Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Paris Tries to Direct NATO's Club Med Decades-Old Dispute between US, France Widens

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Paris Tries to Direct NATO's Club Med Decades-Old Dispute between US, France Widens

Article excerpt

When Europe and the United States first agreed to cooperate in the defense of Europe after World War II, the main threat was from the Soviet Union to the east.

But as ministers of the 16-member North American Treaty Organization meet tomorrow in Brussels, concerns about how to manage the security of Europe's southern flank along the Mediterranean could loom as large.

These concerns center on a high-profile flap between France and the United States over who should command NATO forces in the Mediterranean, including the US Sixth Fleet. France says it should be a European, and Washington insists that command remain with an American. If Washington does not change its mind, France says it will remain outside NATO's integrated military command, which it left in 1966. It will also delay other decisions, such as extending NATO membership to Eastern European nations. Some defense analysts had expected that a face-saving solution to this problem would have been found before the Dec. 10 meeting, but last week French President Jacques Chirac stepped up his demand. "Europe must put an end to its impotence," he told the parliamentary assembly of the Western European Union (WEU), Europe's defense arm, on Dec. 3. "There remain, however, certain issues that are vital and difficult to solve, in particular, the Europeanization of the regional commands, for the reform to be brought to a successful conclusion," Mr. Chirac added. France takes on the presidency of the WEU in January. Longstanding hot button The Mediterranean command has long been a hot button in French-American relations. The first step in France's 1966 rupture with NATO's military command was its 1959 decision to withdraw the French fleet from NATO command in the Mediterranean. Then French President Charles de Gaulle felt that France deserved more weight in the Mediterranean command structure, which was directed by an American. "All French presidents since De Gaulle have tried to strike a deal with the US over NATO. In each case, France has had to realize that there are limits to Europe's power," says Frederic Bozo, an expert on French-NATO relations with the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations. …

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