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22nd Feb 2020

France preparing return to NATO

  • France has been out of NATO's military structures for more than 40 years (Photo: NATO)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his advisers are in the final phase of preparing France's return to NATO's military structures, after Paris obtained US-backing for two senior command positions.

US national security adviser James Jones has agreed in principle with Jean-David Levitte, a diplomatic adviser to President Sarkozy, that French officers could take over the reins of the Allied Command Transformation unit based in Norfolk, Virginia (US), according to a report in French daily Le Monde's Thursday edition (5 February),

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The Norfolk unit is in charge of overseeing transformations within the alliance such as its doctrine, organisation and the use of forces.

The second senior post given to the French would be a regional NATO command based in Lisbon – the headquarters of the Rapid Reaction Force and of a centre for satellite-photo analysis.

"All we can say today is that these are the two posts the United States is ready to give up and that France is ready to take them over," a NATO military officer told French news agency AFP, confirming Le Monde's report.

However, France has as yet no guarantees that it would be given the command of the structures, stressed the officer, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

"France is not necessarily the only one in line and the discussions about the revision of staff at the headquarters are not over," he said, explaining that NATO allies could make an initial decision on the issue in around two weeks.

An absence of 43 years

France has been out of NATO's military command for more than four decades.

In 1966, in the middle of the Cold War, then-President Charles de Gaulle withdrew French forces in a bid to assert France's diplomatic and military autonomy and to protest against what he saw as US dominance emerging within the organisation.

During last year's NATO summit in Bucharest, Mr Sarkozy - seen as the most pro-American president in France's recent history - said that Paris would soon conclude the process of "taking its full place in NATO structures."

Concretely, this would mean rendering some 900 French military personnel over to NATO's integrated military command, according to Le Monde.

Mr Sarkozy is expected to announce France's return to NATO's armed structures at this year's NATO summit on 3-4 April in Strasbourg and Kehl, which will also mark the Alliance's 60th anniversary.

In September, 2007, the French president told the New York Times: "France could only resume its place [in NATO] if room is made for it ... It's hard to take a place that isn't reserved for you."

Mr Sarkozy had cited American acceptance of an independent European defence capability and a leading French role in NATO's command structures "at the highest level" as the two conditions to be met before his country made a full return to the organisation.

A previous attempt under former President Jacques Chirac from 1995 to 1997 for France to re-integrate NATO's military structures had failed due to US refusal to cede the strategic NATO Naples south command to the French.

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