As France prepares for presidential elections to be held on April 10, 2022, the NATO conflict has become one of the main issues in the country’s politics.
The discussions remind of the country’s decision to withdraw from NATO’s military wing in 1966. Charles de Gaulle had said that the country gained national sovereignty by leaving the military wing of NATO under the influence of the US, a sentiment now popular once again on the political scene in France. This sentiment has resonated to the degree that presidential candidates from the right to the left argue that NATO is a tool of the US to control Europe. What has predominantly fueled this debate is the Ukraine crisis: people are frustrated with France’s position on Russia and NATO.
President Emmanuel Macron, who took over the European Union’s (EU) rotating presidency and the lead of NATO’s “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” (VJTF), is in the line of fire: he is not considered reliable on these vital issues.
In 2019, he famously described NATO as “brain dead,” and called for a united Europe to defend itself without relying on the US. But then, with Biden in power, he veered away from this position. On the other hand, the strategic agreement signed by AUKUS countries Australia, the UK, and US, on Sept. 15, 2021, and the cancellation of a submarine deal with France further increased negative feelings toward the Transatlantic alliance in France. As Macron has repeatedly expressed his disappointment with NATO after being stabbed in the back by the US, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the situation in an interview as a “serious crisis” between the allies which will affect NATO’s future.
French public opinion is that American interests are the priority in the Alliance. “Let us not be dragged by the Americans to a position that is not that of the Europeans. We have different interests in this Ukrainian crisis” said Bruno Le Maire, French Economy Minister on France Inter after the U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should Russia invade Ukraine. “The opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is one of the key points in the negotiations and the way out of the crisis with Russia. This question is strategic” he added.
The evolution of French politics after the next presidential elections could likely affect the quality of French-NATO relations over the next few years. France, the US and NATO relations are a priority area of the presidential candidates, predominantly as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Before meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Macron said in an interview with reporters that “Finlandization is one of the options on the table” in the Ukraine crisis. Although Finland broke away from the Soviet Union, it was not included in any organization as a part of the Western bloc. In other words, this would be a model that excludes NATO.
Michel Lariv, a member of the French National Assembly, called for the country to withdraw from NATO. He submitted a proposal to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs on the matter.
Several French presidential candidates have also put forward their stances on the crisis. Most of them have expressed negative views of NATO and have called for the withdrawal of the alliance’s military wing. Let’s take a look at some of their positions and statements.
Right wing candidates
Le Pen: France should withdraw from NATO
Marine Le Pen, the French presidential candidate for the “National Rally” party, announced last week during a meeting with her constituents in the northern city of Reims, that France will leave NATO if she wins the elections. Noting that France should “defend its own interests freely”, Le Pen said, “Therefore, we will withdraw from the joint NATO command, so as not to be dragged into the conflicts of others.”
She also spoke on Europe 1 radio on Wednesday and said that “NATO’s integrated command is geopolitical, strategic, and military subordination. I think that France should withdraw from NATO’s integrated command because in its current position it cannot be the world’s referee that it has always been and wants to be.”
She believes that France should have continued to have diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with Putin’s Russia, while remaining equidistant from the United States.
Le Pen stressed that she did not consider the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine to be real, but also warned the US to avoid any provocation that could lead to the Cold War of deterrence.
The president of the NR, Jordan Bardella, also made decisive statements on the France-NATO relations: “France must stop being under the American flag. To find a balanced and independent diplomatic voice from West to East, we need to leave NATO’s integrated command.”
Zemmour: NATO is a machine for enslaving Western countries
French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour also said last month that he would like France to leave NATO. He believes that “NATO is a machine for enslaving Western countries that accept this voluntary servitude”.
According to the far-right candidate, “we need a peace and peaceful agreement and for that there is a simple condition: to commit that Ukraine will never enter NATO”.
Zemmour spoke on C News about the Ukrainian crisis, saying that: “Sarkozy and Merkel had avoided a catastrophe by preventing the entry of Georgia into NATO. We must commit that Ukraine will never enter NATO.”
Republican candidate: Ukraine’s NATO membership is not our priority
“The integration of Ukraine into NATO does not seem to me to be a priority in a peaceful and reconciled Europe,” said Valérie Pécresse, the presidential candidate for the conservative Les Républicains (LR) party.
She proposes, in her article for Le Monde, to hold a “Conference on European Security” bringing together the EU, Russia and European countries “from the Atlantic to the Urals.”
Emphasizing that when tensions escalated in Ukraine, the security future of Europe was discussed between the US and Russia, without Europe, Pécresse “calls on everyone to return to the premonitory vision of the General de Gaulle”.
Stating the importance of the new multipolar world, the Candidate calls to look toward Russia: “A multipolar world has emerged, new powers have taken their place on the international scene. Russia, the eternal Russia, that of Tolstoy and Pushkin, which I know and love, is above all part of the European continent and should no longer dream of dividing up the world in a one-on-one with the United States”.
Valérie Pécresse, who advocates for a constructive dialogue with Moscow, also warns the US: “Finally accept that Europeans can take charge of their own family’s problems.”
