President Nicolas Sarkozy, a self-proclaimed Gaullist, may be ready to reverse one of the most celebrated actions sanctioned by Charles de Gaulle – France’s abrupt exit from the military wing of Nato in 1966.
After a hint dropped by M. Sarkozy last month, the country’s Defence Minister, HervÃ© Morin, has raised the possibility of France rejoining the integrated, military structure of the alliance. In return, he suggested, France would want the US to lift its objections to the development of a European Union defence policy linked to Nato. Paris would also want Nato to rethink its overall strategy and structures.
The idea, put forward by M. Morin during a defence summer school at the University of Toulouse, is part of a drive by the President to repair relations between France and the US. It is also a recognition that the European Union defence policy, launched by President Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair at St Malo in December 1998, cannot go far without Washington’s blessing.
Since 1966, France has been a member of the Nato alliance but not part of its military high command. Senior French officers have long complained this is an impossible situation. France finds itself taking part on the fringes of Nato operations, without the ability to influence decisions. This, said one diplomat, reduced French forces to the role of harkis – the name given to Algerians who served as auxiliaries with the French army during the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962.
President Chirac sought to rejoin Nato’s military command in 1997 but the US rejected the conditions demanded by France.