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Sarkozy seeks NATO membership for France -

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ELEANOR HALL: More than 40 years after it withdrew from the alliance citing the dominance of the
US, France is seeking to rejoin the military command of NATO.

In a speech on defence policy, President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted France's return to the command
would enhance the role of Europe in NATO's decision-making processes.

And he revealed a plan to revamp the French defence force into a smaller, smarter and more
sophisticated outfit.

But he's likely to face some resistance to his plan, as Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: France's president Nicolas Sarkozy has been pressing the case for a better
relationship with the United States since his election in May last year. Now, he says, the time has
come for France to resume a bigger role in NATO.

NICOLAS SARKOZY (translated): We can renew our relations with NATO without fearing for our
independence and without the risk of being unwillingly dragged into a war. A France that takes its
full place within NATO would mean more of a European presence within the alliance.

ASHLEY HALL: It was the lack of European influence in NATO that saw France withdraw from the
military structure, even though it was one of the alliance's founding members. It's proved a
sticking point in the two countries' relationship ever since.

But that may soon change. A White House spokesman says the US president has always appreciated
France's role in the alliance, and is pleased to see it moving back to full integration in NATO's
military command structure.

NATO's Secretary-General is Jaap de Hoop Scheffer:

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I think that it is extremely positive. The pace is decided by the French, by
the government and the people in France.

ASHLEY HALL: Indeed, Mr Sarkozy has imposed three conditions for France to rejoin the military
command. France will retain the freedom to decide whether to send its troops on NATO operations. It
won't put French troops under permanent NATO command during peacetime. And the military will retain
full control of France's nuclear arsenal.

The analyst Stanley Sloan has focused on the security relationship between the US and Europe for
the past 40 years, including stints working with the CIA and advising Congress. He occasionally
lectures at the NATO College in Rome.

STANLEY SLOAN: This is a recognition by France that they aren't in jeopardy of losing independence.
They're protecting the things that are vitally important to them, like the independence of their
nuclear deterrent and they are moving past some of the historical debates that have gotten in the
way of effective cooperation on the transatlantic level.

ASHLEY HALL: The move to rejoin NATO's command structure is just one element of the first
wide-ranging review of France's defence strategy in 14 years. Mr Sarkozy says from now on, home
security will be the military's prime focus.

10,000 soldiers will be assigned to domestic security tasks. And he's promised a big investment in
military technology.

NICOLAS SARKOZY (translated): Today the immediate threat is from a terrorist attack. Thanks to the
effectiveness of our security forces, France has not been hit in recent years, but the threat is
there.

ASHLEY HALL: But the new plan is also about saving money. About 50,000 jobs will be cut and about
50 bases and garrisons have been ear-marked for closure as Mr Sarkozy tries to pare back public
spending.

There's already talk of industrial action and grumblings from some of the towns which would suffer
economically, if bases were closed.

Dr Alexey Muraviev is a strategic affairs analyst at Curtin University of Technology in Perth.

ALEXEY MURAVIEV: France is considered to be an incredible military power not only in European
terms, but certainly it's one the top five nuclear powers and it has considerable power projection
capabilities.

ASHLEY HALL: But will the thawing of relationships between the France and the US last? Dr Muraviev
says that all depends who's in the seat of power in Paris.

ALEXEY MURAVIEV: If Socialist will come to power then yes, we might see a change of policy,
particularly if the Republicans would be able to retain control over the Oval Office in the White
House in Washington.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Dr Alexey Muraviev, strategic affairs analyst at Curtin University of
Technology in Perth. He was speaking to Ashley Hall.