Sarkozy is ready to annex NATO to France

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that France is ready to return to NATO's integrated agencies on its own, special terms and proposed setting up armed forces of the European Union.

At his meeting with French generals and other officers on June 17, he set forth a whole package of proposals on national and European defense and security. He also suggested restructuring, reducing and re-equipping national armed forces.

The French military had a mixed reaction to these proposals. Some of the president's ideas put them on guard, while others sounded appealing because they were long overdue. Likewise, French allies liked some of his proposals, whereas they perplexed others. All these ideas can be found in the White Book on Defense and Homeland Security, which has reviewed the foundations of French military policy for the first time in the last 14 years.

Sarkozy has always gone and will go for grandiose plans, and his proposals were bound to evoke an unequivocal response in France and beyond. Moreover, they sounded like Paris's consent to integrate NATO with France.

The spectrum of the response was very broad. Former U.K. brigadier and MP Geoffrey Orden made a sarcastic remark: "I don't see anything in this that will benefit the United Kingdom. This will end in tears."

The Center for European Reform, the EU's think tank, was jubilant: "It's very ambitious. The French want everything!"

In brief, Le Sarko has suggested reducing the national armed forces from more than 320,000 to 225,000 over the next six or seven years. France has the biggest armed forces in Europe, and cannot afford to bear huge military expenses. Sarkozy's compatriots did not like at all his intention to shut down about 50 military bases, which were a source of income for all neighboring towns and villages.

The president parried this criticism by saying that the military are in charge of security, not the economy. This is fair, but this measure plus the reduction of the armed forces will diminish Sarkozy's popularity. But grandiose plans are always accompanied by losses.

France will increase its military expenses and spend the lion's share of its defense budget on re-equipping its army, air force and navy with the latest weapons. A total of 337 billion euros, including 200 billion euros on re-equipment, will be earmarked for military purposes for the 2008-2020 period. It would be useful for our military to familiarize itself with this reasonably efficient part of Sarkozy's plans.

The military-geopolitical section is even more ambitious. Sarkozy promised to return France to NATO's integrated military command (Charles de Gaulle withdrew from NATO in 1966 and kicked out its headquarters from Paris) and proposed establishing a European defense system with headquarters in Brussels.

The idea of France's return to NATO is always the biggest irritant for Russia, and Sarkozy seems to be NATO's most inveterate and impudent supporter since the times of Charles de Gaulle, and the number one traitor of the Gaullist cause. But this has little to do with reality. Georges Pompidou started returning France to pro-Atlantic orientation. Francois Mitterrand proved to be even more pro-NATO than Pompidou and Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac almost returned to NATO's integrated structure, but his plan stalled when the then U.S. President Bill Clinton bluntly refused to let a French general head NATO' Southern Command in Naples. Until 1966, this position was occupied by a Frenchman.

Militarily, France's rapprochement with NATO will not change anything for Russia, but it will change a lot for France. Both Mitterrand and Chirac realized that France stood to gain a great deal from pro-Atlantic orientation and balanced partnership with the United States.

In this sense, Sarkozy simply continues this course. The French had been working on making a return to NATO for many years before Sarkozy moved to the Elysee Palace. They believed that NATO's eastward expansion with French semi-membership could only enhance Washington and Berlin's positions on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact, as well as in the European south, which France had always considered its domain.

Few people know that it was France, not a NATO member, that insisted on Romania's admission at an early stage. Its efforts produced results. This is the brightest example of how Paris prepared the ground for counterbalancing its return to NATO's southern flank. Without the Greater France - and this is how Sarkozy sees it - NATO's continued expansion (which is inevitable) is simply unthinkable.

Sarkozy's European defense initiative has caused a most contradictory reaction. France's neighbors are worried with good reason that he is trying to exploit it in his own interests, and make up for a certain loss of independent military policy, which is inevitable in case of its return to NATO. Moreover, on top of all that, the French want to re-write the European security strategy and set up as soon as possible a common European arms market, united military transportation force, common EU defense budget, and a European defense agency. In short, the French indeed "want everything," but they are not likely to get it. Several of Sarkozy's initiatives have already fallen through.

Parliament is supposed to discuss the White Book with France's entire new strategy in late June. It will then become part of the national five-year plan of military development, which should be endorsed by the end of this year.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend-

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