French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed on Wednesday that France will be rejoining NATO's military command structure, saying the move was in the best security interests of his country and of Europe.
France will once again begin to take full part in NATO decision making
Sarkozy said on Wednesday, March 11, that France would return to the NATO military command and seek a larger role as a full partner of the United States and its other Atlantic allies.
"NATO is the only major organization in the world in which France does not seek to have a major say," Sarkozy said in a speech in Paris. "It's time to put an end to this situation.
"The national interest of France must lead to a return to NATO," he added.
France's return to the NATO command would also increase Europe's influence within the alliance and bolster the defense of continent, Sarkozy said.
The president's speech heralding the move came 43 years after Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO's military command and evicted US military bases from French soil.
While it is returning to the military command, Sarkozy said Paris would retain its independent nuclear capabilities and officials said France did not plan to join the organization's nuclear planning committee.
EU welcomes return
Sarkozy said France, the EU and NATO would benefit from added French participation in NATO
Present at the speech, which was held at Paris' Ecole Militaire, were EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
"Its full participation in all the civil and military decision-making and planning processes cannot but strengthen the alliance further," Scheffer said in a statement. "I shall make sure that all steps are taken to ensure implementation of the French decision."
Solana welcomed the French decision, saying, "Everyone is prepared to recognize that we need a strong NATO and a strong European security and defense policy in the EU."
Sarkozy said that his decision was "the end of a long process" of reintegration.
"Since 1966, France has been moving closer to NATO, but without saying it," he said. "It was a continuous process, by governments of the Left and the Right. It was our collective choice."
France no longer 'in-between'
De Gaulle pulled France out of NATO's command to protest US influence in Europe
De Gaulle's Cold War view was that France should act as a bridge between the East and West, but the time for such views has gone, Sarkozy said.
"Our friends and our allies are all in the West... I don't think France can be in-between," he said. "That would mean France is nowhere."
A return to NATO's military structure would give Paris, which contributes troops to NATO missions, a say in the alliance's mission strategies and planning. France is the fourth-largest contributor of soldiers to NATO and currently has some 3,000 troops deployed in and around Afghanistan.
Sarkozy's decision has stirred some protest in France, particularly from die-hard Gaullists within Sarkozy's own UMP party and from his political opposition on the left and centre.
The Socialist politician who Sarkozy defeated in the 2007 presidential election, Segolene Royal, has been particularly critical of the move, describing NATO as the "armed wing of the West."
However, two recent public-opinion polls show that a substantial majority of the French favors the decision.