Francois Asselineau: For peace, France must leave NATO
Francois Asselineau, the candidate of the Popular Republican Union (UPR), is campaigning for France to leave the EU and NATO alliance.
He tweeted against the accusations of ‘Russian threat in Ukraine’: “It is NATO that threatens Russia, not the reverse! The world map of military bases of the US and NATO shows who is surrounding and who is threatening whom. For peace, France must leave NATO and calm tensions down”.
Dupont-Aignan: Make Ukraine a neutral state
According to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the candidate of the France Arise (DFL), “NATO has no right of existence any more.” He defends the return to the position taken by general De Gaulle and withdrawal from NATO.
He also tweeted on the Ukraine crisis and refused the integration of Ukraine into NATO: “Regarding Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron has around his neck the leash of the European Union and the United States, he is not credible in his idea of independence. I propose the neutrality of Ukraine, the autonomy of Donbass and the refusal to bring Ukraine into NATO”.
“We must also make Ukraine a neutral state with autonomy for Donbas. Europe has other challenges, in particular Africa and China”, said Dupont-Aignan, on France 5.
The Patriots: Let’s leave NATO
“Let’s leave NATO, let’s stop depending on Atlanticism, or we risk being drawn into a crazy war that has nothing to do with our interests, in Ukraine against Russia!”, said Florian Philippot, the candidate of The Patriots (Les Patriotes), ex vice-president of Marine Le Pen’s party and former MEP.
Evaluating the Ukraine crisis and Macron’s visit to Russia, Philippot said: “Macron would be more credible in Russia if he hadn’t been pushing stupid EU sanctions against that country for years”.
His election program includes leaving the European Union and NATO.
Left wing candidates
Mélenchon: I am for leaving NATO
The leader of the leftist La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, Jean-Luc Melenchon shared his views on the Atlantic Alliance and France’s position in an interview with France Inter radio. “I am for leaving NATO. We need to de-escalate. If we leave NATO, we will not be dragged into the cold war logic that the Americans maintain with Russia and China,” he stated.
“Russia is a partner. I don’t agree with making him an enemy. We brought 10 countries into NATO in the East, which was felt as a threat by Russia. Especially when installing anti-missile batteries in Poland”, the candidate said. He also expressed his opposition to plans to allow Ukraine to enter NATO.
Antoine Léaument, the head of digital communication for the Mélenchon campaign, has also strongly spoken out against NATO. A few days ago, defending a France independent of the US and NATO, he emphasized that Russia is not an enemy but a partner.
Leader of the Communist Party: Where is the voice of France
Fabien Roussel, the leader of the French Communist Party (PCF) is also one of the presidential candidates questioning the Ukraine crisis and NATO. He is demanding that the country leave NATO and criticizing Macron, saying he participated in a “war escalation” by sending soldiers to Romania as a military leader of NATO.
“We even handed over the task of discussing a war threat in our country with Putin to Biden. Where is the voice of France?” he asked in a TV program reminded of General De Gaulle’s decision to leave NATO’s military wing.
“France must leave the military command of NATO” he said in his speech to the parliament last September after the AUKUS pact.
Anne Hidalgo: Where is Europe?
Anne Hidalgo, the candidate of the Socialist Party, is also behind the idea of a joint European Union response to the conflict in Ukraine.
“When you see the situation in Ukraine, you wonder where Europe is. While the United States is focused on China, and facing the aggressiveness of certain leaders, Europe must become a force of influence and speak with one voice by being more firm against authoritarian leaders”, said the Mayor of Paris on January 13 on France Inter.
Nathalie Arthaud: NATO is a war machine
Nathalie Arthaud, the candidate of the Lutte Ouvrière (LO) party, rejects NATO and believes in a “socialist United States of Europe”. She described NATO as a war machine for defending the interests of the great capitalist powers for decades.
On the other side, according to the party policy on the Ukraine crisis; “neither the military alliance formed by NATO nor the one placed under the aegis of Russia are there to defend the freedom of peoples.”
Anticapitalist Party: Neither Russia nor the United States
Philippe Poutou, the candidate for the anticapitalist NPA, defends the idea of a withdrawal from NATO.
Poutou’s party calls for a Ukraine free of both powers, saying “neither Russia nor the United States”.
The future of France-NATO relations
As we can see from the various candidates above, politicians from the far right to the far left, while opposing NATO, argue that France should develop an independent foreign policy, many promising to pull France out of NATO’s military wing. No matter who wins the election, France-US relations and the country’s commitment to NATO will be deeply affected. France’s withdrawal from NATO would be difficult, but is by no means impossible. The decision of the US to withdraw from Syria without consulting its partners, the ‘brain death’ debate, the US’ Afghanistan debacle, AUKUS ‘disappointment’, the energy crisis and the Ukraine crisis… as the world moves rapidly towards multipolarity and new partnerships, these events, all of which have taken place in just the last few years, have created a serious loss of confidence in the Atlantic alliance. In the coming period, France will not seek to renew this confidence, but to balance this power. De Gaulle’s vision of sovereignty is seemingly back on the agenda in France.