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 been one of the leading contributors to NATO operations during the 1990s and 2000s, 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 actively contributed to the NATO force deployed to Kosovo, commanding KFOR on three occasions. In early 2014, it was decided that a large part of the French component would be withdrawn.

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 not provided troops to the "Resolute Support" Mission which succeeded ISAF. Nevertheless, France contributes to the financing of the mission, in the same way that it helps finance all NATO operations.

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.

Today, France has deployed some 380 support staff to work on the maritime operation Sea Guardian to fight terrorist activities in the Mediterranean. It has also participated in NATO activities to tackle migrant trafficking in the Aegean Sea, providing a ship in the first half of 2016.

France also contributes to assurance measures decided ahead of the Wales Summit in September 2014. In 2014 and 2015, France mobilized 8,800 men to show its solidarity to the Western Allies and participate in assurance measures, to which it contributed €114 million. In 2016, France maintained its substantial effort mobilizing 4,300 men to participate in assurance measures, despite heavy operational commitments. In 2017, France deployed 300 staff to Estonia as part of the Enhanced Forward Presence.

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 times of peace;
  • non-participation in the common funding of certain expenditures decided prior to France’s return to the command structures.

Following a positive vote by the French Assembly, 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 been held from 2009 to 2012 by General Abrial, then between September 2012 and September 2015 by General Palméros, and since 23 March 2015 by General Denis Mercier.

France, NATO and the fight against terrorism

International cooperation is a fundamental dimension in tackling terrorism. France is already working with the international organizations to which it belongs including, the EU, UN and NATO, through bilateral relations and platforms for sharing information and expertise.

In this regard, the added value of NATO is the expertise that it has developed in its military component to fight terrorism, both operationally and in building military capabilities of third States:

  • NATO’s main role in fighting international terrorism is to accustom our armies to working together and to make them more effective and interoperable in conducting military operations: Although NATO is not currently conducting any counter-terrorism operations, its military operations, particularly in Afghanistan, have increased the interoperability of the Allies and partners.
  • NATO also plays a role to further the development of counter-terrorism capabilities of the Allies, determining the overall need.
  • The expertise developed within NATO also helps to create ties with other competent international organizations and to increase the capabilities of partners involved in military cooperation.

France will continue to contribute to strengthening NATO’s efforts in this clearly defined framework.

Nevertheless, this fight remains a primarily national responsibility.

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.

France fully takes part in a balanced sharing of responsibilities and costs:

  • France has dedicated 1.81% of its GDP to the NATO budget in 2018, versus 1.78% in 2017, ranking 6 out of the 29 contributors. France dedicated 24.17% of its defence budget in 2017 to major acquisitions and research and development versus 24.44% in 2016 (ranking 6 out of 29).
  • France has committed to increase its defence spending to 2% of its national wealth in 2025. To support this commitment, the military programming bill 2019-2025 includes an unprecedented effort of €198 billion for armed forces over its first five years. At this time, France will devote 1.91% of its GDP to defence spending. Resources for the years 2024 and 2025 will be set out during an update scheduled for 2021, taking into account the macroeconomic situation at that time.
  • France is one of the rare Allies to have a defence tool that has been tested in combat covering the entire range. National capability priorities will ensure that this defence tool is updated consistent with the objectives approved within NATO and the European Union.
  • France has contributed through its operations in Sahel and in the Levant to the overall security of the Alliance and of Europe. It has deployed 300 staff to Estonia in the enhanced Forward Presence to contribute to the deterrence mission decided in Europe. Through its operational commitments France contributes to NATO’s political and military credibility.

The NATO Wales Summit of 4-5 September 2014: a pivotal moment for Euro-Atlantic Security

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 the reform of NATO, which will be continued by the new Secretary-General.

NATO Summit in Warsaw, on 8 and 9 July 2016

The Warsaw Summit was an opportunity to show a united, inclusive and responsible Alliance.

In Warsaw, the Allies committed to “unambiguously demonstrate, as part of our overall posture, Allies’ solidarity, determination, and ability to act by triggering an immediate Allied response to any aggression” (paragraph 40 of the Warsaw Summit Communiqué).

The Allies thus committed to establish an Enhanced Forward Presence in Baltic countries and Poland. France announced that it would play its full role, with the deployment in 2017 of a company, three to six months a year, to Estonia.

The Enhanced Forward Presence is meant for times of peace. It is an ad hoc mechanism, which is in line with NATO’s non-aggressive, predictable and defensive posture with regard to Russia. It complies with the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation signed in 1997. In addition to bolstering its defence and deterrence posture, NATO keeps the lines of communication open with Russia to avoid risks and increase transparency.

The commitment made at the Wales Summit in September 2014 on defence budgets was reaffirmed. An additional commitment was also taken, at the instigation of France, by all of the Allies, to build their national cyber defence capacities. Cyber space was recognized as an operational area, with the precautions desired by France (recognition of international law, posture of restraint).

The role of the Alliance in the South was recognized when it has added value (continued engagement in Afghanistan, support for the coalition against Daesh) and in support of the European Union in the Mediterranean region.

Finally, the summit highlighted NATO-EU relations with the signature of a joint declaration of the leaders from both organizations.

The NATO special meeting of Heads of State and Government held in Brussels on 25 May 2017

This brief meeting, held in the year following the election of the US president, provided the opportunity:

  • To reaffirm a united Alliance and a solid transatlantic relationship;
  • To reaffirm France’s desire to implement the commitments taken at the Wales Summit in 2014 to increase defence spending and modernize capabilities. This commitment is in keeping with ongoing initiatives to shore up European defence;
  • To talk about the role NATO can play in stepping up counter-terrorism efforts, and particularly in deciding whether the Global Coalition against Daesh should join NATO. Given the military support NATO has already provided the Coalition, this decision is above all a practical one, which should allow the Alliance to participate in the Coalition’s political deliberations;
  • For Belgian authorities to officially hand over the building of the new headquarters to NATO’s allied countries.

Updated: June 2018