unlike Britain, had no serious
conflicting interests with Russia. Therefore in any process of
accession to NATO by states in East-Central Europe from 1999 onwards
(and subsequent further enlargement) to include, hypothetically,
the Baltic Republics, France must be expected to show greater
concern for Russian sensitivities, because of the proximity of
these states to Russian borders. It should be expected that any
case for further enlargement towards Russia's borders may encounter
OF NATO TO
(i) France's attempts to adjust the focus of
NATO's orientation from a predominantly eastward threat assessment
to a more southerly one found expression in the 1995-97 drive
by President Chirac to claim for France the NATO AFSOUTH command.
The French presented it as a condition for reintegrating the military
command and nuclear planning group. From December 1995 France
stated its readiness to return fully to NATO provided Alliance
structures were reformed and a new equilibrium established over
duties and responsibilities between the US and NATO-Europe. The
obstacle to agreement was the command at Naples (CNCSOUTH). Chirac's
premature declaration in early September 1996 that the US was
ready to concede French aspirations was contradicted by President
Clinton's rebuttal of 26 September 1996.
(ii) The consequences for France's policy on
forthcoming enlargement. France has given assurances that she
will not place obstacles in the way of NATO's internal reform
prior to the projected expansion of April 1999. However, what
is already apparent is a cooling of French enthusiasm for NATO
in general; a weakening of French support for US-led NATO enforcement
of the Dayton accords; and renewed French reticence about supporting
US policy positions out of the NATO area (viz 1998 Israel-Palestine
Wye Accords; UNSCOM enforcement in Iraq). The best that it seems
safe to forecast for the very near future at a policy level is
a France, to quote Defence Minister Alain Richard, "in, but
not integrated" (2 December 1997). At a technical level this
may mean in practice, the participation of French officers on
the staffs of CJTF's for instance, which would be a case of France
practising what the respected defence correspondent Jacques Isnard
called "a la carte co-operation with NATO". This was
made clear by General Douin, until recently Chief of the French
Defence Staff, who declared bitterly: "France won't return
to NATO like an errant school-boy to class" (Le Monde
5 December 1997).
(iii) This Franco-American divergence may put
Britain in a privileged position as one of the bridging stones
between the European and Atlantic pillars (particularly in the
light of the Prime Minister's recent support for a strong European
foreign policy backed by a real "defence capability").
(i) Though a pause has occurred in France's
attempts to "rebalance" the location of power and tenure
of commands in NATO, there has been movement within the French
(ii) The rebuffs of 1997 appear to have weakened
Jacques Chirac's presidential prerogatives in his previously "reserved
domain" of foreign and defence policy.
(iii) Dialogue henceforth with France should
engage as much with the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's
Office as it should with the Elysee.
(iv) We would underline the assurances of the
French Foreign Minister, Hubert Védrine (who increasingly
dominates government thinking on security), that France is not
reverting to isolation but rather will go on struggling to persuade
her NATO partners of the desirability of moving towards a genuinely
rebalanced alliance (J Howorth, Brassey's Defence Yearbook
1998, pp. 130-51).
(v) Belgium is likely to support constructive
British leadership and mediation in this continuing project. This
was indicated by the Belgian Ambassador to London, Lode Willems,
who commented that Tony Blair's enthusiasm for a European "defence
capability" would be seen by the Belgian government as a
step in the right direction.
(vi) All of this suggests considerable scope
for British "defence diplomacy" to play a constructive
role in the development of NATO.