Anglo-French Defence Cooperation – A Conversation Between Friends?

In the news in recent days has been the recent Anglo-French Defence Accords, the ‘Entente Frugale‘, as the Faceless Bureaucrat put it. A number of commenters have remarked upon the lack of debate about it. This too perplexed, and annoyed, me. Why was there no debate? Within KOW we have views on the matter, dissimilar as it turns out. Rob and I invite you then to read our exchange upon the pros and cons. As always please do feel free to add your own two penneth in the comments, politely and sensibly.

The exchange:


9 November 2010

Dear David,

As you have kindly allowed me to go first in our little exchange of views on Anglo-French defence cooperation, I have assumed I can hijack the terms of the debate!

By way of context, and I think our first point of separation, I have always been a soft-Europhile. Whilst I think European ‘peace in our time’ cannot be put solely down to the creation and expansion of various iterations of the EU, I think the ‘European project’ (a particular mindset) has made a serious contribution to European states not repeating the mistakes of the past. I should qualify those remarks with ‘the British caveat’, which is that we have remained curiously immune (as a body politic) to this pan-European rapprochement, and rightly think of ourselves as an island nation taking part in the most sensible trading bloc for us. We have also magnanimously decided to allow those ‘continental foreigners’ to become a one-ship’s company, because it means ‘we don’t have to sort their mess out again’. This mindset is amongst us humble ordinaries, and has not been replicated amongst our political elites, who have pursued far more integrationist policies. So, in short, I’ve always been very happy with our European membership, with our trading links and with only having to exchange my currency once (something which is a God-send to me).

Now, my soft Europhilia (which is rapidly beginning to sound like a disease I’ve picked up…) has been tempered by my Britishness when it came to all matters defence, and particularly when it came to intelligence (but that’s not for now). Our most natural allegiance is, I would still maintain, to the US. But I do think there is a glaring irony that for 8years European leaders thumbed their rhetorical noses at GW Bush and yet bowed to most of his military demands, whilst Obama (the most European President going, and one loved by European political elites) has been practically snubbed across the military piece. As Americans I have known would say, ‘go figure’.

The change to my view about Anglo-French defence cooperation came with the Saint Malo Accords (in 1998), something I partially wrote my PhD about. The accords were drawn up in a hurry by high level civil servants on both sides, indeed overnight, and the text was signed the next morning. Neither side really knew what they had embarked upon, they just wanted to signal a positive intent. Their mistake was, of course, to widen this initiative out to the wider European Union, thus ensuring that it died, horribly, in the long grass. So, my first argument is that widening it out to the European Union ensured that a Europeanised defence policy was unworkable, this recent initiative brings it back to its 1998 routes and re-captures the workable elements.

I think the recent Anglo-French accord also is emblematic of the age – it deals with a large amount of the more prosaic issues, like capabilities and equipment. More joint working – and not within the EU’s EDA structure. The same for maintenance, bilateral and efficient. It’s the austerity accord, a pragmatic patch-up. What’s not to like? So, my second argument is that it’s sensible austerity politics.

I think it can be said that France is our number two defence friend. America will always be our number one friend, because it has the best kit, and is closest to our cultural understanding of ourselves. We like being America’s friend, and we have a hunch that they like us too. In terms of recent history, joint operations, joint working and attempts at pooling defence capabilities, France is our second best friend. Whilst its role in the Falklands conflict was patchy, it might prove to be an invaluable friend if The Times letters column is anything to go by today. My third argument is that strengthened bilateral relations with France makes sense, because it will act as a force multiplier (potentially) and also provides us with some additional cover, something which will become more important in the next twenty to thirty years.

All best,



11 November 2010

Dear Rob, I don’t mind at all you hijacking the terms of the debate. I too am Europhile, culturally very much so, my aesthetic sense is very European–the music I like to hear, the food and drink I crave the most, the sorts of architecture I like to be around and to live in, and the landscapes that please my eye. What I do not admire is the political aspects of the ‘European Project’ specifically the European Union. In fact, I detest it, and there’s a lot not to like: its wastefulness, its meddlesomeness and, above all, its elitist and undemocratic functioning which I find very un-British. The assertion that it has prevented the return of war to the European continent is just that, an assertion–unprovable and to my mind implausible given other explanations such as the unifying effect of the Cold War, the calming presence of the United States and NATO, not to mention the very evident object lesson of mass graves, blasted cities, burned up factories and the like which took decades to put right and are even still to be observed most places in Europe without difficulty. But let’s not rehash the EU ‘what is it good is it for?’ (good God y’all, absolutely nuthin, say it again) debate which rages across the land periodically albeit inconclusively because no British government will dare to actually ask the people what they want. Let’s stick to the narrower question of the pros and cons of the recent UK-France defence team-up.

