France Tries to Restore Its Credibility in NATO

  • Share
  • Read Later
Usually a NATO critic, France is behaving in an uncharacteristically supportive, even eager manner in the Kosovo mission. Both President Jacques Chirac on the right and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on the left have come out strongly in favor of the NATO effort, while French public opinion is 60 percent in favor. French military forces committed to the mission include some 40 French planes based in Aviano, Italy, and a French aircraft carrier in the Adriatic. "What's more," reports TIME Paris bureau chief Tom Sancton, "the French have agreed to totally integrate their forces for this military action under the command of an American general, NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark." What has happened to Western Europe's most prominent naysayer?

For one thing, France has a lot of making up to do. In the last two years two senior French officers have been suspected of passing along NATO intelligence to Serbian forces and their allies. Not surprisingly, those incidents made France's NATO allies more than a little reluctant to work with it in the Balkans. "With this operation," says Sancton, "the French decided to prove they can work with Britain, Germany and other Europeans and be counted on as a loyal and effective ally." This is a departure from the usual French hesitance to participate in joint military operations. Even three years ago, Chirac remained unwilling to fully and permanently integrate French forces into the NATO military structure unless its southern command was placed under a European military leader. For this mission, he has dropped that demand. Finally, there were the compelling humanitarian reasons: "Like many of their neighbors," says Sancton, "the French simply had a lot of trouble witnessing the horror of ethnic cleansing right under their noses." The nightmare struck too close to home.