Thursday, March 5, 2009

Védrine Says No to NATO

Hubert Védrine, who was reportedly under consideration for the foreign minister's job before Kouchner was named, has broken with Sarkozy on the question of France's rejoining NATO. Why? The classic reasons: France needs to maintain its independence, there is good reason to be wary of American intentions (e.g., with respect to the construction of a missile shield against either Iran or the Russians, take your pick), the lack of appetite in Europe for a common European defense, the loss of control of one's own destiny that goes with the binding commitment of Article 5. In some respects, Védrine's argument sounds like an American neoconservative's denunciation of Europe's "Venusian" attitude compared with virile America's more "Martial" stance. He seems as wary of his fellow Europeans as he is of France's potentially perfidious allies from outre-Atlantique. This is a troubling indication that the various dissensions that rippled through Europe during Sarkozy's presidency of the Union may have been mere surface manifestations of deeper subterranean rumblings. And the economic crisis has only made matters worse.

Oddly, Védrine takes no account of the effects of the crisis on Russia, whose presence, largely unanalyzed, nevertheless looms in the background, as it must in any discussion of NATO. Economically, Russia has been hit hard. On the one hand, this weakness limits its room for maneuver. On the other hand, it may make the Russians more desperate to seek political/military advantage if the money pipeline is temporarily stopped up. If that is the calculation underlying Védrine's insistence on French independence, it would benefit from being spelled out more fully. As it is, it's not entirely clear what engrenage he fears being drawn into, or why France cannot be both a fully integrated member of NATO and a reasonably independent national actor. Other NATO powers seem to have no difficulty expressing their disagreement on any number of issues, and Article V, if ever put to the test at a time of real disarray in NATO (heaven forbid), would probably sprout escape clauses faster than an unwitnessed will at a convention of Philadelphia lawyers.

5 comments:

bernard said...

Art,
I think that Vedrine is right. The last 8 years have shown to us that the USA will not listen to other NATO allies - eg Germany for instance - when they believe it is not in their own interest to do so. Further, they have shown that the USA will do everything in their power to isolate those NATO allies that disagree and "cajole" others into committing with them to any course of action, however poorly thought out.

President Obama is not President Bush, granted. However, France does not deal with President Bush or President Obama. France deals with the USA.

Personally, I believe that NATO should have been dissolved when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. That would not have prevented cooperation on matters of mutual interest such as Yugoslavia or terrorism.

I believe that the lack of appetite of Europe for a European defense is directly and strongly related to the existence of NATO.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Bernard, Very good points. I tend to agree that NATO stands in the way of a European defense force.

Ronald said...

Ron Tiersky said:

Bernard and Art,

My evaluation is different. I was interested by Vedrine's article for a few historical details but in the end it's unconvincing.

For one thing, France and Europe do not deal with the "USA," as Bernard says. They deal with the current American administration. Let's see what Obama does before dismissing the possibility of a different policy. There are certainly pressing reasons for him to change things,and he's already shown that he's a radical. But the Europeans (this is an old song) have to demonstrate they are willing to do what it takes on their side. For decades Europeans have not brought enough to the table in NATO to be convincing when they complain about American dominance. Of course, the Americans have dominated: The strong dominate. And what alternative was there, given European reluctance, if NATO was to mean anything serious in terms of security? And of course it goes without saying that the Americans have liked to dominate.

In short, de Gaulle was right. It's not enough to want to have "une position originale" and a European pillar in NATO. It's necessary to impose it. Power is taken,not requested.

The key in Vedrine is at the end of his piece: "Et bien oui, c'est symbolique, symbolique d'une volonte qui, une fois mis en oeuvre.

I don't agree that NATO stands in the way of a European defense because Europe can impose it. Could the U.S. prevent it? It's a matter of practical political will, scale of ambition and the willingness pay for what it takes - i.e. to make sacrifices. De Gaulle possessed all three.

Vedrine's "On peut souhaiter autre chose pour la France" is thin soup.

bernard said...

Ronald,
when I say that France deals with the USA, it does not mean that I am blind to Obama versus Bush, what it means is that nations cannot enter such fundamental things as Nato's unified command because one current administration suits them more than another. The long run is longer than the four or eight coming years.
As for Europe and Nato, I stand by my view.

David said...

I wanted to add something, but I'd just be paraphrasing what Bernard said...