As it happens, I am not utterly unalterably opposed. It may, as you say, be good austerity politics allowing us both to obtain more for less. Moreover, as any serious student of military history and power knows the French have a very good army–hard-training, hard-fighting and well-equipped. And too it would not be the first time we have done this. It’s a pragmatic move, you say, and ‘what’s not to like?’ Well, one thing that is very much not to like is the way that it was all decided, signed and sealed and delivered. Where was the debate? This initiative, like so much else in public policy that has the word Europe attached to it, was railroaded through without much of any discusion as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Which it is not. If there had been a debate then quite a few things could have gone down on the negative side of the ledger.

For starters, Britain and France really do not see eye to eye on many quite consequential aspects of international relations. Of course this has all taken place in the shadow of Iraq which no doubt contributes to the feeling of some that having our hands tied a little in that instance might have saved us from having our fingers singed. They were against, we were for, and ten years later it would be hard to blame a lot of people for thinking they had the better view of it. But go back just a little further to mid-1990s to the Yugoslav conflict where we had quite different ideas about right and wrong, what to do to whom, when and how. Or take Rwanda–more or less all of Francophone Africa, in fact–where our policies are markedly different. The Falklands is the least of it. At least in that case they supplied technical and other data on the Exocet missiles that were sinking our ships–which was more help than the United States provided.

The truth is that the last time we teamed up with the French for something warlike was 1956 and that was a debacle from which we drew polar opposite lessons. My point here is not that we should, as the dilemma is frequently cast, be more or less close to France (or Europe) than to the United States as though we were adjusting the balance on a car stereo; it is rather that we need to have a degree of independent capability that this initiative compromises. Claims that it does not are absurd–the already too small Royal Navy is to be halved by its own admirals in order to pay for two aircraft carriers which we will share (somehow) with no airplanes at all for ten years at least. Bonkers. It makes no sense. The UK is behaving the way a man who has fallen through a frozen lake and is about to drown behaves, flailing in panic and making his situation worse by battering the ice around him when what is needed is clearheaded stock-taking and methodic self-rescue.

At the Sarkozy-Cameron press conference Sarkozy took affront at the question of a BBC journalist about what would happen in the event of an attack upon the Falklands which required the use of the shared carrier. ‘What kind of image do you have of France?’ he asked. A very apposite question which absolutely deserves a clearheaded answer. Here’s mine, for what it’s worth. I see a country which has foreign and defence policy beliefs which are different from our own. I see a country which will, when push comes to shove, act in its self-interest–and why should they not? I see a country which is led now by an unpopular man whose Atlanticist instincts are in French political terms extreme. If we could say that France for the next 50 years would exhibit the sorts of attitudes which it does now under Sarkozy then I might be somewhat mollified. But of course that is not possible and so one must consider that France is also the country of de Villepin, not to mention de Gaulle, and therefore I think it justified to fear duplicitousness, that we will one day have need of some shared capability and find it not forthcoming.

If my French friends feel insulted by this I could point out that the Americans too are fond of the expression ‘a nation has no permanent friends, only permanent interests.’ I might say that this is just the way that the world works. It’s Realism, yeah? Self-help, anarchy, the security dilemma and all that. Except I don’t actually believe that, at least not that starkly. I think that Britain has in the ‘Anglosphere’ a community with a quite high degree of shared values and interests. This includes the United States, of course, but I would say that they are the least reliable both empirically and intuitively. Why do we not try to make more of rather more deeply held cultural links with certain countries of the Commonwealth with whom we have quietly maintained a high degree of defence cooperation for decades before and since 1973? As you know, I am a naturalized Briton born in Canada not here. I still find it curious of the native British temperament that so many people have of this apparent cringe at the notion of British greatness. It’s perplexing and annoying and we need to snap out of it. I feel that the Anglo-French accords are not ’emblematic of the age’ they are merely symbolic of a nation that for too long has preferred to pull the covers over its head rather than wake up. This is the last scrap of the safety blanket. When it too is gone I wonder what we’ll cover our privates with then?

