Sarkozy has two giant allies on his side -- one still alive and one long dead: The one still alive is former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, who successfully carried out in his country exactly the kind of transformational and visionary high-tech missile defense program that Sarkozy wants to create for France.
France lacks the much larger industrial base Koizumi was able to use. But Sarkozy also enjoys advantages Koizumi did not.
For Koizumi showed that a modern democratic nation much smaller than the United States, Russia or China could indeed have the financial and high-tech resources to create a multi-tiered, credible ballistic missile defense system. Indeed, he pushed his program through with far less executive power than Sarkozy enjoys as president of France.
For this, Sarkozy must thank his second ally, the long-dead President Charles de Gaulle: The strongly pro-American Sarkozy, who publicly praises President George W. Bush even when it is not domestically expedient to do so, is a far cry from the haughty old de Gaulle, who detested the Americans and the British deeply and who was a prophet of the glories of France.
In contrast to de Gaulle, Sarkozy, in his June 17 keynote speech on grand strategy and missile defense, indicated clearly he would like to restore France as a politically as well as operationally full partner in the U.S.-led NATO alliance for the first time since de Gaulle pulled Paris partially out more than 40 years ago.
However, it was de Gaulle who made the political system of his French Fifth Republic the most centralized and powerful in Europe. Indeed, when Boris Yeltsin created his still-operative 1996 Constitution to stabilize Russia and restore power to its collapsing central institutions of state, it was de Gaulle's Fifth Republic to which he turned as his model.
Sarkozy, therefore, can draw upon far more executive power to push through his policies than Koizumi, forced to maneuver around the cautious old "gray men" of the national bureaucracy in Tokyo and of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, had to do.
The technological challenges facing Sarkozy may, however, be more daunting than those that Koizumi faced. Japan lagged further behind in advanced military technology, especially electronics, when Koizumi took power in 2001 than France does today. But Koizumi had the resources to buy advanced, tried, tested and reliable U.S. tech off the shelf. There was no bias in Tokyo, either among industrialists or the general public, against buying advanced American technology to revitalize Japanese industry.
By contrast, Sarkozy will have to struggle with anti-American attitudes, fears of globalization, free markets and U.S. defense contractors that have been hardening for decades.
Sarkozy in his June 17 speech made clear that although the inspiration for his BMD program was from Bush in the United States, he wants to use French and other major European defense corporations to develop the BMD systems themselves. That could take a lot longer and cost far more than the Japanese and Taiwanese approach of buying mature U.S. BMD systems like the Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or the sea-launched Standard Missile Interceptors.
However, at the end of the day, Sarkozy's vision is of a powerful, state-of-the-art French BMD system to guard against short-range and intermediate-range ballistic missile threats that will complement the U.S.-developed and -deployed systems. His vision is a bold one. But it is practical as well.