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منگل، 2 نومبر، 2010

What is behind UK-France military cooperation?

Great Britain has expressed readiness for military cooperation with France, even though London is not yet prepared for the establishment of the united armed forces of the European Union. This was the keynote idea at the one-day UK-France summit in London.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed two significant agreements, one of them on military cooperation. It stipulates the creation of a “combined joint expeditionary force” to involve a 5,000 strong brigade from each side. These troops will operate under a single command to be chosen for each particular military campaign. Another treaty - on the joint development of nuclear weapons - will provide for opening the associated research centers in both countries. Furthermore, Paris and London will hold joint military exercises and agree on the joint use of aircraft, including British A400M fuelling planes, if needed.
The documents signed in London, which have already been dubbed “unprecedented” and “historical”, certainly testify to a considerable enhancement of British-French relations in the field of defense. This might be caused by France’s complete re-integration into the NATO military structure last year. At present, France and Britain have common interests in a wide range of defense issues, while the numbers of their troops are quite comparable. Although both are nuclear powers, it is getting increasingly hard for the two countries to maintain their military potential and influence worldwide.
Especially given that the defense budget of the United States drastically surpasses that of Britain and France combined. It is no secret that, amid the ongoing economic crisis, London and Paris may soon fail to honor their commitments to NATO, whose charter demands that every member’s defense budget must account for at least 2 percent of GDP. These financial challenges may have forced Britain and France to launch close cooperation in the sphere of defense, experts argue.
Nevertheless, owing to historical considerations, London and Paris will never agree on the full consolidation of their military capabilities. Britain still recalls France’s condemnation of the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003. Among other things, people in Britain have always been skeptical about the possible centralization of European defense, while the French disapprove of London’s tight political and military ties with Washington. Perhaps, this is exactly what prevented the UK and France from reaching an agreement on the joint use of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines of the two countries, as we said before.
The British government is convinced that the new agreements signed with France are not indicative of Britain’s inability to independently fight for its own hand in terms of both economy and defense. But critics, especially those among the members of the opposition Labor Party, believe that their government should not place too much reliance on France where British strategic interests are concerned. By the way, there are a lot of so-called “Eurosceptics” within the ruling Conservative party, who strongly oppose British-French military cooperation.
Thus, Prime Minister David Cameron will have to take pains to persuade the British parliament to approve military-nuclear agreements with France, since the alliance with NATO still remains a cornerstone of Great Britain’s defense policy.
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