Fancy another round?

Best wishes,


12 November 2010.

Dear David,

I enjoyed your reply a lot. You have neatly boxed me in on several fronts, so let me concede some ground straight away. I cannot defend a lot of budgetary aspects of the EU and I wouldn’t want to, to be honest. The CAP is a pan-European disgrace, and whilst the new members have been frozen out of the jam for breakfast, jam for lunch and beef for dinner diet, it remains a poor indictment of an originally laudable project, which has done some good works for the more disadvantaged in our various societies. One only needs to go to Cornwall to see infrastructure funding in action. I also cannot field much of an argument against your charge that France is currently in a curiously Atlanticist frame of mind, in the context of its recent history. The only arguments I can field against this charge are found in the intelligence realm, where the French exterior intelligence service has happily and effectively played alongside British and American agencies and interests. My personal view is that it is the security sphere which will march on a pace in the next twenty years and regardless of the French political leadership, its security structures will continue to play ball – they did so under very difficult leadership in the 1980s. Our post-colonial interests have clearly clashed in the way you suggest, and whilst I am more optimistic than you about the French involvement with the Falklands, I do concede that it is a ‘threat to the model’.

I can’t let you have the absence of a political debate though. This was no more hastily negotiated and signed than those Saint Malo Accords and much of government, particularly at our end of events, is decided without reference to a grand public debate. Afterall, would the great British public be terribly chuffed with some of the hideously repressive regimes that HMG does business with, for all good strategic reasons? I wouldn’t have thought so. The Government is, as the government does, and so it should be. If the Falklands are lost because the French did something reprehensible, then the government would rightly receive an electoral drubbing. Personally, I am entirely at ease with a political system which allows us voters to make an electoral decision based on own particular foibles. The student demonstrators, so vocal and agitated this week, will probably never vote Liberal Democrat again, based on what they rightly see as Nick Clegg’s volte face on the fees issue.  

I do think you’re right when you speak of the realist understanding of the international system. And if I follow your logic on then it makes perfect sense for the UK to hedge their bets and seek to spread their risks across more than one key global player (hence the parallel developments with Brazil and India) . I think it makes sense to try and take advantage of the synergies we might enjoy with our nearest neighbour, and also it will help us constrain them in Europe – talk of European armies and joint defence (outside of NATO) are next to impossible if the UK and France sit in the box seat of European defence politics, rather than France on its own. Perhaps it might even lead the French down a more permanent line of Atlanticism? None of us can accurately predict how this will pan out, but I am quietly hopeful for a series of positive results: this may be British greatness secured through networks of influence.. not quite the same as the cartographic pink, but the best we can hope for right now?

Best wishes,



12 November 2010

Dear Rob, thank you for conceding the indefensible which saves us both time and energy. It only remains for me to assail the final redoubt around which you have erected a flimsy cordon. No, wait, I can’t resist one aside. Why venture to Cornwall to see the results of two decades of EU ‘infrastructure investment’? Go to Newcastle and see six decades of state life support. The results will not please you. Readers, it was Rob’s birthday yesterday so he will not have watched yesterday’s Newsnight report on EU ‘infrastructure investments’ such as the quarter million on a Hungarian dog physical rehabilitation clinic—a strange sort of investment that would have been if it had actually been spent on that instead of just going into someone’s pocket, as it did—or the city of Naples using its cultural investment money to book an Elton John concert. Oh well, to the EUrocrats it’s all ‘stimulus’, pure economic goodness whatever it’s actually spent on. There’s a theory behind this, I recall it was popular in Roman days, it’s called ‘Bread and Circuses’. Ah, The Fall of Rome. Happy Days.

But I digress. Let’s deal with the cordon. You mention intelligence sharing which I shall, in turn, concede is a good thing. This is more your area than mine; however, I was given to understand that a good deal of effective intelligence sharing was going on even before these accords, their being self-evident self-interest on the part of all to do it they have done so. These accords, however, rather indicate a larger form of sharing. In particular, sharing of defence technology (how else do you run a joint aircraft carrier?) including on the Holy of Holies, the nuclear deterrent.

