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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 367–378 | Cite as

Stepping up to reintegration: French security policy between transatlantic and European defence during and after the Cold War

  • Luca RattiEmail author
Article

Abstract

This paper discusses French views of transatlantic and European defence from the late 1940s to France’s ‘return’ to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2009. It argues that, while until the early 1950s the French Government viewed transatlantic and West European security cooperation as mutually reinforcing enterprises, by the end of that decade French decision-makers had developed conflicting perceptions of transatlantic and European defence. During the 1960s, the dominating political discourse in the Fifth Republic portrayed relations between Atlantic and European solidarity as a ‘zero-sum’ game: What was good for the Alliance was bad for Europe and vice versa. President Charles de Gaulle advocated the creation of a European ‘Third Force’, although links with NATO were never outright severed. During the 1970s and early 1980s, a ‘zero-sum’ attitude to Atlantic and European defence consolidated although as the Cold War came to a close, Mitterrand started a selective but steady re-engagement with the Alliance. By the late 1990s, during the presidency of Jacques Chirac, France was once again a de facto full member of NATO, although full reintegration was completed only in April 2009. This paper suggests that France’s return to ‘NATO’ marked no dramatic U-turn in French security policy; rather it was the result of a gradual and steady evolution, which was triggered by the crisis of the East-West structure of international politics during the 1980s.

Keywords

transatlantic defence NATO Cold War zero-sum game France reintegration 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Letter from President Johnson to President de Gaulle, 22 March 1966, FRUS 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, Western Europe Region, United States Government Printing Office, Washington 1995, p. 349.Google Scholar
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  17. 15.
    Mitterrand was, however, much more ‘Atlantic’ in his views than his predecessors: at the time of the NATO Dual-Track decision he offered the Alliance his complete support, urging approval of the rearmament effort during a speech before the German parliament in January 1983, which included the dictum, ‘Les pacifistes sont à l’Ouest mais les missiles sont à l’Est’ [‘The pacifists are in the West but the missiles are in the East’ ]. Gisela Müller-Brandeck-Bocquet, ‘France’s New NATO Policy, Leveraging a Realignment of the Alliance?’, Strategic Studies Quarterly 3, no. 4 (2009): 96.Google Scholar
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  24. 22.
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  25. 23.
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  26. 24.
    In mid-2003, French officials would oppose discussion in EU Councils on whether to consult with NATO on the French EU-led operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Similarly, in May 2005, Paris mounted early resistance to NATO’s involvement in assisting the African Union (AU) monitors in Darfur, preferring instead to channel such assistance through the EU. Michel, ‘NATO’s “French Connection”’, 4.Google Scholar
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    See the speech given by Nicolas Sarkozy at the Conference of the Ambassadors in Paris on August 27, 2007, https://doi.org/www.elysee.fr/download/?mode=press&filename=embassadeur-27–08–07.pdf.
  31. 29.
    On 2 April 2008, US President Bush acknowledged that ‘building a strong NATO alliance also requires a strong European defence capacity’. See the report published by the Office of the Press Secretary, President Bush visits Bucharest, Romania, Discusses NATO, https://doi.org/www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/04/20080402–2.html.
  32. 30.
    Twenty-two out of the 28 current EU member states are also NATO members. The latest EU member, Croatia, joined the Alliance, together with Albania, at the Strasbourg-Kehl summit in 2009.Google Scholar
  33. 31.
    Author’s translation. Former French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie hinted at this in a February 2009 article in Le Figaro, when she stressed that ‘the unwillingness of certain European countries to make the necessary efforts to reinforce European defence will be easier to overcome when they are assured that this will not be built up against NATO’. Le Figaro, February 17, 2009.Google Scholar
  34. 32.
    In 2012, this argument was restated clearly by a report drafted under the supervision of former foreign minister Hubert Védrine, which assessed the consequences of France’s return to NATO’s integrated military command. The so-called ‘Védrine report’ argues that France has played a driving role in the definition of the Alliance’s strategy since 2009, contributing to decisions and setting priorities, but also that it needs to assert itself much more in order to wield greater influence in the Alliance. The report also confirms the end of a ‘zero-sum’ approach, and reinforces the expectation of greater European responsibility in transatlantic defence. The English text of the Védrine report can be downloaded at https://doi.org/www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/IMG/pdf/12-2226-Rapport_H_VEDRINE_VEN.pdf.
  35. 33.
    In 1966, de Gaulle made his decision with little consultation, informing US President Lyndon Johnson in a letter first, and then his own Parliament. Steven Erlanger, ‘Sarkozy Embraces NATO, and Bigger Role for France’, The New York Times, March 7, 2009. See alsoGoogle Scholar
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    Nicolas Sarkozy also made it clear that France would not reintegrate into the ‘old NATO’. While acknowledging the Alliance’s transformation since the end of the Cold War, this position clearly showed that Sarkozy did not want to appear, in the eyes of the French electorate and political establishment, as completely reversing de Gaulle’s 1966 decision. Michel, ‘NATO’s “French Connection”’, 2.Google Scholar
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    Le Figaro, June 18, 2008.Google Scholar
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    The 2008 White paper reversed decades of French security policy, which had focused on a Cold War style invasion scenario as the nation’s primary challenge. Instead, the paper highlighted counterterrorism and intelligence, reintegrated France within NATO for purposes of European security, and arguably drew Paris closer to Washington, in doctrinal terms, than at any time since 1967. See https://doi.org/www.cfr.org/france/french-government-white-paper-defense-national-security/p16615.
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Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History of International RelationsUniversity of Rome 3RomeItaly

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