French Foreign Policy in South Asia: NATO’s Bridge to India?

June 28, 2013

by Arthur Chan

Hollande and Singh

Speak to French officials about the role they envision for their country in the world, and there is a familiar refrain among them. Words like “autonomous” or “non-aligned” continue to find their way into conversations, even after the 2009 decision to return France to NATO’s integrated command. Serving officials from President Hollande himself and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to the French ambassador to NATO, Philippe Errera, continue to stress France’s autonomy from the Alliance. Others – such as Jean-David Levitte, Sarkozy’s former diplomatic counselor – have spoken at length of France’s capacity to independently exercise leadership on the world stage or, indeed, act as leader of the free world in place of an ailing United States. These long-held views are reaffirmed in France’s latest white paper on defense and national security.

Given this strategic mindset, French President Francois Hollande’s state visit to India in February can be seen as an attempt to bolster France’s global standing and exports. After all, the visit focused exclusively on strengthening bilateral commercial and defense ties, and provided some extra encouragement on a deal to sell 126 Rafale fighter jets to New Delhi. But in the context of this deepening relationship, France has a historic opportunity to go further – to strengthen NATO’s relationship with India, which would advance the interests of India, France, and the Alliance.

While NATO and India have cooperated on combating piracy through efforts like Operation Ocean Shield, New Delhi’s attention is drawn toward the Pacific in keeping with its Look East Policy. This is perhaps the reason why India has drawn closer to the U.S. and Japan while remaining aloof from NATO. The former two are Pacific powers, while the latter is not. More than that, Indian policymakers may believe that partnerships with the U.S. and Japan are more befitting of India’s stature, given the size and influence of these two countries. This could explain why, in spite high profile calls to forge a partnership and even offers of missile defense cooperation, little has come about as a result.

Yet this position may not be immutable. Back in 2008, Arvind Gupta, writing for the New Delhi-based think tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, noted that NATO was on India’s doorsteps and seemed to be there to stay. Because of this, he urged dialogue between the two. Now, NATO combat troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but a smaller contingent of forces will remain to advise the Afghan army. Washington and Kabul are also still discussing a bilateral treaty to maintain a troop presence. Meanwhile, China has been increasingly active in Afghanistan, doing business with Hamid Karzai’s government while still talking to the Taliban. The foreign policy rivalry between China and India is well known, and the former’s growing presence in India’s neighborhood will surely raise alarm bells. Policymakers in New Delhi may be more open to the idea of dialogue with NATO now, if only to hedge against Chinese influence in South Asia.

In this context, France should work in cooperation with NATO and other member states to establish stronger relations with the world’s most populous democracy. The fact remains that France and NATO share a deep interest in the security of South Asia and the Indian Ocean, and their ties with India need not be mutually exclusive. Even as French, U.S., and other companies compete in a growing Indian market, NATO can strengthen the security of the region through cooperation with India on maritime security, missile defense, WMD proliferation, and other common challenges – to the clear benefit of France and the Alliance as a whole. At a time of strained defense budgets and intensifying threats, France has an opportunity to bridge NATO and India by encouraging more common projects.

Arthur Chan is an intern at the Streit Council. Photo credit: French embassy in New Delhi

Charting a New Direction for France and Europe: How Hollande Will Steer His Country and the Continent

June 12, 2012

by Geoff Atchison

Stepping into office May 15th as the first Socialist president of France in 17 years, François Hollande marks a strong departure from the center-right policies of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and intends to focus on leading the country towards economic growth and a balanced budget. Having served in his new position only three weeks, Hollande has already made his international debut at the recent NATO and G8 Summits as well as the informal eurozone meeting among European leaders. Beating out Sarkozy in the run-off elections with 51.6% of the vote, Hollande’s victory represents a distinct shift in popular French attitudes and an overwhelming concern for the eurozone crisis and its possible consequences. While critics continue to cast their initial reviews, Hollande’s performance so far has illustrated a desire to reshape French domestic policy and to take active leadership in charting a new direction for European economic affairs.

At home, plans to reinvigorate the French economy and balance the government budget sit at the center of President Hollande’s agenda. In order to reduce the national debt, Hollande intends to raise taxes for the wealthiest portion of the population, implementing a 75% annual income tax for those earning more than €1 million.  Moreover, Hollande and his cabinet have slashed their own salaries by 30% to help achieve the President’s electoral promise of reducing the government deficit from around 4.5% to 3% of GDP.  Struggling against high public debt and nonexistent GDP growth rates inherited from the previous administration, Hollande must also confront the country’s recent credit downgrade from “AAA” to “AA+”.

