« GCC-Iran Watch | Main | Snow-Varks! »

January 17, 2008


nur al-cubicle

Sarkozy says the base responds to an invitation:
Nos amis des Emirats nous ont demandé l'ouverture d'une base qui manifeste notre partenariat stratégique

It is a base interarmées permanente. Permanent inter-forces, with a naval base in the commercial harbor, an air base, and a military training base. 450 personnel total. Likely that the UAE is doing a lot of the financing, too. And of course, Abu Dhabi just happens to be on the Straits of Hormuz.

The UAE and France signed a defense pact in 1995 and have been regularly conducting joint maneuvers since that time. The UAE air force flies 60 Mirages 2000-9, btw. This all part of a major "tilt" to France for, as you may know, the University of Paris has a satellite campus there as well as a branch of Le Louvre.

My guess is that it's just a geo-strategic presence more than any type of cooperation with the US vs. Iran.

Gregory Gause

I wouldn't put too much stock in this move from a military standpoint. 450 French sailors and marines are not going to tip the balance in any military way. But I think it reflects a desire on the part of all the Gulf states to find alternative great power allies. They worry about the US, both in terms of its reliability and in terms of its overwhelming presence. A contradiction? We don't like you here and we are afraid that you will leave? Absolutely. But not a unique one. I would argue that the NATO allies exhibited both feelings about the US during the Cold War. The Gulf monarchs know that they need the US, they just wished that they did not. Saudi FM Saud Al Faysal gave voice to this sentiment in his speech to the IISS Gulf Dialogue in Bahrain three years ago (December 04, I think it was).

On the French side, it seems to me to be a small investment in what they hope might be a more extensive commercial-military (not strategic-military) relationship. No more, no less.

This is more speculative, but I wonder if, with the base being in Abu Dhabi, this also has an intra-Emirati dimension. The US presence is all down in Dubai, if I am not mistaken -- Jabal Ali as the most important port of call for the Navy in the Gulf. But, again, I am just spit-balling here. I don't have any information on this particular angle.


I see this development as largely symbolic. 450 French personnel doesn't amount to much. The British have personnel in Bahrain and Qatar, but they just don't have their own base, and wouldn't refer to any collection of British military personnel as a "base." Been there, done that. I'm not sure how many Brits are there, but I don't find this future French presence any more significant than the British.

I don't necessarily agree that this will allow France to better cooperate with the US against Iran, but rather, it creates a symbolic front used to hopefully deter any overly stupid activity by the Iranians. It's like, yo, we're here... we can bring a lot more here... and it's not just the US here. So calm down, Iranians.


"Just a geo-strategic presence"? Golly!

Meanwhile Sarko the Magnificent is juggling a couple of other balls simultaneously, helping the Saudis with nuclear power plants (so they can sell all the gunky black stuff?) and, best of all, pacifying the former Iraq :

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently touring the Middle East, has renewed his country's offer to bring Iraq's warring political factions together. Sarkozy suggested "hosting in France, far from the heat of passions and on neutral ground, inter-Iraqi roundtable talks that are as large as possible." It's unclear whether Sarkozy's proposed conference would include representatives of the armed resistance, but it's possible. (An earlier offer by France to host similar talks got the cold shoulder from Maliki and no encouragement from the United States.)

That third bombshell may be a little doubtful, though, considering that one can find it at The Nation but not at, say, Le Monde.

Happy days. Or make that Bonne chance!


Early spin has suggested that this will allow France to better cooperate with the US against Iran, but this seems shortsighted.

No, it seems stupid. Whose spin is that, Ahmadinejad's? The French are about as likely to help the US with Iran as monkey's are likely to start flying out of my ass.

A long-term French strategic position in the Gulf challenges American exclusivity, and potentially undermines the fundamental architecture of the hegemonic American position in the Gulf.

Now you're talking. Why did you preface the correct answer with an obviously incorrect one? Does that make it seem more as if you actually considered all the possibilities? :P

Seriously, the French have been trying to re-assert their (in their own minds) rightful position of prominence in the world since World War II. That's why they love poking their finger in America's eye, so much. There's no mystery here. One of these days, they may even succeed in getting somebody to take them seriously, too.


Don't forget that it was slipping sanctions that helped lead to the current Iraq War.

As you said in the CSM: "The shifting Arab approach may leave the US with little choice but to do the same. Just as America's containment of Iraq began to collapse in the late 1990s when its Arab neighbors lost faith in the value of sanctions, the new Gulf attitudes will probably now shape what the US can do with Iran."

Ultimately, the US didn't do the same. It ended up seeing a threat, and invaded. Divergent threat perceptions may help, they may not (and help for what??). A big question you haven't answered is WHY the GCC and others are susceptible to wooing by Iran? What is Iran saying and offering?

