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Sarkozy's NATO Policy: Towards France's Atlantic Realignment?


More than 40 years after General Charles de Gaulle's historic decision to withdraw France from the integrated military branch of the Atlantic Alliance in 1966, Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to normalize France's NATO ties. Does this decision mark the abandonment of ‘Gaullism’? What will be the impact of France's reintegration and are we likely to see not only an institutional but also a political normalization of France's policies within the Alliance?

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  1. Speech by N. Sarkozy at the Ambassadors’ Conference, Paris, 27 August 2007,

  2. Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, salle Gaveau, Paris, 6 May 2007,

  3. Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy before the United States Congress, Washington, 7 November 2007,

  4. For an overview, see Bozo and Parmentier (2007).

  5. Speech by Sarkozy, Paris, salle Gaveau, 6 May 2007.

  6. Speech by Sarkozy before the United States Congress, Washington, 7 November 2007.

  7. For a more detailed discussion, see Bozo (2008a, 2008b).

  8. For an analysis of the strengths and limits of the ‘Gaullist’ model, see Bozo (1991).

  9. On this episode, see Brenner and Parmentier (2000: 38).

  10. See the information report of the French Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee on ‘Les enjeux de l’évolution de l’OTAN’, No. 405, Extraordinary Session of 2006–2007, J. François-Poncet, J.-G. Branger and A. Rouvière, rapporteurs,

  11. Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy at the Ambassadors’ Conference, Paris, 27 August 2007,

  12. Lettre de Nicolas Sarkozy aux chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement de l’Alliance atlantique, 19 mars 2009,

  13. See the Strasbourg / Kehl Summit Declaration of 4 April 2009,

  14. See, for example, the speech of US Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland in Paris, 22 February 2008,

  15. Speech by US Vice President Joseph R. Biden at the 45th Munich Security Conference, 2 February 2009,

  16. Sarkozy pointed out that ‘France can only resume its place’ in NATO ‘if room is made. It's hard to take a place that isn’t reserved for you’: interview granted to The New York Times, 24 September 2007,

  17. See ‘Un commandant suprême de l'OTAN confié pour la première fois à un Européen’, Le Monde 9 September 2009. (Beyond the prestigious reward represented by ACT, the French also emphasise the importance of the Lisbon command in relation to the NATO response force.)

  18. Speech by Biden, 2 February 2009.

  19. In April 2008, the socialists introduced a motion of censure against both Sarkozy's decision to reinforce the French contingent in ISAF and his willingness to carry out France's NATO reintegration, both of which were denounced as a sign of his ‘Atlanticist obsession’. The motion was rejected by the right of center majority (by 288 against 227); see Le Monde (2008).

  20. See Le Figaro (2009).

  21. In March 2009, Prime Minister François Fillon engaged the responsibility of his government on its foreign policy as a whole, including NATO policy. The result was a predictably comfortable approval by the centre-right: see ‘L’Assemblée nationale donne son feu vert au retour de la France dans l’OTAN’,, 17 March 2009,

  22. In 2006, the percentage of individuals who considered NATO ‘indispensable’ was 59 per cent in France, as compared to 62 per cent in the United Kingdom, and only 56 per cent in Germany, 52 per cent in Italy, 48 per cent in Poland and 44 per cent in Turkey: see German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), Transatlantic Trends 2006,

  23. No poll was conducted on the issue of France's NATO reintegration per se in the immediate aftermath of Sarkozy's announcement of his intentions in that regard in late 2007 early 2008; however, polls conducted in the wake of Sarkozy's April 2008 decision to augment France's International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) participation (however cautiously) did show overwhelming scepticism of French public opinion (sixty-two to sixty-eight in against, twelve to fifteen in favour); see The Economist (2008) and Le Figaro (2008).

  24. The various stances taken by experts and pundits were rather critical: see, for example: Boyer (2007); also see Dufourcq (2007).

  25. Part of the difficulty lay in the perceptions of the political class and the wider public when it came to the Atlantic Alliance, in which France's ‘independence’ has – quite deceptively – been seen over the past decades as the alpha and omega of French NATO policy (Bozo, 1991).

  26. According to an Ifop poll carried out for Paris-Match on 5–6 March 2009, 58 per cent were favourable and 37 per cent opposed to France's return into the NATO structures:

  27. It was no accident that the French authorities, in the run up to the Strasbourg/Kehl summit and the announcement on France's reintegration, issued multiple statements indicating that there would be no further reinforcement of the French–Afghanistan contingent in the subsequent months. Interestingly, the discourse has changed somewhat since that announcement: see Le Monde (2009b).

  28. See the speech by Nicolas Sarkozy at the conference ‘La France, la défense européenne et l’OTAN au 21ème siècle’, Paris, Ecole militaire, 11 March 2009,

  29. This was made clear by Sarkozy in his speech on defence and national security, Paris, 17 June 2008,

  30. Building up a robust European defence nevertheless remains a strong French priority, as reflected in the government's recent announcement that proposals would soon be made to that effect: see the speech by the secretary of state for European affairs, Pierre Lellouche, at the Ecole Militaire, Paris, 24 September 2009,

  31. Improving EU–NATO relations was high on the agenda of the French EU presidency in 2008; see the speech by Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner at the high level seminar on EU–NATO relations, Paris, 7 July 2008,

  32. For a presentation of the underlying logic of this policy, see Daalder and Goldgeier (2006). (Daalder is to become the Obama administration's ambassador to NATO, a clear sign of continuity of US policies in that respect.)

  33. Speech by Sarkozy at the Munich Security Conference, 7 February 2009.

  34. Press conference on international policy by Nicolas Sarkozy (then presidential candidate), Paris, 28 February 2007,


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Bozo, F. Sarkozy's NATO Policy: Towards France's Atlantic Realignment?. Eur Polit Sci 9, 176–188 (2010).

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  • France
  • security
  • NATO
  • Sarkozy