Security & Defense

France & NATO – pt.1

France in NATO

France, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, founding member of the European Union and one of the biggest contributors to the NATO, has been forced to adapt to today’s security challenges as the security landscape has drastically evolved since the Cold War. One of the most marking events was the reintegration of the country into the Integrated Military Structures (IMs) of NATO in 2009.

The reintegration caused little change as France has always remained one of the biggest stakeholders in the Alliance. It was however feared that 2009 marked the end of Paris’s sovereignty and political independence to the benefit of the USA who lead NATO. It is therefore interesting to look into the French national defence expenditures and the portion allocated to NATO. It also seems relevant to study the official stance on the Alliance as detailed in the White Paper on Defence and National Security published in 2013.

It is important to add that France neither intended to leave NATO, nor was excluded from the decision making process. Especially in military capacities, Paris remained engaged in the planning of the Alliance. Also, despite their proclaimed scepticism towards the Alliance, “French political leaders also envisaged French forces being placed under NATO operational control in case of war in Europe”. Dissention therefore appears to be on a matter of principles, a Gaullist rhetoric that in practice did not always apply.

Despite France’s displayed detached attitude from NATO, the Alliance remains a key ally in fighting common threats. France spends enormous resources to defend itself and its interests via in part the Euro-Atlantic Alliance. However, despite the high financial and operational commitments, Paris still cultivates diverging strategies and purposes.

Defense Spending

France allocates a relatively big portion of its GDP for defence. In 2014, 2.2% were allocated to that priority, placing France at the 5th rank worldwide, first in Europe, amounting to a total of 62.3 billion $ representing around 3,6% of the world’s total military expenses. France currently rates 3rd in regards to defence spending per inhabitant, behind the United States and the United Kingdom.

Whilst far behind the USA’s 618.7 billion $, France’s defence spending is important, as it allows the country to be a relevant contributor to international coalitions-led operations. France also purchased 43 million $ worth of arms and exported some 1.5 billion $ in 2013. The country also continuously invests into modern equipment, suitable for air, land and sea operations. It needs to be added that France counts 290 nuclear heads, plus 10 that are not operational. Considering that NATO does not possess its own military capacities, France is a great asset for the Alliance thanks to its powerful and up-to-date arsenal. Although the French nuclear capacity is not subjected to NATO’s control, it reinforces the Alliance deterrence in accordance with Article V. Even despite the recent financial crisis, France has only marginally reduced its defence spending, and the stability of the expenditures is ensured until 2019 by the Military Programming Law that was passed in 2013. This ensures that the budget for contributing to NATO is there and will remain the same.

Financial Contributions to NATO

Questions of defense therefore appear central for France. However, on top of what the country spends for its own defense, it is also expected to contribute to NATO and its military expenses. Three posts of contributions are demanded from the member countries: civil budget, military budget and NATO Security Investment Programme. The cost share arrangements predict that France will contribute with 11.1421% of the civil budget in 2014 and 2015, and 10.9682% of the military and NSIP finances. This makes France the third contributor behind the US and Germany in terms of absolute financial contribution. As emphasized during the Wales Summit in September 2014, member states are expected to contribute with a minimum of 2% of their GDP to the Alliance. France is slightly below the threshold with 1.9%, placing it at the fifth position behind the US, the UK, Greece and Estonia.


Hubert Védrine at NATO (Photo: John Thys/AFP)

It is important to add that France contributed to the modernization of NATO, therefore investing in the future of the Alliance. As highlighted by Hubert Védrine in 2013 in his report on the consequences of France’s return to the NATO Integrated Military Command Structures:

 “France has played a driving role since 2009 in setting priorities, recasting procedures, reducing the number of agencies from 14 to 3 (with expected savings of 20%), streamlining the command structure (cutting personnel by 35% in 2013) reducing staff divisions from 11 to 7, thus achieving savings, and preparing for the move into the new headquarters in 2016.”

Contributions in Operational Terms

Beyond the financial contributions, NATO member states also voluntarily contribute to the Alliance by allocating parts of their arsenals and personnel to the Alliance’s operations.

France has always been one of the biggest contributors in terms of deployed forces: “for a period in the 1990s, France had more troops under a NATO ‘flag’ than the USA”. More recently, France was the biggest contributor to the NATO operations in Bosnia and led DMN-SE forces during IFOR and SFOR; 320 French soldiers were sent to Kosovo (KFOR) as part of the French delegation TRIDENT; and 500 men were dedicated to train the Afghani troops deployed in ISAF. The French military played a key role in the Operation Unified Protector in Libya, accounting for a quarter of the air missions and a third of the air attacks”. France is still involved in Operation Endeavour in the Mediterranean and in Mission Ocean Shield in the Gulf of Aden. “In addition, the French Air Force has repeatedly, since 2007, ensured the protection of airspace over Iceland and the Baltic countries”, and France is now the largest single contributor to the NATO Response Force (NRF).

France’s reintegration into the IMSs has also increased the country’s influence in terms of decision-making power, allocating some key commanding posts to French generals. Said positions where Head of the Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) in Norfolk and Head of one of the three regional commands, the Joint Command Lisbon. The reintegration gave more commanding responsibilities to France. Paris had always been deeply engaged in operational activities despite the distance they had wished to take in 1966 which prevented them from having a say in the decision-making processes. The reintegration therefore seemed only right, as the responsibilities “should fit with France’s contributions and power in the Alliance.” France therefore regained its right to be a “full player in both planning and execution” as the country had “scant influence on NATO’s operations strategy or doctrine” as long as it remained out of the integrated military structures.



3 thoughts on “France & NATO – pt.1

  1. Pingback: France & NATO – pt.2 | florafranca

  2. Pingback: France & NATO – pt.3 | florafranca

  3. Pingback: France & NATO – pt.4 | florafranca

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