Introducing Olivier Kempf

KempfOlivier Kempf (Paris, 1963) obtained a Master in Economy at Sciences-Po Paris.

Currently, he teaches the subject “L’OTAN au XXIe siècle” at this university. Mr Kempf writes a blog about international security and geopolitics: Etudes Géopolitiques Européennes Atlantiques.

In this interview, Mr Kempf elaborates on French motives for leaving the military command of NATO in the 1960s and re-entering it recently. Moreover, he gives his views on NATO’s coherence and the chances for NATO entrance of Georgia and Ukraine.

The Interview

French views on the NATO

What were the main considerations of President De Gaulle to leave NATO’s military command in 1966?

A geopolitical and a strategic one (obviously interrelated).

Geopolitical: To gain “independence” between the two superpowers and to regain a kind of primacy, after the two major symbolic losses of 1940 defeat and 1956 Suez affair.

Strategic: To take benefit from the possession of nuclear technology, with both the bomb, the assets to deliver it (aircraft then submarines) and a conceptual doctrine. “Dissuasion du faible au fort”: the French concept explaining that despite less nuclear weapons, France was able to deter the Superpowers from attacking her). De Gaulle’s view was to reinstall France in the middle of world affairs, with an independent focus apart from the cold war.

Why did President Sarkozy decide to re-join NATO’s military command in 2009?

A European and a transatlantic reason are apparently the main factors.

European : there is a bid on a “Bruxellists” position which is to join ESDP and Nato (both can develop together). The “Bruxellists” (both EU and NATO have their HQ in Bruxelles) are neither pure atlantists, neither pure europeists (the two traditional figures toward European affairs in France) but claim that both must act together and need each other.

Transatlantic : This is proper to N. Sarkozy, who sincerely admires America, and who wants to repair the transatlantic dispute fed by his predecessor in 2003.

How much support did president Sarkozy enjoy across the French political spectrum for his decision?

Not that much. The opposition (the left wing and the centrist leader, Fr. Bayrou) opposed the decision. Even in the majority, a few voices claimed against that decision, mainly among the followers of J. Chirac. However, the way institutions are written allowed M. Sarkozy and the PM Fillon to use the majority they hold in the Parliament.

NATO’s future

Does NATO’s recent expansion pose a threat to NATO’s internal coherence?

If you talk of Croatia and Albania (admitted in Strasbourg-Kehl), not that much. The real debate arose in 2002, for the former enlargement, the big one. A few years later, NATO is still alive.

Threats on coherence don’t come from the size of enlargement, but from disputes on the role of Nato: to what extent should Nato sustain non-article 5 missions? Should Nato keep intervening around the world? How to respond the new ways wars are conducted (irregular wars, cyberwar, energy security, pirates)?

That’s the debate that will arise with the new Strategic concept. That debate was awaited for years, and should have started in Bucharest. Allies awaited Strasbourg’s summit tou launch it (maybe because of Obama’s arrival).

Which countries would be the most likely candidates for a further NATO expansion?

In order of probability: Sweden and Finland, where the debate is growing. Some Balkan states (FYROM if a deal is passed with Greece, perhaps Bosnia or Montenegro). Malta?

And in a close future, not Georgia nor Ukraine. For these two countries, B. Obama wants to provide garantees to Russia; and there are democratic difficulties with both states and the West is waiting for clarification.

What are the most likely scenarios for the relationship between NATO and Russia?

Cooperation, as the two sides need it. Russia as the economic crisis threatens its prosperity. The West because of the logistic lines towards Afghanistan across Russia and Central Asia. But that major trend will be often altered by obstacles (nuclear negotiations, Antiballistic missiles, CFE Treaty, Iran, gas and energy, Abkazia and South Ossetia, human rights, etc.).

How will NATO’s role evolve during the 21st century?

That’s the question. I believe that Nato will dominate in the next decade the Afghan challenge. If you look over the horizon, at 2035, it depends on the answers we will give to the major and durable crises we face: the economic and the ecological one: they both relate to “resources geopolitics” and can determine future crises and wars. How those will influence the European security is a mystery.

That’s why I think that all members will cautiously preserve Nato, how useless it may appear. They will pay to keep it, even if the price is low (in accordance with a kind of free-rider attitude).

Olivier Kempf: NATO – position of France, its cohesion and future enlargement
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