In such light it is noteworthy that while our own PM was in China this week drumming up business, so too was Sarkozy on a trip of his own the week before. On that trip he announced some £20 billion (actually I can’t recall if it was Euros or Dollars, anyway a lot) in contracts across a suite of technologies including defence. Now what do you think is the likelihood that France and the United States see the desirability of certain technology transfers to China in the same way? And since France and UK are now playing sharesies how do you reckon the Americans might look upon the UK-US status quo? Dimly, one presumes. So, what have we gotten from the deal? The potential screwing up of a relationship that means a lot in order to… what exactly are we getting from France again?

And now the last redoubt: ‘None of us can accurately predict how this will pan out, but I am quietly hopeful for a series of positive results: this may be British greatness secured through networks of influence… not quite the same as the cartographic pink, but the best we can hope for right now?’ Ah, hope. Quite. Who was it that said ‘hope is not a strategy’? Genius, that man.

Alas, though presumptuous of me to say so, while I stand on the wreckage of your battlements, the battle won is really not. Because in the real world the country has been sold a pup, again, and there’s f’all to be done about it.


24 thoughts on “Anglo-French Defence Cooperation – A Conversation Between Friends?

    • David Betz says:

      Well, you did claim first strike, after all. If you set the terms of the debate you can’t blame me for claiming the conclusion. Anyway, we’ve got these comments thingies in which to go on and on and on…

  1. Formerly Grant says:

    To start I will thank both writers for mentioning the Falklands only five times as it seems that the only thing anyone else can find to speak of are the Falklands.
    On the matter of debate I still find it interesting that this was done so quickly. Without more information I’m forced to see it as one of those differences between the U.S and the U.K.
    To me this alliance seems to be one of necessity, which can be the best kind. The U.K and France are obviously dealing with budget constraints and neither is really a security threat to the other. Of course issues such as aircraft carriers might come up but unless the U.K would like to enter some kind of partnership with the U.S I’m not sure how the deal with France could be avoided.
    I’ll will admit that I’m something of a Europhile (or perhaps an EU-phile) and so my view of the matter is colored by my hopes for Europe and as a left-leaning American I don’t share British concerns for the Falklands but I think that there are worse experiments to make at the moment.

    • Rob Dover says:

      The concern over those islands extends on the points: it’s ours and we don’t like giving up territory.. bar the third of globe we once controlled. Detail, mere detail. That it’s become a political touchstone, no government could ever concede on it. It’s unclear how long it would take for such a touchstone to melt away. The line that British citizens on the Falklands wish to remain under our wing is difficult to beat. And lastly, there appears to be some mineral wealth nearby…

  2. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    Great post. Really like the format. We need to do it more often.

    Not that my two bits matters in this, but I loathe the European project. It is the very essence of ersatz. A confection wrapped in a boondoggle inside a self-congratulatory nonsense. Whether you credit the various eurocrats or the member states, it is a trough designed to fit as many snouts in at once. CAP is more than a European disgrace, it is a global tragedy. Lucky thing for everyone that Germany has deep pockets and a guilty conscience…Reminds me of another international organisation recently mentioned in these pages…

    But this agreement between Cameron and Sarkozy is not about the European Project. It is a bilateral political solution to a handful of domestic problems. I agree that the only thing more pathetic to invoking Las Islas Malvinas is referring to the ‘Loss of Singapore’. More port for Admiral Melchit, please. In the American vernacular, ‘That dog don’t hunt.’ The only people lamenting the loss of Singapore can’t find their teeth in the morning and smell faintly of pee and Wurther’s Originals.

    However, one does not have to imagine divergent defence interests emerging between France and Britain. One need only look at the conduct of and objects pursued by both countries in the Balkans. Call it strategic culture, call it styles of warfare, call it je ne sais quoi, but at the tactical, operational, strategic, and political levels France and Britain may have been working side by side in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, but they were not always in step. It will be interesting to see how this cooperation works in practice, when it comes against a wrinkle in the carpet. Après vous, messieurs, je vous en prie!

    • Rob Dover says:

      I have to confess that I thought the same as you when I read the comments on Singapore. How many school age kids even know it was ours once? Anyhow, the CAP is a disgrace because it hasn’t been reformed. Protectionism on a very core area definitely has its place (unless one is an unreconstructed free-marketeer and doesn’t mind the end of agriculture in the EU), but my problem is more that French agriculture keeps saying ‘yes, yes, we’ll mend our ways’.. and then does precisely nothing. That’s the disgrace of it.

