In the aftermath of François Hollande’s election as France’s president Sunday, much of the analysis has concentrated on the implications for Europe: in particular, how Hollande’s call for an emphasis on economic growth will impact the austerity cure imposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the solution to the European Union’s sovereign debt crisis. This is understandable, as France’s -- and Europe’s -- economic solvency will of course condition much of its ability to act on the international stage. But a quick look at Hollande’s agenda in the coming weeks -- G-8, NATO, G-20 and EU heads of state summits in succession -- underscores the degree to which foreign policy concerns beyond Europe will weigh upon the early days of his presidency, as well as the questions that remain about Hollande’s foreign policy orientation.
One aspect of Nicolas Sarkozy’s activist legacy is particularly worth noting in this regard: that of national security and defense. Over the past five years, Sarkozy has shown not only a willingness, but an eagerness to engage France as a global security actor. This has been most evident in his use of the military as a component of French power. He has committed French troops to high-risk peacekeeping operations such as the EU mission in Chad and the United Nations missions in Côte d'Ivoire and southern Lebanon, as well as to NATO coalition operations in Afghanistan and Libya. Hollande has said that he approved of Sarkozy’s decision to intervene in Libya, but whether or not the new president would be willing or able to become the driving force behind such an intervention remains an unanswerable question.
While Sarkozy is most known for his involvement in high-profile crisis situations such as the Libya intervention, he has also overseen a period of significant evolution in subtler aspects of France’s global security posture. Most importantly, he is responsible for a shift in France’s strategic priorities from Africa to the Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean region that began with the Defense White Paper he commissioned in 2008. Though interventions in Chad and Côte d’Ivoire highlighted France’s ongoing commitment to African security, under Sarkozy, France realigned its base posture to reduce its permanent overseas deployment to the continent while renegotiating its defense accords with its former colonies to reduce its security commitments. At the same time, France opened a small but permanent naval base in the United Arab Emirates, while deploying French naval forces to NATO and EU anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean. As the issue was not raised during the campaign, there is little way of knowing whether Hollande will accelerate this shift, reverse it or rein in France's forward posture altogether.