France and NATO

France’s role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

France’s role in NATO during the Cold War

France was a founding member of NATO and fully participated in the Alliance from its outset. Paris was home to its first permanent Headquarters. In 1966, France decided to withdraw from the NATO Integrated Military Command Structures. That decision in no way undermined France’s commitment to contribute to the collective defence of the Alliance. Instead, it aimed, in the words of General de Gaulle, to “modify the form of our Alliance, without altering its substance.”

France’s commitment in NATO operations

Since the end of the Cold War, France has constantly been one of the leading contributors to NATO operations, with our forces being of high quality and highly available.

France has also participated in NATO crisis management operations since their beginnings in 1993, contributing to operations in Bosnia from 1993 to 1994 under IFOR and then SFOR, as well as to the NATO air campaign in 1999 aimed at putting an end to atrocities against civilians in Kosovo. France committed forces in Afghanistan from 2001 and provided a considerable contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was placed under NATO command from 2003. In 2012, it withdrew its fighting forces and since then has provided only training and support personnel under ISAF. In Libya, as part of Operation Unified Protector in 2011, France was one of the most active Allies in the Alliance’s efforts to protect Libyan civilians.

Concerning ongoing operations:

  • Kosovo: France has actively contributed to the NATO force (337 personnel in 2012), commanding KFOR on several occasions. In early 2014, it was decided that the most part of the French component would be withdrawn.
  • Afghanistan: in 2012, France was the fifth largest contributor, providing 3500 military personnel, and still had 88 staff on the ground at the end of the ISAF mandate in late 2014.

France’s return to the NATO Integrated Military Command Structures

France’s decision to fully participate in NATO had two aims: firstly, to increase our presence and influence in the Alliance, and secondly, to facilitate renewal of momentum for Defence Europe, lifting any ambiguity as to a possible competition between the two organizations.

France also attached several conditions to its return to the command structures:

  • maintaining full discretion for France’s contribution to NATO operations;
  • maintaining its nuclear independence: France decided not to join the NATO Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), which determines the Alliance’s nuclear policy;
  • no French force is placed under permanent NATO command in peacetime;
  • non-participation in the common funding of certain expenditure decided prior to France’s return to the command structures.

France officially announced its full participation in the NATO Integrated Military Command Structures during the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit in April 2009. As a result, France has, since 2009, about 750 additional officer positions within the NATO Integrated Command Structures, including that of Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), which was held from 2009 to 2012 by General Abrial and is now occupied by General Palméros.

France is the third largest contributor to NATO budgets behind the United States and Germany, ahead of the United Kingdom and Italy. In 2014, its contribution totalled €217.2 million (including the contributions of both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Ministry of Defence), 1.8% lower than in 2013.

The Védrine Report on the consequences of France’s return to the NATO Integrated Military Command Structures

In his report submitted to the President of the French Republic in November 2012, Hubert Védrine highlighted the need for France to maximize its influence within the Alliance and its efforts to strengthen Defence Europe, in liaison with its main European partners.

The report concluded that “France’s (re)exit from the integrated military command [was] not an option” and highlighted the importance of avoiding France’s presence at NATO becoming “banal”. It encourages France to be “vigilant and rigorous”, particularly on subjects such as the role of the nuclear deterrent and the promotion of Defence Europe, particularly concerning the industrial and technological aspects of capacity initiatives.

France: a steadfast but independent ally

According to the French White Paper on Defence and National Security of April 2013, France’s defence and national security strategy is not apprehended outside the NATO framework and its commitment within the EU.

France remains a reliable, steadfast ally, essential to the successful implementation of NATO’s missions, but it retains a capability for action outside of the Alliance and full freedom of decision. France therefore fully asserts its interests within the Alliance, conserving an original voice and acting as a source of proposals.

The NATO Wales Summit of 4-5 September 2014

The NATO Summit, which was held in Wales on 4 and 5 September 2014, took into account France’s priorities:

  • the Summit demonstrated the Alliance’s unity in a period of international tensions where its internal cohesion had been tested. Our mutual commitments to collective defence were strengthened;
  • the transatlantic partnership was reaffirmed, as was the importance of the role of Defence Europe, a crucial element of the Alliance’s security;
  • adaptation of the military tool of the Allies, with the adoption of a “Readiness Action Plan” and a series of measures to help NATO adapt to the development of threats and preserve our security. Good progress was made on projects France promotes on intelligence in operations, which is essential to our armed forces;
  • strong Allied commitment to upping their defence effort. While France is one of the European countries that is exemplary in this area, it encouraged better burden-sharing, which is also a requirement for the credibility of Defence Europe;
  • adoption of an enhanced cyber defence policy encouraging NATO to better defend its networks and supporting the efforts made by the Allies in this area;
  • progress on reform of NATO, which will be continued by the new Secretary-General.

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Updated: November 2014