  3. olaf says:

    The first thing I thought when I read about this cooperation treaty valid over the next 50 years was: they must really be broke. If ever a British government could have avoided such a policy it would have done so. Of course, this contract is being sold as a sober, technically and politically sound decision (which is right), but as we know, there are few political decisions that are made without paying attention to irrational aspects.

    Starting a public discussion on this contract would instantly have triggered a huge tabloid campaign against it, and fuelled demands for a referendum on “national sovereignty”. Europe is administered in a complex system of multi-layered governance, with some elements of sovereignty being at local level, some on district, départment, Bundesland level, some at parliament at the capital, and some beyond national single responsibilities. Financial independence as represented by a national currency is fiction, as we could see during the last inter-national crash. The other central element, defence, will probably go the same way.

    A discussion on national defence, especially as it (publically) remaines the stronghold of outdated dreams of national independence and unmitigated sovereignty (the true world includes for example the European Defence Agency) would surely have provided a strong rationale to force a referendum. Its result would have been clear from the outset, because the subject matter of the poll would have disappeared under piles of SUN and DAILY MAIL, and would eventually have become the strawman beaten in place of the Lisbon treaty.

    This had to be avoided because this cooperation – treaty does not come deep from the heart of those who have signed it, but results from the down-to-earth appreciation of facts: no European state is able to afford an independent, reliable, all sing all dance military defence capability…let alone a nuclear deterrence, or just two carrier groups plus aircraft.

    This treaty – like St. Malo agreed without any discussion – was impossible to avoid. Without this treaty the UK would probably have had to choose between aircraft carrier(s) with aircraft or Trident.

    Well, the admiralty would have preferred the carriers because they are so important to defend the Falklands…but what about the Nukes then?


    • Formerly Grant says:

      There are reasons why the opinion of the public is so important. The greatest claim to legitimacy a government can have is that the citizens chose it to be the government. Admittedly the roar of the crowd can drown out reason but we have to accept that the public has a place in policy. In this instance I’d say that a fairly good decision was made but the U.K government shouldn’t get too used to it.

  4. My own views are (now) heavily coloured by reading Robert Dover’s book; The Europeanization of British Defence Policy, though this is coloured by my own views which are deeply EECphile and EUskeptic.

    Taken at face value I am delighted with the entente excepting those areas where either nation is dependent on the other (really: where Britain is dependent on France), because ambitions and goals of either nations foreign policy do not have a history of concordance.

    For this reason i am delighted we are to share transport and air-refuelling assets, but unhappy that we will be dependent on French maritime reconnaissance planes.

    Likewise I am delighted that intergovernmental treaties (NATO) will remain the cornerstone of european defence as opposed to supra-national bodies (EU), but unhappy that the current carrier plan only goes as far as operating one of the QE class.

    My own writing on the entente:

    • Rob Dover says:

      The post on your blog is a very good analysis. I’d recommend people reading it.

      Securing long term preferences I think can be seen in this approach. I think this is as much about constraining French policy as it is a positive articulation of our own views (much as Saint Malo was).

      Thanks for your contribution!

    • Cheers Rob,

      By constraining French policy do you mean by locking them into an inter-governmental framework, to the exclusion of a supra-national replacement?


    • Rob Dover says:

      No problem. Sincerely meant!

      Yes, I suppose I do mean that, in effect. I meant it originally in the general sense of constraining French preferences, but ultimately I think your proposition amounts to the same thing!

  5. First off, I’m surprised that this bottom-up deal has generated so much theological debate, so much soul-searching on UK-US, UK-EU relations etc. on your side of the Channel – and to think that the French are generally accused of not being pragmatic …

    In line with that, I find it quite strange that the two of you start your comments on the entente by discussing the pros and cons of the EU. Paris is not Brussels, and this is not a EU-UK « integrationist » deal, but a Franco-British, or FRUK (yes, what the…), bilateral agreement. As such, this deal is fairly neutral regarding the EU’s ESDP or NATO for that matter. In fact, we’ve taken heat from core ESDP believers about it ( But even us duplicitous French can’t possibly betray Britain and Europe at the same time.

