Reliable Security Information

French Military Strategy and NATO Reintegration


The French government's decision to rejoin the integrated military command structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) formalizes a decade-long rethink of French military strategy and foreign policy. Under President Charles de Gaulle, who perceived the alliance as dominated by the United States and Britain, France pulled its forces out of NATO in 1966 to pursue more independent policies. The 2009 reversal, championed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has broad support in the French policymaking community and the military, though some dissent from traditional Gaullists persists. The full reintegration of French forces into NATO's structure reflects France's view of a changed world in which domestic security will rely on the ability to coordinate with allies abroad. The move also acknowledges a diminished French ability to mount significant expeditionary operations abroad without logistical and other support from its closest allies, including the United States. In effect, the era of "French exceptionalism" in conventional military affairs is over.

Roots of the Policy Shift

The decision to rejoin NATO's military command structure is part of a larger shift following publication of a white paper on French defense and security policy in 2008. It reverses decades of French security policy, which has focused on a Cold War-style invasion scenario as the nation's primary challenge. Instead, the paper highlights counterterrorism and intelligence, reintegrates France with NATO for purposes of European security, and arguably draws Paris closer to Washington, in doctrinal terms, than any time since liberation.

Strategically, the changes echo moves that have been recommended (if not wholly undertaken) by U.S. and British defense policymakers since the end of the Cold War. Mobility--and in France's case, the ability to deploy and sustain up to thirty thousand troops in a far-off land--is a key goal.

"France's own strategic approach stresses that its...

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