Amid these economic challenges, President Hollande also intends to carry out a number of social and energy reforms. Standing out as a top priority, Hollande and his recently appointed Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault advocate the immediate repeal of the current pension law enacted under Sarkozy. While the former French president raised retirement to age 62, Hollande and Ayrault wish to return the law to age 60, allowing individuals to receive their pension after working 41 years.  Although this reform will mark a symbolic and important achievement for Hollande in French social policy, the change is expected to come at a cost of nearly €1 billion.  In addition to pension reform, Hollande and his new administration have vowed to reduce the country’s unemployment rate, currently at 10% and growing, as well as minimize dependence on nuclear energy and implement a three-month freeze on gasoline prices.

Moreover, President Hollande has offered a bold approach to international affairs, touting a more independent stance towards NATO while promoting strong French leadership in European politics. At the recent NATO summit in Chicago, Hollande declared that he would withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of the 2012, one year ahead of the timetable drawn up by the alliance.  Hollande’s decision to remove French troops from Afghanistan signals growing intervention fatigue among European partners in what has been a more than decade-long conflict in the country. France’s withdrawal from Afghanistan not only suggests a reduced French role in NATO, but also calls into question the strength and primacy of the organization as a leading global security force. Critics fear that mounting disinterest and selective involvement in NATO missions by France and other members may ultimately lead to a weakened NATO alliance in the future.

Meanwhile, as the eurozone debt crisis continues to ravage Greece and other parts of the continent, Hollande has emerged as a key player in ongoing efforts to resolve the financial emergency. As member states debate the possibility of another bailout or even a Greek exit from the eurozone, the rising feud between President Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel over divergent solutions has created a deep fissure across Europe. While Merkel continues to push for increased austerity measures in Greece, Hollande advocates for the creation of Eurobonds to jointly hold the debt of Greece and other failing countries and encourage collective burden-sharing. Gaining support from leaders in Spain, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg, Hollande further championed his position at an informal eurozone summit on May 23rd. While Germany, along with Austria, Finland and the Netherlands, have demanded that Greece implement stricter financial accountability measures, Hollande’s blatant rejection of her proposal and focus instead on revitalized growth measures marks a noticeably unfavorable shift in Franco-German relations. With Merkel and former President Sarkozy almost always in lockstep on political and economic issues, the heated rivalry which has emerged between Hollande and the German leader threatens to reshape the traditionally cooperative relationship between the countries and sever the continent into two camps under opposing leadership.

As the country’s new head of state, François Hollande represents a pronounced change in French political attitudes as he looks to steer the country towards an improved social policy, fiscal sustainability, and economic growth. Working to cultivate economic stability across the region and at home, France may reduce its engagement in NATO and other international security and defense missions under Hollande. Cooperating multilaterally with the U.S. and EU, Hollande will continue to display active leadership in resolving the eurozone crisis and will further promote increased financial and economic integration. The rift between Hollande and Merkel could widen as the two leaders continue to argue over the appropriate mix of austerity and growth measures, leading to a fractured Franco-German axis and a severely divided Europe. With Hollande at the helm, France hopes to become Europe’s role model for economic and social policy as the continent attempts to weather a treacherous sea of financial instability.


Geoff Atchison is an intern at the Streit Council; Photo credit sagabardon (


Separated by a Common Alliance

April 15, 2011

by Griffin W. Huschke

NATO Headquarters

So now we’re in-fighting in NATO over the whole Libya thing.  Thirteen days into the NATO-led bombing campaign against loyalist forces in Libya, and the alliance is already showing signs of strain.  The Hawks, led by France and the UK, have expressed their displeasure over the small impact the bombing missions have made thus far (the sorties have yet to stop the shelling of tenuously-held Misurata ), and are pushing to send arms to the poorly-equipped rebels.   The Doves, led by Belgium and the empty seat Germany used to sit in, are questioning the legality of arming rebels under a UN mandate that only calls for “protecting civilians.”

While the latest spat within the Atlantic Alliance isn’t that surprising (we’re still fighting about deployments to Afghanistan) there might be some extenuating circumstances that are exacerbating tensions present in any NATO-led mission.  A general lack of political will and low levels of European defense spending are obviously contributing to the recent fracas, but operational factors may also be putting an undue strain on the alliance.  NATO commanders have all but admitted that constraints put on people and machinery by their home countries, such as limiting aircraft to a support role, is restricting the efficacy of the bombing campaign.  It may be these tactical and operational failings that are causing rifts at much higher levels.

