The Divide: France, Germany, and Political NATO

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The Harmel review of 1966–7 is a story of how NATO collectively attempted to define a political role for itself; how France resisted; and how Germany was of two minds and hoped to resolve tensions by bridge-building. Much has changed since then—Britain is exiting the EU; Russia is an assertive but lesser power; the United States intends to pivot to Asia—but this underlying pattern remains. The cause hereof is a durable divide in French and German thinking on ‘political NATO’, meaning NATO as a framework for the coordination of key national security policies, as well as a framework that Europe's political organization cannot take place in opposition to. Political NATO was the foundation of the Harmel Report, and this certain idea of NATO continues to bedevil the Franco-German attempt to build Europe and refashion transatlantic relations. We should only take this effort seriously to the extent that the two countries have overcome their divide on political NATO. This article therefore explores the history and contemporary significance of French and German policy on political NATO and in particular three issues that dominated the Harmel Report: Europe's relationship with the wider Atlantic community, Russia's position in Europe's security order, and NATO's global engagement. While France and Germany have managed a certain rapprochement, the article concludes, their divide on political NATO continues to be of continental consequence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)267-289
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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