2016 02 – News From France


American bases back in France?

The French Cabinet of ministers has agreed to put forward a bill concerning NATO. It would authorise an agreement that France is part of the ‘Protocol on the Statute of NATO military headquarters.’ It seems that passing this bill would enable NATO bases to be present once more on French soil. France had been one of the founding members at the end of WW2. The European Headquarters of NATO was placed near Paris.

De Gaulle wanted to assert France’s independence; he was irked by the presence of American bases on French soil.  He wanted “entire sovereignty over its territory at present compromised by the permanent presence of allied military personnel, or by the habitual use of its airspace.”  Without leaving NATO, and leaving in place a plan for fully reintegrating it in case of need, in 1966 he removed all French armed forces from the NATO Integrated Command, and demanded that all non-French NATO forces leave. The Supreme HQ Allied Powers Europe relocated to Belgium, where France sent its military delegation. France was no longer part of the Nuclear Planning Group, and did not commit its nuclear armed submarines to NATO. French NATO forces were still stationed in Germany.

NATO was set up to oppose the war time ally, the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the role of NATO came into question. In the event, NATO expanded to include all former Communist East Europeans states, even Albania, plus the three Baltic republics which were part of the Soviet Union. These nations host NATO summits and military exercises. The alliance has moved from being anti-Soviet to being anti-Russian. France and Germany have vetoed Ukraine from joining however.

How was France going to rethink its relations with NATO in the new situation? The test came very soon. The UN and NATO involved themselves in the war in Yugoslavia. What was France to do? France wanted to be involved. French General Bernard Janvier was supreme U.N. military commander in that conflict. He had disagreements with NATO. By 1995, under Chirac and with no public discussion, the then Foreign Minister said at a meeting in Brussels that France was resuming its seat on the alliance’s military committee, and that it would send its defence minister to NATO meetings.

In May 1995 the first NATO exercise took place in France since De Gaulle. But Chirac put conditions on rejoining the Integrated Command which were not accepted. Nicolas Sarkozy asked to rejoin it, without conditions, and that is how France came back under the military command, in 2009, and welcomed NATO personnel in its military headquarters.

This policy change was discussed in Parliament in 2008, there was a motion of censure against the government on 3 April for proposing this, signed by 228 parliamentarians, including François Hollande, Laurent Fabius, Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve (today’s president, foreign minister, prime minister and home office minister). And it is this group of politicians which is seeking approval for a possible new NATO headquarters in France.

In 2002 NATO created a second strategic command to deal with the new, Post-Soviet, situation, the ‘Supreme Alllied Command Transformation’ (ACT) based in Norfolk, Virginia. Since 2009, ie since Sarkozy rejoined Integrated Command, French air force generals have headed ACT; it is the crowning of their career; the first, General Stéphane Abrial, had been an air force commander in the first Gulf War, and delegated to NATO HQ in Brussels. The second, Jean-Paul Paloméros, was in charge of some air-ground operations during the Yugoslav war. The present one, Denis Mercier, has been involved in the military interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya.

One of the responsibilities of ACT is ‘to persuade nations singly and collectively, to acquire the capability to enable concepts to be implemented by NATO forces’. This means persuading other countries to increase their military budget (up to 2% of GDP is the aim, decided at the Newport NATO summit, September 2014) in order to be able to take part in military operations designed by NATO. ACT has bases all over Europe, and especially Eastern Europe; it also has ‘Centres of Excellence’ one of which is in France near Lyon.

France has stopped its decrease in military spending. It has extended itself in Africa, with an ‘anti-terror’ programme in five countries, in Iraq and Syria, in Guyana and other overseas territories, and now in France itself. The five African Sahel countries are Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Tchad. Before his election Hollande had promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but this has not happened.

With a military policy such as this, France needs the help of NATO; you could even argue that NATO may play a positive role in restraining French ambitions, as it did at the end of August 2013, when France was ready to bomb Damascus, with Le Monde, the newspaper of record, urging it daily. Where is the campaign against this military policy?

I could only find opposition from the National Front. Regarding the NATO headquarters bill, it asks: ‘Will the government explain, if there will be NATO military installations in France? If not, why the bill?’ It goes on: ‘NATO is the US military arm, seen as such by the whole world; the more France is integrated to the US, the less France has influence. The French government is sending the world a message of submission to US power: the rest of the world is disappointed in its hopes and expectations of France.’

The National Front seems to be the only political group that can see beyond the ‘jihadist threat’ and look calmly at the world situation. It refuses to demonize Russia and to support the United States’ military adventures. The rest of the population seems persuaded to accept and even support an ever increasing number of costly and murderous military adventures under the pretext of the ‘war on terror’. We can perhaps draw some comfort from the celebrations this January 2016 commemorating the Charlie Hebdo murders of January 2015. At the Place de la République in Paris, an actor read Victor Hugo saying in 1870: ‘Saving Paris means saving civilisation’, and the French army choir sang a Commune song. But the square was practically empty. The population is not so enthusiastic in its support for Hollande. Unfortunately, there is no alternative: Hollande and Sarkozy follow the same foreign policy. If a Frenchman wanted to stop this crazy spiral of war, he would only have the National Front to turn to.