    Second, you get so much into the discussion about EU integration that you say precious little on the specifics of this agreement. Now that’s very strange, considering that this agreement is all about capabilities, how to share them and get the best bang out of a very weak buck. This is not Saint-Malo 2, but a fresh start from a very different perspective.

    David, you claim that the deal was not debated. This is quite wrong, especially in Britain. There has been a flurry of seminars, conferences, and papers for the past year or so on the subject – and to indulge in some shameless self-promotion, here’s my own ‘Entente or Oblivion’, written in English no less ( It’s also my understanding that officials were quietly discussing such a deal way before the May elections (see the Green Paper).
    Debating when and why the UK and France disagreed is also rather useless, as sharp disagreements have never prevented pragmatic cooperation when national interests meet on specific subjects – witness the US-French intel cooperation in 2003, right in the midst of one the worst crises in bilateral (and transatlantic) relations.

    By the way (I can’t resist this): Suez was a military success torpedoed by our American friends. You’re quite right that our two nations drew opposite conclusions from that. At the time, however, British reactions were as outraged and strident as French ones.

    Third, the only two things that should really be discussed are :
    – For which capabilities does it make the most financial and military sense to cooperate and share?
    – How to minimize strategic dependency, and therefore political friction, while cooperating?
    Here, I fail to see why “this initiative compromises the degree of independent capability” that Britain should try to retain. We don’t know yet the specifics regarding the “sharing” of carriers, but some kind of crew swapping scheme for a third carrier owned in common or rented by FR or the UK could make sense for instance, if the technical details are worked out right. Anyway, as F Grant points out, what compromises your (and our) independent capability is lack of money, not cooperation. Actually, it’s the other way round: we cooperate in order to salvage whatever can be salvaged in terms of capabilities out of this financial wreck.

    Fourth, what do you get out of that ? Well, you’ll save quite a lot of money out of the nuclear stockpile stewardship (‘EPURE’) deal. And it should prove easier to retain your naval aviation know-how. Note also that this is just a first round, and that cooperation could be extended further in the future – just one example: we might be interested in renting some of your Chinooks once the demand generated by Afghanistan recede.

    Fith and final point (sorry for the long post), David is quite right to point out that Sarkozy might prove the exception to the rule, with a French socialist willing to advance ESDP (or whatever the acronym will be by then) after the 2012 election. But then again maybe not, as the financial pressure builds up inexorably.

    I have made the case for the FRUK deal on Ultima Ratio in French but I see now that I will have to continue doing it for some time on both sides of the Channel. Messieurs les Anglais…

    • Formerly Grant says:

      It’s interesting that you mentioned the Suez Canal incident, in the States we don’t think of it much except occasionally as something to be exasperated over. To a French (or British) perspective was it really that ground shaking?

    • I concur. Suez took place just after Dien Bien Phu and while international and US pressure on Algeria was growing, meaning that the French felt betrayed by the US twice in the course of 2 years. Don’t forget also that Khrushchev issued explicit nuclear threats against our two countries. Bottom line: no need to dig deeper than that to explain why building and retaining an independent nuclear deterrent has proved so consensual in France ever since. British reaction to that trauma was quite different: never again to end up on the wrong side of the US. However, the post Cold War, post 9/11 environment has ended this “Suez paradigm”, slowly forcing the two nations to revise their long-standing preferences.

    • David Betz says:

      Etienne, thank you for a thoughtful and considerate reply. If I may respond in turn.

      First, perhaps the angst is not surprising if you think that Britain has more or less fudged the question of its identity for years and years now. Perhaps we’re just coming to the point of actually deciding that we can’t sit on the fence much longer. Anyway, I think the stereotype of the English was/is practicality rather than pragmatism. And aloofness ranks high there too.

      Second, on this side of the Channel I think it quite natural to see everything through the EU integration prism because there is a consistent pattern of things which are indeed about that being presented as ‘nothing like it’ or ‘just a minor change’, that is to say the very definition of the salami slice. Thsoe who are broadly EUrophile don’t complain because however underhand it may be they like the direction of travel. Those who are broadly EUrophobe raise the roof however minor the change because they hate the direction of travel.

