2 Nov 2010

France and Britain to share defence capabilities

It’s a new era for defence as the French and the British sign a co-operation declaration. But are they making the pact for the same reasons? Lindsey Hilsum does not think so.

Today, David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy will meet in London to sign a new declaration on defence and security co-operation. There will be much fanfare about a new era, and much detail about how French aircraft will be able to take off and land on British aircraft carriers and vice versa.

But the real question is are the two countries in this together for the same reason? Certainly, both need to find a way to maximise their dwindling defence budgets. The 8 per cent cut in the British defence budget announced last week leaves Britain exposed, notably with aircraft carriers but no aircraft. The French say they must save US$1.8 billion from their defence budget over the next three years.

But the two governments justify the new collaboration in contrasting ways: the French see it as a way of maximising European power as an alternative to both the Chinese and the US. The British see it as a way of reinforcing Nato, and backing up the US better.

Speaking to the French newspaper La Tribune, the French Defence Minister Herve Morin said: “Faced with very low defence budgets, the Europeans are gently and comfortably sliding towards a bipolar Chinese/American world. Without some kind of political European construction, we’re giving up being a major actor on the international scene where we have less and less weight.”

But the British don’t regard co-operation with the French as a counterweight to US power.

“A closer relationship with France does not [ …] change the Special Relationship with our main global strategic partner, the United States,” wrote Liam Fox, the British Defence Secretary in the Sunday Telegraph.

“Quite the contrary; the increased capability and effectiveness that we will achieve through this co-operation will make us stronger partners.”

It’s a new era, but plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose, I suppose.