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French officials discuss return to NATO command

French officials discuss return to NATO command

Top French officials on Wednesday were holding a high-level conference with European and U.S. officials over President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal for France to rejoin NATO's military command after a 43-year absence.
The discussion is taking place a week before a no-confidence vote in the French parliament over the plan and three weeks before NATO itself meets in France to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the alliance's foundation.
French media reported that Sarkozy would officially announce his decision that France should rejoin NATO's integrated military command when he makes the closing speech to the conference.
The French defense minister, foreign minister and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer were among those to speak before Sarkozy.
President Charles de Gaulle abruptly pulled France out of NATO's integrated military command in 1966 and evicted all allied troops and bases, including its military headquarters, from France. It was a bid to give France more military independence, particularly for its nuclear force.
De Gaulle's blunt assertion of French sovereignty at the height of the Cold War came as a shock at the time and caused a rift with the United States that continues even today.
Although it pulled out of the central decision-making core and remains outside the alliance's nuclear group and planning committee, France never left the alliance itself.
It has gradually increased its role in NATO operations in recent decades. Today, it is among the top five contributors to allied military operations and the third largest contributor to alliance budgets for NATO operations. French troops currently participate in NATO operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. France rejoining the military command will change little militarily within the alliance.
Sarkozy's march back into the heart of NATO is contested by some Gaullist conservative members of his own party and the left, both of which are wary of Sarkozy's pro-U.S. tilt. However, the move is unlikely to stir up nearly as much emotion as de Gaulle's demonstration of French power at the height of the Cold War.
Parliament will hold a no-confidence vote in Sarkozy's government over his NATO plans on March 17. However, Sarkozy's party holds a majority and the vote is unlikely to threaten the government.
Sarkozy's efforts mark a longstanding effort of French leaders to join the highest levels of NATO that began with the Soviet collapse and the unification of Germany nearly two decades ago.
President Francois Mitterrand's efforts never got past the talking stage, and Jacques Chirac's attempts collapsed in the mid-1990s when he failed to secure guarantees that France would receive a coveted command in Naples.


Updated : 2021-04-19 02:33 GMT+08:00