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Walker's World: What price NATO?

by Martin Walker
Washington (UPI) Mar 26, 2008
The summit in London Thursday between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his host, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is likely to hinge on the price of NATO.

It won't look that way. The atmospherics of the summit have been carefully prepared to distract attention from such serious matters. One meeting will be held at the Arsenal stadium, home to an English soccer club whose success has been achieved with some star French players.

And Sarkozy's celebrated new wife, Carla Bruni, former model, pop star and escort to Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, will not only accompany her husband, but the presidential couple will get royal approval with an overnight stay at Windsor Castle.

With such photo opportunities, it may be a challenge for the media to focus on the substance of the meeting. That would be a pity, because the critical issue is important.

Sarkozy, the most pro-American and Atlanticist French leader for a generation, says he wants to rejoin the NATO alliance as a full member. Since 1966, when Charles de Gaulle withdrew and ordered all NATO forces and the alliance headquarters out of France, the country has been a member of the political committee but not of the joint military command structure.

Sarkozy is also holding out some more carrots, including the proposed deployment of a further 1,000 French troops to Afghanistan and more cooperation with Britain on nuclear energy and immigration control.

In return, Sarkozy wants British support at next week's NATO summit in Bucharest for the French plan for the European Union to build its own defense capability and its own general staff planning system within the overall NATO structure.

That does not sound alarming. Indeed, the latest official U.S. statement sounded welcoming. Speaking to the Paris Press Club last month, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland said: "We agree with France-Europe needs, the United States needs, NATO needs, the democratic world needs -- a stronger, more capable European defense capacity. We need a stronger EU, we need a stronger NATO and if Afghanistan has taught us anything, we need a stronger, more seamless relationship between them. żż In Washington, leaders of all stripes are calling for more, not less Europe, and applauding President Sarkozy's appeal for the European Union and NATO to 'march hand in hand.'"

The problem, as British and American defense chiefs are warning, and as the conservative Washington-based Heritage Foundation argued in a report this week, such a move "threatens to tear NATO in half."

While it makes obvious sense for the EU and NATO to work far more closely together and to combine the best of one another's strengths in hard and soft power, there is a risk, which explains why the United States and Britain have resisted such a move for the past decade and more. Such an EU core inside NATO could slowly but surely absorb and eventually take over the NATO organization, easing the Americans out and leaving an essentially European structure behind.

Consider the following recent remarks from leading French officials.

First, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, French minister for Europe, in a speech this month: "Europe will be radiant, she will be a political power if she has the necessary tools in terms of defense. ... We want to make openings with regard to NATO. But let's be clear, we are ready to make these advances only if they allow the strengthening of a real European security and defense policy."

Second, Herve Morin, French defense minister, speaking last November: "With the common currency, we have created a strong symbol for Europe. But nothing can better express the European community of fate than common defense, a common sense of Europe's threats and security interests."

Third, Sarkozy, speaking last July: "The basis for a European Defense exists. We must make it grow. I want Europe to be capable of ensuring its security autonomously."

A European defense capability would be a fine thing, so long as it did not supersede or seek to replace NATO, and those French speeches make it clear that their real priority is with Europe, rather than with the Atlantic Alliance.

As the Heritage Foundation report stressed: "It is difficult to see how a greater EU defense capability will actually strengthen the NATO mission or the broader trans-Atlantic alliance. As a supranational body, the European Union has frequently clashed with the United States over major foreign policy questions -- from Iraq and Iran to America's overall handling of the war against Islamist terrorism. Washington and Brussels are frequently oceans apart on some of the biggest issues of the day, and encouraging a bigger military role for the EU can only make NATO's task more complicated."

Brown is nervous of reaching any deal with Sarkozy that could lead to headlines in the London tabloids about the incorporation of British troops into some new "Euro-army." His defense chiefs are even more nervous of linking their security fate with the ever less militarily capable Europeans, rather than the highly capable Americans.

The likely compromise is for Brown to agree to the creation of a new planning unit that would seek to coordinate the "soft power" capabilities of the EU's civilian staff (including policing) with NATO's military "hard power."

But that speech from the U.S. ambassador to NATO has left the British looking nervously over their shoulders and wondering if the Bush administration is still firm on NATO, when they would all very much rather leave NATO as it is and get on with watching the delightful Madame Sarkozy.

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France And UK To Forge Deals On Nuclear And Defence Issues
London, UK (SPX) Mar 26, 2008
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