France, NATO and the EU
Throughout France’s 2013 White Paper on NATO, the EU is omnipresent. Even though it is clearly stated that “NATO and the European Union are not in competition” common sense would suggest otherwise. First, a strong NATO cannot happen without a strong EU. Second, it is stated that NATO should take into account European defence industry to develop smart defence. It is common knowledge that France has always been a strong supporter of a Europe de la Défence project, which is often thought that Paris would be eager to let it replace the Alliance. Indeed, “France will continue to support the European initiative aimed at sharing and pooling military capabilities.” The creation of the Weimar initiative with Poland and Germany confirms France’s determination to increase the EU’s military dimension, a project in which Paris is deeply involved.
The EU and NATO, two organizations serving complimentary purposes
However, the White Paper suggests the complementary posture of the two organizations, emphasizing their diverging scopes, interdependence in terms of operation and crisis resolution and values. France intends to reinforce the European pillar within NATO to shift the responsibilities from North America to the Old Continent when it comes to Europe’s security concerns. Capitalizing on its strong positions in both organizations, France intends to increase the cooperation between the two through dialogue and collaboration. Paris will also push for a shift in power within the Alliance, hoping that Europe’s security will stop depending on American forces. France also hopes that a strong NATO will support its European members’ military industries and the EU’s military structures like the EDTIB. Reintegrating the IMSs was not only to regain planning power; France intended for this to also benefit Europe. As it is clearly stated in the White Paper on Defence and National Security of 2013, “Having regained its complete place in the functioning of NATO as a full-fledged member, France promotes a strong and effective Alliance serving its own interests and those of Europe”.
The European pillar
For France, being a strong actor in the EU is aligned with the country’s desire to restore its long-lost status of a great power. By being responsible for the development of a strong European Union, Paris seems to expect that the success will also include them. It is also in this regard that De Gaulle decided to take France out of the Integrated Military Structure as Europe was working on reinforcing the continent’s cooperation. NATO is a military structure, and no more. The EU, as a comprehensive organization should focus on questions of defense.
It is believed by some that France reintegrated NATO’s IMSs to reinforce the European pillar within the Alliance and convert them into their Europe de la Défense project. Whether this is France’s central motivation is debatable. However it remains a valid argument as the official discourse of the Republic is focused on the EU. Bargaining always happens within an organization, and France might have used that technique in order to advance its European agenda. Some concessions regarding the scope of NATO’s tasks, such as crisis management, that are believed to have been accepted in exchange for the development of the European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) which increases the Europeanization of the Alliance, “In addition, NAC approved a German-French proposal for the EUROCORPS – a multinational unit to be placed under NATO’s operational command in case of crisis.”
European forces to defend Europe
France is continuously emphasizing the European pillar in NATO, trying to shift the Old Continent’s security into its own hands. It is time that NATO members stop relying on the USA for their defence and invest into defence capabilities instead of reducing them. France has always been an advocate for independence, which is the reason why it is so reluctant to submit its forces to NATO in times of peace and integrate its nuclear capabilities into the Transatlantic Alliance. According to the French vision, in order for a country to count and be heard, it must not depend on another for its survival. However, many NATO members have reduced their armaments as soon as they felt protected by NATO. France wishes to maintain its freedom to refuse to get involved in certain conflicts and engage in others outside of NATO’s scopes, and it is able to do so because it has enough capabilities, and they are not all tied to the Alliance. France wished that its neighbours would have the same attitude and fight European battles alongside them.
France is and has always been a strong contributor to NATO, in financial and operational terms as well as in commitment. The country has always shown great solidarity with its allies in the face of threats and never hesitated to engage against the cause of insecurity. Its dedication was however not always reflected by its power within the Alliance as De Gaulle withdrew the country from the IMSs. 2009 has marked the return of France, but also a new opportunity for the French government to really have a say in the Transatlantic Alliance’s strategic decisions. It is also a chance to advance French interests, which include pushing forward the project of reinforcing the EU’s defense capabilities. Despite its reintegration, which was feared would cause a force alignment of France on America’s priorities, Paris tries to maintain its image of a non-aligned member by not hesitating to oppose any decision, important or not. We can therefore assume that the reintegration was only effective in practice, but not fully in principles.
The French civil society, despite their countries important contribution to NATO, remains unaware of the strategic importance of the Alliance. Dialogue and debate is rare on issues that should concern the population: NATO and questions of defence at large are often disregarded if they do not only promote France’s grandeur. There is a need to increase general awareness on the country’s involvement in the Transatlantic Alliance, beyond scholar circles. Students should be taught about NATO and its strategic role, public debates should be organized in order to create national consensus on what is expected from the organization. It is surprising that very few events on the topic of NATO actually take place in Paris and all over the national territory. The government should not be the only actor that to have a say in that matter.