French President Nicolas Sarkozy is offering a very meager increase in French participation in NATO in exchange for command of two prestigious posts.
Jamey Keaton for AP:
France is in talks on taking control of two NATO command posts, including a prestigious one in the U.S. that has never been led by a foreign commander, defense officials said Thursday. Such a move could also be accompanied by the injection of hundreds more French troops into NATO, a European defense official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no deal has been finalized.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been looking to tighten France’s links with NATO, particularly ahead of its April summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany that will celebrate the alliance’s 60th anniversary. The European official and a French military official said France is in talks to put a French general in charge of two command posts: one in Norfolk, Virginia, responsible for laying out the long-term vision of the Atlantic alliance; the other an operational command based in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. The French official also spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are still under way.
The Norfolk command, known as the Allied Command Transformation, is particularly prestigious. It is responsible for helping lay out the alliance’s doctrine and for training and preparing for future scenarios, among other duties. News reports in France on Thursday said Sarkozy has won U.S. approval for the proposal for French generals to run the posts.
The European official said France could accompany control of the Norfolk post with devoting up to another 800 troops to the NATO umbrella.
An FT article by Ben Hall and James Blitz says the deal has been signed off by General James Jones, a former NATO commander who until recently chaired the Atlantic Council. He’s now, of course, President Obama’s national security advisor. While that certainly adds to my confidence in the arrangement, at first blush it strikes me as an odd arrangement, indeed. The addition of 800 troops — not even a battalion! — to NATO is such a pitance as to be purely symbolic. Even an additional 800 troops committed to the Afghanistan mission would be a drop in the bucket. If France wants a big boy seat in the Alliance, it should at a bare minimum actually spent the 2 percent of its GDP on defense that NATO’s bylaws require.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.