      Anyway, on the point of debate. Put it this way, I rarely miss tv news on BBC1 and BBC2. I turn on radio 4 when I wake and turn it off when I go to bed–switching to the World Service only when I hear the theme from The Archers start. I read at least one of the sensible papers per day and the Guardian or Independent whenever someone leaves a copy on the train. I absorb a lot of news, in other words; and I struggle to think of an article in which talk of a 50 year treaty with France on these matters was discussed.

      Now it is true that there have been various seminars. There are seminars on lots of things. As it happens I attended the RUSI event at which you gave the paper–which you did eloquently, with style and, it seemed to me, to the appreciation of much of the audience. I was in a minority, a) in rejecting the premise of entente or oblivion which I think is false (truly, we face oblivion if we don’t do this with France? A bit of hyperbole, no? And what exactly does entente bring us that we desperately need at a cost which does not exceed the considerable risks which I have noted?), and b) in mentioning The Commonwealth* as something which the strategy unit might wish to have just a small thought about when looking at the whole complex of our options in the big bad mad world. The latter was received with all the welcome of a fart in a lift. I recall leaving that conference on British strategy leading up to the SDSR with the sinking feeling that they were going to make a bunch of bad short-term decisions while kicking all of the long-term decisions another four years down the road. I was 95 per cent right, I think. They did do all that but they ALSO made a crappy 50 year long decision too.

      Third, do you think that what makes financial and military sense are the same thing? Personally I don’t think that they are really that much in alignment. There is a certain amount of financial logic to what has happened. Short-term, in my opinion, but as I see it that above all was what this review was about. The Treasury is quite happy to set the services against each other right now and let them knife each other. As long as the bill is lower at the end I don’t think they care what limbs are cut off and what are not. As I said, I’m not utterly opposed to cooperation with France which we have done before in our history when at need. But what is it that this partnership brings now? The main benefit would seem to me the carriers and the aircraft on them. That’s good. But if we were to pick an area where there was likely to be a great deal of FRUKing friction surely it is most likely to be in the kind of contingency where we (or you) want to go somewhere and drop a bomb on someone and you (or we) don’t feel similarly inclined.

      Fourth, OK maybe we save on stewardship of our nuclear stockpile. Maybe. At the same time we kind of complicate a 6 decades long relationship with the Americans on nuclear technology. I’m not expert on this area but it seems evident there are swings and roundabouts here and I find it hard to accept that what is on the table is anything like an unalloyed good. Moreover: ‘and this is just a first round…’ DING! DING! DING! Etienne (if I may) this is exactly what critics fear. Note point 2. It does not help the case for the FRUK relationship which seems of ambiguous utility to start with to then say ‘and this is just the beginning.’

      Fifth, well I guess not much to add here except that it does rather suggest that this whole 50 year relationship is based on financial contingency rather than much shared strategic outlook or genuity comity. I retain a dim view of it.

      *On the matter of the Commonwealth, by contrast, as I’ve noted before on this blog Britain and Australia are building their new minesweeper together and, rumour is, they are also working toward an agreement on co-development of a submarine. This is to the good. Effective cooperation and value for money. I wonder if anyone in the RN has talked to the Canadians lately about their concerns. Somewhere in the next 15-20 years it is likely that they will have an ice free arctic archipelago to patrol. There’s no military airfield up there and the US cannot be relied upon in this instance because from the Canadian point of view on this issue the US is part of the problem. Now aren’t the Canadians set to replace their elderly F18s soon? Isn’t the F18 an absolutely great naval aircraft? Isn’t it quite plausible that when JSF fails to come in on price we too might make the sensible choice for F18s (plus drones)? Has anybody suggested that if the Canadians buy new F18s with a reinforced undercarriage they too might have an operable naval aviation capability that they haven’t had in four and a half decades at a time and in a place where they could really use one? I’m really all for making our defence expenditure go further but I’m wearied by the narrowness of the debate which is always cast as though the choices were the US, or Europe or nothing. I don’t believe it.

