France and NATO [fr]
NATO’s first permanent headquarters in the Palais de Chaillot, Paris
France, a founding member of NATO, has played its full part in the Alliance since its beginning, and was home to the first permanent NATO headquarters in Paris (at the Palais de Chaillot and then at Porte Dauphine).
In 1966, France decided to withdraw from the integrated military command of the Alliance. This decision did not in any way call into question France’s commitment to take part in the collective defence of the Alliance: in the words of President Charles de Gaulle, it was a case of "modifying the form of our Alliance without altering its foundations".
France’s solidarity with its allies never failed during the periods of tension of the Cold War, from the Cuban missile crisis to that of the "Euromissiles", when France supported the deployment by NATO of Pershing missiles in the German Federal Republic in response to the deployment of Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles.
Since the end of the Cold War, France has been one of the leading contributors to NATO operations. It has been participating in NATO crisis management operations since they began in 1993: in Bosnia from 1993 to 2004 as part of IFOR and then SFOR, in NATO’s 1999 air campaign to end the violence against the civilian population in Kosovo, and since then as part of NATO’s force in Kosovo (KFOR).
France has been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001 and has made a significant contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has been under NATO command since 2003. It withdrew its combat troops in 2012 and now has only training and support personnel in ISAF (lien NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan).
In Libya, in the framework of Operation Unified Protector, France was one of the most active Allies in NATO’s efforts to protect the Libyan civilian population (lien NATO’s other operations).
France’s return to the NATO integrated military command
France’s decision to participate in full should be seen in the context of the steps taken in the mid-1990s towards a reinforcement of the French presence in NATO’s military structures. Since 1995, in particular, French defence ministers have been taking part in NATO ministerial meetings, French chiefs of staff have been participating in meetings with their Allied counterparts, and the French Military Representative to NATO sits on the Military Committee. French officers have also served at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), in operational-level HQs and in certain bodies of Allied Command Transformation since its establishment.
The French decision to fully return to the NATO command structure, announced by the President of the Republic during debates about the White Paper on National Defence in June 2008, had two objectives: firstly, to increase our presence and our influence in the Alliance; and secondly, to help revitalize European defence policy, by clearing up any ambiguity about possible competition between the two organizations.
In returning to the military structure, France set certain conditions:
- full discretion on whether to contribute to NATO operations;
- continued nuclear independence; France decided not to join the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), which defines the Alliance’s nuclear policy;
- no French forces are permanently under NATO command in peacetime;
- finally, no contribution to the common funding of certain expenses which were decided before our return to the command structure.
After a vote by the French National Assembly in March 2009, France officially announced its full participation in the military structures of NATO at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit in April 2009.
As a result, France has held about 750 additional officer posts in NATO’s integrated command since 2009, and in particular the post of Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), held by General Abrial from 2009 to 2012 and by General Paloméros since September 2012.
On July 18th 2012, the President of the Republic asked Mr Hubert Védrine, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, to report on the full participation of France in NATO’s integrated military structure.
His report, entitled "The consequences of France’s return to the integrated military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the future of the transatlantic relationship and the prospects for the Europe of defence" was presented to the President on November 14th 2012. The President approved its conclusions and asked that they be included in the work on the new White Paper on national defence and security.
In particular, the report concluded that "France leaving the integrated command (again) is not an option" and stressed how important it was that France’s position in NATO should not be trivialized. It asked France to be "vigilant and demanding", especially in areas such as the role of nuclear deterrence and the promotion of the European defence policy, as well as the industrial and technological aspects of capability initiatives.
France is a reliable and staunch Ally, essential to the successful implementation of NATO missions, but which maintains a capacity for action outside the Alliance and full decision-making autonomy. It is thus fully committed to asserting its interests within the Alliance, maintaining an independent voice and putting forward proposals: in the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs,"France is an ally that exercises its responsibility as a founding member and is committed to promoting common values but does not hesitate, if necessary, to air its differences honestly.."