“The United States and France are two nations that remain true to the same ideal, that defend the same principles, that believe in the same values.” At last! French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed France’s commitment to its powerful ally on Nov. 7 in front of the U.S. Congress. He added that, “It is together that we must fight to defend and promote the values and ideals of freedom and democracy” on all fields of action.
Sarkozy’s speech not only stated the obvious—that France is the United States’ ally—but it also aimed at making a deal with the United States. Yet, words and actions may differ—and what lies behind diplomatic words reveals the real intentions.
Sarkozy began, “It is in the strategic interest of all our allies, beginning with the United States … for Europe to establish itself as a strong, credible security partner.”
This interest is even more strategic since Russia has returned to its Cold War patterns. That’s why Europeans are telling Americans, “You need us,” but in reality it is, “We need you—and badly.” The European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy failed to build a real defense. About 75 percent of its budget is financed by France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy—only four countries out of 27. The only European armed force that really exists is a French German brigade. Moreover, in order to launch a military intervention, unanimity between the 27 member-states is needed, a procedure that deprives the European defense from efficiency.
Technically, the European Union (EU) is left behind. This is evidence in a comparison of research and development and research and technology—which are necessary for an army’s modernization and efficiency—in the United States and the EU defense budgets. In 2005, U.S. research and development represented 13.1 percent of the U.S. defense budget compared to 4.7 percent for the EU, while U.S. research and technology represented 3.31 percent compared to 1.14 percent for the EU. In the race for modernization, Europe is running out of time since its neighbor, Russia, is quickly developing a nuclear triad: new types of nuclear weapons, including powerful vacuum bombs; a new nuclear submarine program; and strategic bombers that have resumed their Cold War activities.
Next, Sarkozy promised, “I say it here before this Congress: The more successful we are in the establishment of a European defense, the more France will be resolved to resume its full role in NATO.”
France would be an asset to NATO because when it comes to diplomacy, France is the second most active country worldwide, second only to the United States. Since 1970, France has been involved in 400 foreign operations, thus building its reputation, influence and impact with nations that distrust a U.S.-dominated West. That is why France is a leading democracy that cannot be ignored by either the United States or NATO.
But even if France has worldwide diplomatic ambitions, it is becoming harder to for France to implement its international policies. Its defense budget has dramatically decreased from 3.8 percent of the GDP in 1982 to 1.9 percent in 2006. Its defense programs are also behind the times. For example: aircraft carriers are the centerpiece of its military forces (the United States has 12), and yet France has only one aircraft carrier, which is currently being repaired. A second one should be built, but the decision has been postponed. Clearly, France does not have the means to match its ambitions.
Finally, Sarkozy proposed, “I would like France … to assume its full role in the effort to renew NATO’s instruments and means of actions.”
One of Sarkozy’s hopes is to influence NATO’s command, but this is most likely wishful thinking. Take Britain, for example: Even though it is a privileged ally of the United States, its armed forces were integrated under U.S. command and did not get to exert much influence on NATO’s course of action. This is likely to be France’s fate as well. Moreover, NATO’s headquarters will require French officers, meaning they will no longer be available for French foreign operations. As a consequence, France’s presence worldwide will be reduced.
Facts and figures tend to deny Sarkozy’s diplomatic deal, which can be summarized as such: “The United States needs the EU to have a strong defense. In doing so, we will join NATO and help you strengthen it.” Instead the real deal can be summarized this way: “France and the EU need the United States to build their defense. Please help us in doing so. You will not regret it. We will join NATO and get along.”
Behind the official words, Sarkozy is realistic about France’s and Europe’s diplomacy. France has the will, not the means. Europe has the potential, not the unity that makes it efficient. Time has run out and the EU missed its opportunity to become a world power while Russia was still under the USSR’s ruins.
Yet, Sarkozy’s pragmatism is historical for the West. France is about to put an end to its nonalignment policy, sealing the end of de Gaulle’s doctrine of independence. What was not done during the Cold War could be done now: the military integration of the EU into NATO. That is a very real strategic interest of the United States.