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The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the limits of American power. The number of problem spots in the world is not limited however. Consequently, the world has need of other nations that are willing to step up and take a leadership role in international affairs. France, under President Nicolas Sarkozy, has recently taken significant steps to create a counter balance to the heft of American foreign policy.

A commission appointed by President Sarkozy is in the process of revealing France’s White Book (Livre Blanc) on Defense and National Security. The Livre Blanc will set forth France’s foreign policy framework and military procurement priorities for the next decade.

World Politics Review has a recent series on
France’s Strategic Posture: NATO Reingtegration and European Defense.

France was originally an integrated member of NATO command but by 1965 it had developed its own nuclear capability. The French came to believe that the NATO security structure was too dominated by the Americans and the British. French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from the NATO military structure in 1966.
NATO Flags
Recently however Sarkozy called for France’s formal reintegration into the NATO command structure. Re-integration would be more a symbolic gesture to the United States than anything. Since the end of the Cold War the only parts of NATO that France hasn’t rejoined are the Defense Planning Committee (DPC), the Nuclear Planning Group, and the Integrated Military Command (IMC). But it is an unmistakable symbol nonetheless, one that is consistent with a number of recent actions by the French which demonstrate that they see the world, in many ways, like the Bush Administration.

At a recent NATO summit, Sarkozy agreed to send a 1,000-strong force to Afghanistan. France has also agreed to a harder line against Iranian attempts to develop a nuclear bomb.

But its not just NATO sponsored missions like Afghanistan that France is engaging in. France is also deployed in Lebanon (U.N. peacekeeping mission), and on Chad’s border with Darfur (EUFOR humanitarian mission). France recently pressed for a U.N. mandate to forcibly deliver humanitarian aid to Burma.

The Chad mission is important in that it is an opening to both Europe and the U.N. of France’s historically exclusive African relationships. The mission in Lebanon demonstrates France’s increasing willingness to intervene in the Persian Gulf, an area traditionally adminstered by Britain and the United States.

There are essentially three nations or coalitions of nations that have the power and legitimacy to act in the world: the U.N., NATO and the United States. The French believe that there is a need to create a fourth possible actor: Europe. The French believe that recent events have demonstrated the practicality of an independent EU defense capacity. Whether or not they will be able to convince the rest of Europe of the correctness of that opinion remains to be seen.

The French position is sensible. While NATO action is often an improvement on solely American intervention due to the wider array of voices behind NATO, it is and will always be burdened by its association with the United States. In both Lebanon and Chad, the EU was able to deploy in places that NATO couldn’t.

But, if these deployments have demonstrated to France the need for a strong European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), they have not yet convinced the rest of Europe. There is a significant bloc which would like Europe to remain solely a soft power. England seems content acting alone or within the NATO structure. Many of the newer NATO nations like Poland will be hesitant to de-align themselves from the United States.

The coming decade will determine how great a European desire there is for a separate, autonomous foreign policy, free of American influence. How committed the EU will be to play an active role in ensuring European security and global stability. Would a strong ESDP provide a counter-balance to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) NATO’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium? Would it eventually replace SHAPE?

Significant progress is unlikely in the near term. It wasn’t until March 2003 that the EU initiated its first military mission, replacing NATO in Macedonia. But, in the two decades following the end of the Cold War the United States has slowly moved to reposition its European forces. Those forces have been moved farther east and farther south, weakening their Cold War purpose of a territorial defense of Europe.

These troop re-alignments have required Europe to reassess its own territorial defense. Europe has the means to defend itself. There is no immediate conventional threat to European sovereignty. Consequently, the United States should encourage the EU to assume responsibility for its own defense.

If the EU were to take primary responsibility for its own defense it would significantly and positively alter the military and political relationship between Europe and the United States. In many ways it is ridiculous that we, the United States, are still primarily responsible for defending Europe (and Japan) sixty years after the end of World War II and twenty years after the end of the Cold War.

This is not to say that either the United States or Europe can be expected to want to see the complete drawdown of a significant American military presence in Europe. All parties understand the advantages of American forward operating capabilities in Germany, Japan and elsewhere. But, more and more, these American presences are necessary not for defense of the host country but rather necessary for the United States to be able to deploy rapidly throughout the world.

If the EU assumes primary responsibility for protecting its own borders it would allow the United States to concentrate on other areas of the world. It would also be a first and necessary step towards Europe assuming an international role more independent of the United States. The nations of Europe can debate how active the EU should be militarily in the world. But no longer should they be allowed to sit back while we maintain their defense.

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