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France's military about-face

President Sarkozy wants to rejoin NATO's military command, a welcome move.

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He may not have de Gaulle's physical stature, but President Nicolas Sarkozy is standing up to 's long-obeyed policy of military independence for France. The US and Europe need to welcome this historic shift.

The kinetic French leader isn't talking about giving up control of the country's nukes (a legacy from President Charles de Gaulle). And he will still keep a firm grip on armed forces, which are Europe's largest (255,000 in active service).

But as part of his campaign promise of "rupture" with status-quo policies, Mr. Sarkozy wants France to rejoin NATO's military command and planning structure, which de Gaulle quit in 1966.

Although still kept France as a member of NATO – and indeed, France is an important contributor to NATO and global peacekeeping missions – de Gaulle's move was a highly visible way for Paris to assert autonomy in the face of US dominance of the alliance.

But Sarkozy sees things differently now, and not just because he vacations in the US. He's shifting toward defense integration – a direction he also wants for a parallel but Europe-only military alliance. He recognizes that in today's interconnected world, it's not easy to solve problems solo, no matter how enduring the myth of French might and glory.

Washington couldn't be more pleased, and rightly so. Friends can have differences – and certainly France wasn't the only US ally to object to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But years of Paris poking its finger in Uncle Sam's chest have made cooperation unnecessarily difficult.

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