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Anne-Henry DE RUSSE

France's Return into NATO. French Military Culture and Strategic Identity in Question

Focus stratégique, No 22 bis, October 2010

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More than 40 years after the unilateral decision by General de Gaulle to withdraw French forces from NATO's integrated military command, President Sarkozy decided that France would reintegrate the Atlantic Alliance’s military structure, based on "full and complete participation". The decision was endorsed by Parliament and has generated little debate in France, while a majority of French people appear to approve of it. The implementation has already begun. In 2009, around 200 French officers joined the general staffs in Norfolk, Mons, Naples and Lisbon. Their number will rise to 500 in 2010. This decision is actually a rather logical culmination of a process of "normalization" vis-à-vis NATO, which began in the 1990s with operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, and France’s return to the Military Committee in December 1995. French officers generally favor “reintegration”, seeing it as the end of an uncomfortable position in technical and operational terms. It will also provide career opportunities at a time when reductions in the armed forces’ size have greatly reduced periods of responsibility and command. Yet it would be wrong to ignore the potential consequences of such a shift for the military culture of France’s armed forces. Indeed, the “cultural” effects could be especially important for the army, as it has retained a specific culture, modeled by its historical preeminence in France’s armed forces, and by the nature of current NATO operations in Afghanistan.

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