By Jack Detsch, Transatlantic Community Analyst
Today we open a new chapter in a long history of co-operation on defense and security between Britain and France,” British Prime Minister David Cameron remarked yesterday as French President Nicolas Sarkozy looked on. Yesterday’s landmark British-Franco defense agreements may forever change the scope of military cooperation in Europe, as it calls for:
“…a new combined force available for deployment at times of international crisis that is expected to involve about 5,000 service members from each nation, with land, sea and air components, and rotating French and British commanders. The pacts also foresee each nation alternating in putting a single aircraft carrier to sea, with the vessels operating as bases for French, British and American aircraft in times of need.”
The nuclear agreement was in some ways the most surprising, since it committed the two nations to sharing some of their most carefully kept secrets. Although the two leaders emphasized that France’s “force de frappe” and Britain’s similar, submarine-based ballistic missile force would remain separate and under the sole control of each government, they agreed to establish joint research centers, one in France and one in Britain, to further research on their stockpiles of nuclear warheads.
The agreement comes two weeks after London carried out its first Strategic Defense Review in over a decade, which recommended the withdrawal of over 20,000 troops from continental Europe, the elimination of Harrier fighter jets, and the decommissioning of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier. Considerations of fiscal austerity, currently sweeping the Europe, have had a radical effect on bloc defense, and could serve to accelerate similar agreements between other European states hoping to improve their military effectiveness.
Britain and France are Europe’s two greatest military powers, and this agreement will likely increase their effectiveness in strategic missions around the world. Using pooled resources, Britain and France can dually commit themselves to globally significant crisis management missions in the near-abroad and elsewhere. Now that it is further entwined with its French allies, the UK could also be more open to committing resources to Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defense Policy missions. The creation of a joint expeditionary force and a British-Franco program for spare parts, maintenance, and pilot training of the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft will also allow Europe to project hard power on a much greater scale, which will improve Europe’s effectiveness in peacekeeping and crisis management situations.
However, this pact faces significant challenges in both the Britain and France, even among Mr. Cameron and Mr. Sarkozy’s party faithful. A Conservative MP and a back-bencher in UK Parliament, Bernard Jenkin, expressed concerns to the BBC about France’s “record of duplicity.” In announcing the agreement alongside his French cohort, Mr. Cameron acknowledged his critics, but argued that “Britain and France are, and will always remain, sovereign nations, able to deploy our armed forces independently and in our national interest when we choose to do so.”
Euro skeptics, who still represent a large minority in both nations, will find this deal a bitter pill to swallow, although the Labour party’s shadow defense minister hailed the agreement. Still, the Labour Party is closing the gap in polls with Conservatives, so the Prime Minister must be careful in his political approach. It is less clear what a regime change in France would mean for the agreement. Future elections are looking much direr for Mr. Sarkozy, with approval ratings tumbling toward the mid-twenties as a wave of protests hit France last week. Several credible challengers for the French Presidency are emerging, including IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is polling 18 points ahead of Mr. Sarkozy.