There’s also the red-white-and-blue elephant in the room that no one seems to be mentioning much.  The U.S. pulled out of bombing missions when NATO took over, leaving French, British and other member- countries to fill the hole in manpower and equipment left by Uncle Sugar’s withdrawal.  But it’s tough for Europe to fill that gap on its own—the U.S. spends twice as much on defense as all other NATO countries combined, and NATO is designed to rely on U.S. defense capabilities.  Consider this quote from the Council on Foreign Relations in 2006:

Imagine a NATO operation with Norwegian special forces being dropped off and picked up by a Polish airlift team, protected by US satellites, an aircraft carrier and its warplanes. What makes NATO effective is its integrated military structure and its mutual defense pledge.

The author is speaking somewhat hypothetically here, but it’s a good illustration of how people have been thinking about NATO’s force structure.  The United States provides a firm base for operations, and if you take that essential piece away, it’s going to make things a lot harder for the alliance.

Going forward, moving away from consensus decision-making at the committee level would make the Alliance more nimble, and revamping some common funding elements would better distribute the financial and military costs among all members.   This would ensure the Alliance’s effectiveness even if individual member states objected to an operation, and would allow for both financial and military contributions.  The 21st century is going to require a stronger alliance to combat a host of new threats, and better integration is the only way NATO can adapt.

Griffin W. Huschke is the Mayme and Herb Frank Fund Research Fellow at the Streit Council. Photo Credit: European Parliament (



The New Entente

November 3, 2010

by Jack Detsch

Today we open a new chapter in a long history of co-operation on defense and security between Britain and France,” British Prime Minister David Cameron remarked yesterday as French President Nicolas Sarkozy looked on. Yesterday’s landmark British-Franco defense agreements may forever change the scope of military cooperation in Europe, as it calls for:

a new combined force available for deployment at times of international crisis that is expected to involve about 5,000 service members from each nation, with land, sea and air components, and rotating French and British commanders. The pacts also foresee each nation alternating in putting a single aircraft carrier to sea, with the vessels operating as bases for French, British and American aircraft in times of need.

The nuclear agreement was in some ways the most surprising, since it committed the two nations to sharing some of their most carefully kept secrets. Although the two leaders emphasized that France’s “force de frappe” and Britain’s similar, submarine-based ballistic missile force would remain separate and under the sole control of each government, they agreed to establish joint research centers, one in France and one in Britain, to further research on their stockpiles of nuclear warheads.

The agreement comes two weeks after London carried out its first Strategic Defense Review in over a decade, which recommended the withdrawal of over 20,000 troops from continental Europe, the elimination of Harrier fighter jets, and the decommissioning of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier. Considerations of fiscal austerity, currently sweeping the Europe, have had a radical effect on bloc defense, and could serve to accelerate similar agreements between other European states hoping to improve their military effectiveness.

Britain and France are Europe’s two greatest military powers, and this agreement will likely increase their effectiveness in strategic missions around the world.  Using pooled resources, Britain and France can dually commit themselves to globally significant crisis management missions in the near-abroad and elsewhere.  Now that it is further entwined with its French allies, the UK could also be more open to committing resources to Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defense Policy missions. The creation of a joint expeditionary force and a British-Franco program for spare parts, maintenance, and pilot training of the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft will also allow Europe to project hard power on a much greater scale, which will improve Europe’s effectiveness in peacekeeping and crisis management situations.

However, this pact faces significant challenges in both the Britain and France, even among Mr. Cameron and Mr. Sarkozy’s party faithful. A Conservative MP and a back-bencher in UK Parliament, Bernard Jenkin, expressed concerns to the BBC about France’s “record of duplicity.” In announcing the agreement alongside his French cohort, Mr. Cameron acknowledged his critics, but argued that “Britain and France are, and will always remain, sovereign nations, able to deploy our armed forces independently and in our national interest when we choose to do so.”

Euro skeptics, who still represent a large minority in both nations, will find this deal a bitter pill to swallow, although the Labour party’s shadow defense minister hailed the agreement. Still, the Labour Party is closing the gap in polls with Conservatives, so the Prime Minister must be careful in his political approach.  It is less clear what a regime change in France would mean for the agreement. Future elections are looking much direr for Mr. Sarkozy, with approval ratings tumbling toward the mid-twenties as a wave of protests hit France last week. Several credible challengers for the French Presidency are emerging, including IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is polling 18 points ahead of Mr. Sarkozy.

Jack Detsch is an undergraduate at George Washington University and a Research Intern at the Streit Council.  Photo credit: Anja Johnson

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