Friday, November 9, 2007

France and NATO

Does France want to rejoin NATO? "Today you have the freedom to choose à la carte. If you join NATO's integrated command structure, you'll have to take the whole menu." These are the terms in which a NATO official sums up the new agenda raised by Sarkozy's Washington initiative, as reported in Le Monde.

What's in it for France? Sarkozy sees NATO as a force multiplier. Working through NATO, France will be able to project a greater military influence around the world. His assumption is that France, by setting conditions for its re-entry, will be able to re-orient the alliance toward the defense of Europe rather than the projection of American might. He thinks he is taking advantage of a moment of American weakness, or need, and to prove his bona fides, he has apparently told Bush that he will increase the French presence in Afghanistan.

But is Sarkozy perhaps overestimating the potential French influence in a revamped NATO military structure? Back in the heady days before "shock and awe," the story was that the American military didn't need or want help from anyone; working with allies just got in the way of a beautiful, pefectly-honed command-and-control structure. America's vastly superior military technology, predicated on vastly greater military spending, made it virtually impossible, technically speaking, to collaborate productively with antiquated forces that hadn't yet developed the capacity to fight on the "electronic battlefield."

Of course Iraq has shown that the dusty battlefield and, even more, the grubby back streets of ancient capitals, may still have some relevance after the electronic battlefield has been stored away in the closet for old video games. Still, it's not clear what Sarkozy is signing up for. He seems to be aiming to build a transnational military capacity before there is any agreement on, or even adumbration of, a transnational military policy. What is France willing to allow its troops to be used for? And what missions does the United States now envision for foreign boots on the ground, now that it has discovered that drones, sensors, and laser-guided bombs aren't a panacea for the world's ills?


Boz said...

Very good points - if Sarkozy is vague on his ultimate goals the US certainly is as well. Every mainstream US candidate, including the Democrats, have signed onto major expansions of the Army and Marine Corps; of course, 50k or 100k extra boots are hardly necessary if the US plans on beginning a phased withdrawal from Iraq. The US demonstrated that it doesn't need any more troops to do the conventional "shock and awe" invasions; so as long as no new occupations are on the table, such an expansion is largely unnecessary.

Sarkozy's "force multiplier" philosophy appears to be a central aim of his foreign policy pragmatism. He wouldn't have announced that France was "back" in Europe, nor be pushing so hard for a MU, if he didn't think these multilateral institutions are ultimately France's best hope of maintaining a forceful world presence.

Militarily though, France and Europe are really hopeless unless they get some kind of joint force-projection projects, a la UK-French aircraft carrier. Sarkozy told Congress that the US needs a strong Europe, which, other than the occasional friction between the EU and NATO, the US has largely supported. If Sarkozy can truly reconcile those points of friction, as outlined in the FT's Philip Stevens op-ed "Sarkozy's grand transatlantic bargain" (unfortunately I don't have the link), NATO reintegration would accomplish much more than its inherent symbolism.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that Sarkozy is trying to trade the NATO re-entry for American support (or at least backing off from its opposition) to a European Rapid Response Force. I'd add that not only is he looking for force multipliers, he's looking for force multipliers that he can leverage against each other. Having more "grouplets" of nations within which France plays a decisive role magnifies France's ability to "deliver the goods", ie. get the concessions and commitments to get results. And we all know how Sarkozy relishes getting results.