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French officials make case to rejoin NATO command

French officials make case to rejoin NATO command

French Defense Minister Herve Morin on Wednesday staunchly defended strengthened military ties between the United States and Europe as France prepared to rejoin NATO's integrated command after a 43-year absence.
"We need a renewed trans-Atlantic partnership between an America that is open and a Europe that is being strengthened," Morin told a high-level military conference on France, European defense and NATO in the 21st century.
The conference convened by Sarkozy takes place a week before a no-confidence vote in the French parliament over the plan to rejoin NATO's military command, and three weeks before NATO itself meets in Strasbourg, France, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the alliance's foundation.
Morin batted aside fears of opposition leftists and some Gaullist conservative members of his own party, both of whom are wary of Sarkozy's pro-U.S. tilt and fear it will limit France's ability to decide its own policies.
The "renovation of relations of France with NATO will benefit the alliance, benefit Europe and benefit France. It will be done without calling into question the independence of France," Morin said. He urged France to take on its full responsibilities in the alliance and act like an "adult."
In 1966, President Charles de Gaulle abruptly pulled France out of NATO's integrated military command and evicted all allied troops and bases, including its military headquarters, from France in an effort to assert French sovereignty over its own territory.
De Gaulle's blunt assertion of French independence 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.
Today, it is among the top five contributors to allied military operations and the fourth- largest contributor to alliance budgets for NATO operations.
France rejoining the military command is unlikely to stir up nearly as much emotion as its withdrawal from the alliance, especially since French troops have been participating NATO missions since the mid-1990s, including those in Bosnia, Kosovo and now Afghanistan.
"We need a renewed trans-Atlantic partnership between an America that is open and a Europe that is being strengthened," Morin said.
French media have reported that Sarkozy will officially announce his decision for France to rejoin NATO's integrated military command when he makes the closing speech to the conference.
Sarkozy's efforts mark a long-standing effort of French leaders to rejoin the highest levels of NATO that began with the Soviet collapse and the unification of Germany nearly two decades ago.
"Europe and France have an essential role to play but they can do it only if they are united and strong, respectful of the values that founded our system," Morin said.
President Francois Mitterrand's efforts never got past the talking stage, and Jacques Chirac's efforts collapsed in the mid-1990s when he failed to secure guarantees that France would receive a coveted command in Naples in exchange for rejoining the military command.
Upon returning fully to NATO, France expects to receive two command posts, one in Norfolk, Virginia, responsible for defining the strategic transformation of the alliance and another in Lisbon, Portugal.
In addition to Morin, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer were among those expected to speak.


Updated : 2021-05-09 01:53 GMT+08:00