April 9, 2008

Uneasy France Steps up NATO Role

Playing for a larger role in NATO, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said his country will send 700 or more troops to Afghanistan — but the move has spurred harsh criticism at home.

During last week’s NATO summit in Bucharest, Sarkozy also said that France will seek a return to the military command structure of NATO, a position it has not held since the 1960s, when then- President Charles de Gaulle pulled out.

Socialist opposition leader Jean-Marc Ayrault said the mission in Afghanistan “makes no sense and has no goal” and warned that France is heading for another Vietnam, according to news reports.

Some opposition lawmakers even called for a no-confidence vote or a vote of censure against Sarkozy.

Polls show that 68 percent of the French public is opposed to sending more troops to Afghanistan, with only 15 percent supporting the idea, according to news reports.

During his campaign for the presidency, Sarkozy suggested that France would not long maintain a military presence in Afghanistan, but after winning office, he changed his tune.

Sarkozy visited Afghanistan in December and, after meeting with President Hamid Karzai, said, “It is absolutely necessary that Afghanistan does not become a state which falls in the hands of terrorists, as we saw with the Taliban.”

France already has a 1,600-person-strong force in Afghanistan, but Sarkozy had been under pressure from other NATO members to contribute more.

Canada had warned that it would have to pull out of the mission if other member nations did not contribute more troops.

It now says it will stay until 2011.

News reports disagreed on the size of France’s new force, but London’s Independent newspaper quoted an unnamed British source as saying, “The numbers are not the key thing; It is the effect it will have. The consequences are that it will bind Canada in, and it will release the Americans to take on the Taliban.”

Ayrault said the recent moves are evidence of Sarkozy’s “Atlanticist obsession.”

Separately, a Taliban spokesman told Agence France-Presse that Sarkozy had broken a promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Taleban accuse Sarkozy of U-turn”
BBC, April 5, 2008

“Sarkozy comes to Bush’s rescue with 1,000-strong force for Afghanistan”
The Independent (UK), April 4, 2008

“French opposition kicks up a storm over Sarkozy’s Afghan troop plan”
Earthtimes (UK), April 1, 2008

“Harper won’t look past 2011 for extended Afghan mission”
Ottawa Citizen, April 3, 2008

“Sarkozy changes French tune, offers more troops”
New Europe, April 7, 2008

“Gaullist no more?”
The Economist, April 3, 2008

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