Mark Pyruz

Don't forget, the French also assisted Sadaam Hussein against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. As early as 1980, there were French technicians at al-Hurriyah AFB near Mosul, assisting with training for the Mirage F 1EQ. An Iranian airstrike succeeded in forcing the French to temporarily retire. Still, direct participation by the French helped to bring down two IRIAF F-14A Tomcats during the last week of the war.

In the present context, the Gulf States are enduring uncertain times. On the one hand, their confidence in the US has been shaken by the adverse outcome of the Iraq War. And on the other, they realize that any US-Iran war will adversely affect them, possibly in a big way. Inviting additional centers of powers from the West seems like a prudent course of action, as a means of broadening the range of influence in the Gulf, however slight it accomplishes this in real terms.


It seems to be exactly what Sarkozy said: "un partenariat stratégique".
The oil realms are now rich enough to buy private security contractors, and France will be one of them. They buy combat aircraft, they'll buy nuclear systems, and Sarkozy decided to make money.
A word about Iran.
Iran didn't attack a neighbour since 250 years. Iran was attacked by saddam Hussein,then backed by France and the US. Iran did sign the nuclear treaties, and was in the 70's involved in international nuclear business. A french consortium called "eurodif" borrowed a billion dollars to the Shah of Iran, and France refused to bring back the money to Iran after the revolution. That led to terrorism, political scandals and partial payments, as well as for Iran to find other solutions to obtain nuclear facilities.
There is no way for Iran to have any chance to be able to develop nuclear weapons, let alone to use them, they would be wiped off the map some minutes before!

At the same time, Israel has nuclear weapons and don't sign treaties. Pakistan is ruled by a dictator allied with islamists, and he has nuclear weapons, and he is a US ally...

I can't understand why Iran is threatened like that. It just help the conservative to hold power firmly. Iran could be a regional power, much more reliable than Pakistan or Iraq.


Dear AA,

It looks like the UAE (quite likely in coordination with the other GCC states) is diversifying the military protection. There's already a UK-manned monitoring base up in the Musandam Peninsula (literally) overlooking the Strait of Hormuz (on Mt. ) & the UK is periodically holding exercises in Oman, where they have always had a military presence ever since that eponymous "East of Suez" withdrawal almost four decades ago.

As others have already pointed out, the French base will be by no means "major" - 4-500 personnel, Navy maintenance / SigInt / logistics. I think what's even more interesting is the establishment of a branch of the French military academy St. Cyr in the UAE ...

In the end, it looks like Sarkozy is on a path to re-establish France as a significant (foreign) player in the region, and thus the World stage. The military aspect is only one - during his visit French companies signed very important energy deals and the French are now very well-situated to (soon) get majorly involved in KSA infrastructure projects (rail) but also the just-approved border fence with Yemen & Iraq.

As an anecdote, friends of mine in Dubai say that in the past half year the number of French-speakers in the emirate has increased markedly, to the point that it became very noticeable.



* UK base on Mt. Harim / Shaam Peak


* And ... St Cyr in Qatar, not UAE. Which means it's right next to Al-Udayd. Couldn't find any more information on the subject, but my guess is that the French military academy is not just for Qatari soldiers, but for other GCC armies as well.



The agreement to help Saudi Arabia and the UAE develop nuclear power technology is the most significant thing. The Israelis are dead set against nuclear technology in any Arab country because it represents a basic threat to their Middle East nuclear arms monopoly - thus to their domination of the Middle East. And France in on the deal!! Washington must be jumping througn the roof.


Sarkozy is the new european little pet of GW Bush, this in accordance with the new european treaty of Lisbon, which submit all europeans country to the NATO (France includes). The new french military base is thereby in total accordance with the Baker-Hamilton report.(message from France, so be indulgent with my english).

The Lounsbury

Frank mon cher, c'est idiot ce que tu dis. Sarko est pour Sarko, c'est plutot un peu de engagement "commerciale" comme ses visites en afrique du nord, au service de Mssrs Dassault, et al.

Calling Sarko Bush's Pet is merely French left preciousness. This is just like Sarko's endeavours in North Africa, notably the Maghreb, for a bit of French style mercantile diplomacy (a la Chirac, et al.; a grand french tradition). A little bit of a base, symbolic engagement to land some fat contracts with the idiot Khalijis who love such things. At 450 marines, he's likely to get a better return on investment than the Americans.

Sharp, Sarko, a real bastard, but sharp.


Hey A2:

Check out the Economist's take:


"FRANCE'S announcement this week that it is to open a military base in the United Arab Emirates could mark a strategic shift in its defence policy. It will be France's first permanent base in the Gulf, in a country where it has no colonial ties. By drawing its 400 troops from an existing base in Djibouti, it hints at a withdrawal from France's traditional African backyard. Moreover, coming in the middle of France's first full defence review for 14 years, it suggests a radical rethinking of the country's defence and security policy.

