Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Actually, PEACE with France...


 In a new treaty recently signed by David Cameron and the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, the UK and France are committing to a deepening of our alliance between them - the entente cordiale - through the sharing of military resources.

This will involve:
  • Joint research into nuclear weapons with the aim of ensuring 'long-term viability, security and safety' - two joint research centres will be constructed to facilitate this;
  • The formation of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) drawing from all 3 services from both nations, available for 'bilateral, NATO, EU, UN or other' operations;
  • The UK will fit 'cat and trap' launchers to our new aircraft carrier to ensure interoperability with French jets. France will allow UK jets to use French carriers;
  • Integrated support on military transport aircraft, with aims for co-operation on training, as well as joint research into the development of spy and combat drone aircraft;
  • Aims to cut 30% of the cost of complex weapons systems through various measures, including scale purchasing, over 10 years.

Now, I am well-known for telling the occasional French joke. Okay, more than the occasional French joke. And there are plenty that I could throw into the mix right now. There was even one on my previous post. But I will try to be objective.

There are good reasons for this treaty:
  • We are both 'old world' nations with overseas territories, such as the Falklands and French Guiana, which are subject to sovereignty disputes with other nations;
  • Our military forces are approximately the same size, with similar capabilities - capabilities, which, realistically, could not enforce our disputed sovereignty claims individually;
  • We are both members of the EU and NATO, and both hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council, thereby holding veto powers in that body;
  • Our forces have a history of joint and and successful operations together - in both World Wars, and in NATO and EU operations, particularly in former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo;
  • It is politically expedient - both countries have large budget deficits which they are attempting to reduce. Pooling military costs does not affect taxation or perceived public services.

Our Government has insisted that this does not affect British sovereignty. And they are right. This is a deepening of an already well-established military alliance, not steps towards political union. However, it does limit options for both countries.

It is unlikely that either France or the UK will ever go to war without allies again. Both of us simply lack the clout required to conduct a campaign against a well-equipped, organised enemy. Although we could re-arm, voters in both countries have little appetite for high military spending for no perceived benefit. And, in the areas of overseas territories, it is fair to say that our reach exceeds our grasp. If other nations with whom we have a territorial dispute chose to enforce their claims militarily, neither France nor the the UK would be seriously capable of launching an independent campaign to respond.

My question is this: if this treaty was ever put to the test, would it stand? If Argentina invaded the Falklands again, would France help us re-capture them? Or conversely, if Madagascar chose to occupy the nearby French islands, would we come to their aid?

The courage of French troops is not in question here - if they were ordered to fight, they would do so. But would their political leaders have the conviction and resolve to support their allies?