Does a French Exception Still Exist?

Giulia Tilenni, international affairs analyst

[…] In 2009, President Sarkozy announced the return to NATO command structures, but only under certain conditions: maintaining nuclear independence and full discretion over France’s contribution to NATO operations; non-participation in a number of jointly funded expenditures agreed upon prior to return, including the fact that no French forces will be placed under NATO permanent command in peacetime. To maintain its nuclear independence, France decided not to join the NATO Nuclear Planning Group, which determines the Alliance’s nuclear policy. All of this considered, the country has, therefore, an exceptional position within the organisation […]

The fact that France also has an exceptional position within this framework may undermine defence cooperation. One of the key points is that France is a nuclear state with a peculiar chain of command and a specific concept of strategic autonomy. The 2019 Information Report by French Senators Le Gleut and Conway-Moret (written after six months of field research in several European countries) explains how the French institutional framework and semantics influence the perception of the EU allies. For example, the French idea of strategic autonomy is almost opaque to the other European countries. […]

President Macron has harshly criticised NATO, defining it in “brain death” in an interview given in November, after US President Trump’s repeatedly condemned EU member states efforts to increase their defence collaboration , calling on allies to pledge more resources to the Alliance. According to President Macron, the US stance towards NATO promoted by his counterpart questions the eventual activation of Article 5, especially because the US is pursuing a gradual disengagement from Europe. […]

The divergence of French and US/NATO vital interests seems to have a crucial role here. As the NATO agenda is more and more divergent from the French one (the first one being focused on the Eastern flank of Europe, the second one on the Southern flank), France needs to gradually disengage from NATO if it wants to preserve the capacity to conduct military operations alone. The long-lasting engagement in the Sahel (scarcely supported by NATO allies) and the need to fight terrorism at home put French soldiers and material at risk of overstretch. Furthermore, as US and European countries’ interest diverge, President Macron envisages a ‘window of opportunity’ for convincing several European countries that synergies between France and other Europeans are by nature stronger than US-Europe ties built around alignment to US foreign policy. Läs artikel