The future of French overseas military bases is one element under review. France now has around 5,000 soldiers in three permanent bases in Africa: Senegal, Gabon and Djibouti. It also has 2,600 soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in Côte d'Ivoire, and 1,100 on the ground in Chad soon to be joined by another 2,000 as part of a French-led European Union force. Ties of history keep French soldiers in Africa. But President Nicolas Sarkozy has told the defence review team to “construct the security and defence of tomorrow according to needs, not habits”.

Mr Sarkozy has pre-empted his own review's conclusions, not due till March, by announcing the Emirates base, just across the Gulf from Iran. It shows that the French are ready to move outside their traditional sphere and to match their military presence to strategic interests rather than colonial links. Although the base will be small, it also suggests that Mr Sarkozy, who has taken a tougher line on Iran than his predecessor, may be ready to take a bigger part in stabilising the region.

There could be more surprises to come. Jean-Claude Mallet, head of the defence review, says it aims to define a “new doctrine” of security and defence. Mr Sarkozy has told him nothing should be taboo. A white paper is due in the spring and legislation is planned by the summer.

One idea is that France should set up a National Defence and Security Council, loosely modelled on the American version, to co-ordinate domestic and foreign security. Another suggestion will be a commitment to maintain defence spending at about 2% of GDP, roughly the same as in Britain. Despite defence-spending increases, French military types complain about the lack of transport aircraft and the shoddy state of the helicopter fleet.

Perhaps the trickiest issue is France's role in NATO. It is a member, and participates in many NATO operations: one-third of the 10,000 French soldiers on missions abroad are under a NATO banner; a French general commands the NATO force in Kosovo. But since de Gaulle pulled France out of the alliance's integrated military command in 1966, it has had no say in NATO defence planning. Mr Sarkozy, who likes to make a splash and please the Americans in equal measure, has hinted strongly that France could soon rejoin fully.

Not, however, without one key condition: more progress on European defence. Mr Sarkozy, in short, wants the British to back European defence properly, and the Americans to stop distrusting this on the ground that it may be a rival to NATO.

The trouble is that Gordon Brown, Britain's prime minister, is in no hurry to pursue anything that has the slightest whiff of deeper European integration, especially with the EU's reform treaty still before the British parliament for ratification. Relations between Mr Sarkozy and Mr Brown are businesslike rather than warm. They may not be helped by the ostentatious love-in between Mr Sarkozy and Tony Blair, who spoke (in French) to rapturous applause at an event organised by the president's centre-right party last weekend. The French have found it hard to drum up support for the EU force in Chad: neither the British, who are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor the Germans are sending any troops.

French officials are frustrated by the lack of British response to their hints about NATO. But it is hard to see room for compromise. Something less than a full-blown EU defence headquarters would not satisfy the French; anything too grand or NATO-duplicating would not get past the British. As one French official puts it, however, “Sarkozy will not accept no response. If he doesn't get agreement, he'll go somewhere else.” There is even talk of dealing directly with America, doubtless pleased with France's planned Emirates base. But it is hard to see that working in America's fraught election year."


To David

"Idiot" ? Dire que Sarko est pour Sarko n'a aucun sens. Lui comme tous les hommes politiques représente et défend des intérêts particuliers. Please read and study the new european treaty of Lisbon (and the new place of the NATO). Please read (but are you able to understand ?)the Baker-Hamilton report. Please look at the new attitude of France with Lebanon since the 1559. Yes, France is now totally restricted to US interests

nur al-cubicle

French Défense Minister Hervé Morin says the UAE is picking up the _entire_ tab.


- Frank,

It's more your comment on NATO and the Lisbon treaty which doesn't make much sense. European security has always been placed under the NATO framework, there's nothing new. There has never been such thing as an independent European defense policy, neither before nor after the Lisbon treaty. The so-called European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) is no more than an effort to coordinate policies and, to a certain extent, to pool resources amongst the EU member states. It runs parallel with the constitution of a European pole within NATO, but in no way in concurrence with it. The development of ESDP is a compromise between France, which had a more independentist view of EU's defense, and Britain, which supported the development of European capabilities to "share the burden" of regional and world security with the US.

To go back to our subject, I'm curious to see European reactions to the establishment of this French base in the Gulf and its possible impact on European foreign policy and on ESDP/NATO.

As regards your comment on French policy in Lebanon, the anti-Syrian stance is not Sarkozyst: it's Chirac who pushed for Resolution 1559 and the withdrawal of Syrian troops, and who first cut ties with El-Assad. In this case, there is continuity.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Blog powered by Typepad