Recently, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy signed a pair of treaties ensuring British and French military cooperation, perhaps for the next 50 years. It means sharing command of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, aircraft carriers, research and equipment. This has pretty met with vitriol in the British tabloids…but this step doesn’t limit our capabilities, it enhances them.
In order to maintain even a hint of independent military capability, ironically, we must cooperate with others. If we can, we need to take every opportunity to spread costs – cooperation over nuclear weapons research (especially if, like these, it involves no explosions and no transfer of any British, or American, secrets), joint-training policies, sharing transport planes and the like all mean that we will hopefully have more money to spend on actually training, paying and equipping soldiers, buying planes, tanks, ships and drones, and deploying our military capabilities overseas. If we even want to deploy unilaterally.
The UK’s time as a great superpower ended with Suez (when we cooperated with the French to claw it back). This can’t be a treaty that tries to reinstate our superpower status. If we hadn’t signed these treaties, not only would we not be able to force the French to use their aircraft carriers to defend the Falklands – I doubt we could do it ourselves. We are a military and a nation more suited to multilateral peacekeeping operations – and for these, we need cooperation. Cooperation on training and sharing assets is essential and even foreign leadership in joint-operations is now a norm in multilateral, peacekeeping operations.
French leadership of British brigades shouldn’t scare us – we have had foreign control over British military units for years – British troops in Afghanistan have been under control of American, Canadian and Dutch officers…and I’ve not heard that much complaint. When Dutch General Mart de Kruif took control of RC-S of ISAF from Canadian Major General Marc Lessard….there was no outrage in the media. But as soon as it’s a French commander in the picture…let’s all at least have the decency to admit, this outrage isn’t for the most part a defence of sovereignty, it’s racism. We traditionally hate the French – despite the fact we’ve been on their side in two World Wars, Suez, and countless peacekeeping missions. We’ve fought against most of our current allies. Let’s let the past be the past.
On the matter of actually defending British interests – most interests would overlap with French interests. As I said, the past is the past, and now we fear the same terrorists, the same rogue states. There are but a few situations where defending British interests would not be in French interests as well.
Even in the case of the Falklands – in the Falklands War of 1982, we saw the French supporting us by providing intelligence on the Exocet missiles and Mirage and Etendard aircraft they had sold to Argentina. That was because it was in their interests to see us emerge victorious and maintain relationship with us, rather than get one up on us.
In a Falklands War of 20…someday in the future, I believe that it would be in French interests to deploy their aircraft carriers to the South Atlantic, strengthening us, and thus our alliance. We can’t force them in this treaty. But we won’t have to. Our interests are aligned – so should be our militaries.
Unilateral is not the path any more – British interests no longer require unilateral deployment, but instead multilateral cooperation to ensure a peaceful and secure world. Cooperating further with our allies will not only enhance this, protect all our interests, but save us some cash in the meantime. Hopefully, enough for a back-up fund for one last deployment. Just in case.