Tuesday, November 2, 2010

UK/France Defence Treaty – New Chapter, New Book!

The signing of various defence cooperation treaties between France and the UK should not be translated as anything other than sheer common sense. In my view not only should the treaties signed between the two largest military nations in Western Europe be seen as opening a much needed new chapter in Franco British history they should better be seen as opening a completely new book. We will see but it is in everyone’s interest that we give what has been proposed by both governments today a full chance to work. Trust is essential and when it comes to defence the peoples of both nations put that trust in their respective governments. The signing of the treaties today is not to be seen as capitulation by either of signatory. Moreover it is in my view a common sense approach to better meeting the full NATO commitment of both nations, of better meeting the future requirement and obligations and that at the same time should allow for significant removal of duplication and wasted resource. Neither of the two nations will be the weaker for what has been signed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy today and neither had anything to lose. As to the wider Allied view of proposed Anglo French defence cooperation agreement – this is a matter that when I was in Washington DC last week I raised with various ‘friends’ on the Hill. To that end I can say that I am perfectly satisfied that our US NATO allies fully believe that what has been agreed between Britain and France today was not only inevitable but also that it should be perceived as a move in the right direction for NATO.
The major significance of the two separate defence related treaties signed by France and Britain relates to joint development of nuclear testing facilities and the surety that as NATO members France and Britain have agreed to ensure that ultimately at least one aircraft carrier be it French or British will be at sea at any one time. With HMS Ark Royal withdrawn and HMS Illustrious soon to lose its Harrier capability and then likely to be de-rated to Helicopter carrier means that until the currently under build Queen Elizabeth carrier is commissioned into service (approximately eight or nine years from now) the UK will not actually possess ‘through deck’ carrier capability. From a military perspective this is regrettable but with the die already cast there is unlikely to be any u-turn on retention of Harrier capability. Until that time then it seems that ‘through deck’ landing capability will be in the hands of the French Navy.

Concurrently the treaty signed on nuclear cooperation and that will develop new forms of nuclear testing technology will see a new UK research facility built at Aldermaston and the existing French facility at Valduc enhanced. Both operations are slated I believe to begin operations late in 2014. Nuclear warheads will be tested by technical as opposed to actual means to ensure full safety and effectiveness of the weapons. It is my understanding that the UK is tasked with development of the testing technology and France with the actual testing of warheads.

Finally French and British governments have agreed that over time the two nations will work toward evolving what has been termed a combined joint expeditionary force comprising of around 10,000 troops that would be resourced equally from both signatories to the agreement. Under a single command we suspect the idea is that command will alternate between French and UK military every couple of years. Whilst it is understandable that media and others have questioned the viability of this idea we believe that now that France is again within full NATO command structure the idea of deploying a joint task force makes considerable sense. As to questions raised as to what would occur should there be disagreement over the use of countries troops in a specific military involvement when the other might disagree planned action we believe that fears on this are likely unfounded. It would seem to me more than likely that any dispute over proposed use of this force outside NATO command would of course be for each individual nation to sort out for itself.

Given that reducing cost to taxpayer and making better use of resource lie at the heart of the treaties signed today we should in my view attempt to look primarily at the military and cost benefits of what is proposed rather than the awkward history between both nations. When NATO was formed sixty five years ago similar worries over nations working together were aired. Those worries proved to be unfounded and so too will these in my view. Of course in an ideal world we would not need to involve cooperation on this scale between the most powerful military nations in Western Europe but if the cap fits then I am afraid we have no choice but to wear it.

It is my understanding that there will be no sharing or weapons or equipment resource although joint resources will be made available to assist in training. This is the first of what I regard as several military or equipment agreements that we might expect to be agreed between France and the UK over the next few years.

Today’s agreement between France and the UK also included several other interesting equipment related events such as proposed bi-lateral training, maintenance and logistical support for the proposed A400M airlifter that both countries plan to acquire. Agreement to investigate further the sharing of capacity between France and Britain of the latter’s planned fleet of new Airbus A330 tanker transport aircraft (FSTA – Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft) – (note no signing of agreement today presumably as there is yet to be agreement between the two nations on the financial aspects of sharing) plus preliminary agreement to sharing work on the next generation of medium altitude long endurance unmanned air surveillance systems, assessment of future satellite communication requirements with a view to saving costs, alignment of certain mine countermeasure plans.

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