A Sight on European Defence

The common declaration following the UK-France summit of 2nd November would let think that France has become a major partner for the UK. Of course, a strong and long-term partnership should emerge from this agreement signed by the French President and British Prime Minister. However, I would moderate the enthusiasm of some French or European who would think at a renewal of the Entente Cordiale of the past century. In fact the special relationship will not be weakened at all, as almost simultaneously to this declaration, Great Britain has reaffirmed its strong links with the USA.

To support my words, I will take as example the website of the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 2nd November 2010. Here is a screenshot of that day:

Look at the upper corner, at your right hand. There you could find the link to a speech of the British ambassador held on 29th October at West Point. This speech being pronounced only three days before the UK-France summit and dedicated to the UK-US defence partnership, I found interesting to have a look at it.

The Ambassador, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, reminds us that “Today, there are more than 700 British defence personnel working in the United States. While some are stationed in our Embassy in Washington, the majority are working in US units and organizations around the country. We have pilots flying US Osprey, C-17, F-16, and B-2; we have scientists working on nuclear submarines, planners in the DOD, officers embedded in US Army units and even instructors in US war colleges”. I hope that the partnership with France will reach such a level. However, France has still to do a bunch of homework to reach the level of interoperability expressed by the ambassador: “In peacetime and in wartime, and wherever in the world they find themselves, our forces know each other better than any other forces in the world”. Furthermore, the UK ambassador mentions the partnership that the UK is seeking with with China, India, Brazil and other emerging countries ». On 29th October the partnership with France, planned to be signed some three days later was not worth being mentioned to a US audience.

Lastly, using the Strategic Defence and Security Review, Mr Sheinwald declares that “Over the course of three days we had three key and inter-related – announcements: the UK’s National Security Strategy (NSS), the Strategic Defence and Securit Review (SDSR), and the Spending Review 2010. Taken together, they say something important about the UK’s sense of its place in the world and its relationship with the US as your most reliable and capable ally”.

Using this quote as the latest of my post, I would encourage my quick-tempered French friends, that they should remain phlegmatic, and do not expect the British people give France the precedence over the USA, at least for defence and security matters.

However, compared with the other European countries, for sure, this partnership has a major relevance.

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  1. Interesting points. However I think that the rhetoric lies more on the side of the special relationship which is a cherished symbol always in need to be reasserted, in particular in times when its reality faces some doubts. It is a political necessity in the UK political arena.

    Regarding the relationship with France, it is the contrary, it is more important to make practical moves than to talk about it. Any moves toward France is met with scepticism by the English public and its right wing press. France is more advanced than the UK in the path toward admission of its reality as a second order World power. In France, the cooperation is seen as a necessity. In the UK, sentimental nationalism and historic milestones of Agincourt and Waterloo engraved in every Englishman at school still play a role in the public mood. So for Cameron it was important NOT to talk about the agreement before signing it to avoid negative press campaigns. While signing it, it was important to downplay its significance by stressing out that it was not jeopardising UK’s sovereignty.

    So looking at the political discourse can be misleading. It is in the interest of the government to talk up a “special relationship” which is facing more and more doubts over the year as the US lose interest in its dwarf partner. On the other hand it was important to sign for a concrete partnership with France while downplaying its meaning.

  2. Yes. The USA are looking more and more to the Pacific Ocean, and make use of their special relationship with the UK to get international legitimacy. As well, all what regards France is fed with feelings and the lessons learned at school. Let us remember the trauma of Dunkirk.
    Reducing the agreement to a technical one, and not a political one is a good way to alleviate the risk of a negative press campaign.

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