      Incidentally, I see that Adam Roberts has weighed into on the issue with characteristic bombast and some lightness on fact–Russia is not building 6 new aircraft carriers it doesn’t even have shipyards big enough for one new aircraft carrier. In fact it is buying 4 French helicopter carriers, which is great, I think, but kind of a head scratcher if you reckon one of the reasons for this FRUK deal is the threat from resurgent Russia. Anyway, here’s Roberts:

      Wall Street Journal (Europe)
      November 5, 2010

      Entente Suicidal
      The Anglo-French pact covers all British defense concerns—London just signed it with the wrong country.
      Andrew Roberts

      Great Britain desperately needed to sign a 50-year defense pact with a close ally to protect her dwindling military resources and retain the power to project force in the world. A comprehensive deal with a key, trustworthy partner involving nuclear intelligence, aircraft carriers, joint expeditionary forces, satellite communications, cyber-warfare capabilities, and air-to-air refueling and drone technologies has been badly needed given Britain’s vicious defense cuts. The Anglo-French Pact that was signed on Tuesday covers all these areas and more. The only problem is that it was signed with the wrong country.
      Just as it did diplomatically at the time of the original Entente Cordiale in 1904, Britain has managed to tie herself into a comprehensive arrangement with a power that is declining militarily even faster than herself. France spends less on defense even than Britain, has only one aircraft carrier to Britain’s two, has at best a revolving-door relationship with NATO’s integrated military structure, failed dismally at its last serious military endeavor (Bosnia, where it effectively sided with the Serbs), contributes far smaller forces in Afghanistan than Britain despite having a larger army, and tried to prevent the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. (It was General Schwarzkopf who remarked that “Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without an accordion.”)
      Only two years ago, a leaked French government document stated that “most” of France’s tanks, helicopters and jet fighters were unusable and its defense capabilities were “falling apart.” Yet this is the nation that the British government has chosen to hitch itself to for the next half-century, in a world in which Russia has adopted a 65% increase in its defense budget over three years and is building six new nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and eight ballistic missile submarines, while China is creating a new generation of submarines, stealth aircraft, long-range surface-to-air missiles and guided intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
      Small wonder that President Nicolas Sarkozy looked so pleased on Tuesday. He has effectively been saved from making even tougher spending decisions than the €3.5 billion in cuts planned for the French defense budget. It won’t be long before future shortfalls and failures can be blamed on the British government, which has cut the Royal Navy to only 25 major surface vessels and reduced the Royal Air Force to only half the personnel it had in 1990.
      The career of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which in a few years will constitute Britain and France’s sole fully armed carrier strike force, has been, at best, chequered. Former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing described it as a “half-aircraft-carrier” after its flight deck had to be extended following sea trials, a nuclear reactor trial triggered the combustion of isolation elements in February 2000, and then seven months later the port propeller broke in the western Atlantic, forcing it to return to Toulon, where it was discovered that the starboard and the spare propellers were also faulty. (The supplier, Atlantic Industries, had already gone bankrupt.) All the documents relating to the propellers’ design and fabrication were lost in a mysterious fire. Then, between July and October 2001, strange noises as loud as 100 decibels near the starboard propeller rendered the aft areas uninhabitable, and the following month there was a toxic gas leak. It has since been refitted, but nonetheless this is the vessel on which the defense of Britain will effectively depend in the future.
      Much of the criticism of this pact has focused on the fact that French generals will at times command Britain’s Special Air Service, or SAS, and that French permission would be required before Britain could recapture the Falkland Islands, an issue President Sarkozy pointedly ducked on Tuesday.
      But these are merely headline issues that speak to Britons’ sense of national humiliation that financial cutbacks have forced this pact upon us. Far more serious is the problem former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton identified: “People don’t appreciate how much U.S.-U.K. cooperation relies on intelligence sharing and how much information we share with the U.K. that we don’t share with France or Germany. Inevitably the risk with this is that American methods and sources will be compromised and it is going to have a very profound effect.” Joint nuclear testing with France involves giving away British nuclear secrets, most of which have come from the U.S., a source of vital specialized knowledge that might well now start to dry up.
      For all the protestations of the British government that the Americans are delighted with this pact, the recent remarks of both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make it clear that they would have much preferred what most Britons want too: properly funded British armed forces. As Commander John Muxworthy of the United Kingdom National Defense Association points out: “The idea that the United Kingdom—the sixth largest economy in the world—can no longer afford adequate defense is utterly ludicrous.”
      If the special relationship is in any way compromised by Britain’s decision to share cost-cutting with the French instead of spending the 3% of GDP that it ought to and in the past promised, then this pact will be seen as disastrous. It is with the United States of America that Britain should be signing comprehensive, 50-year offensive and defensive alliances, not France, and not out of a niggardly attempt to save money in a world where real perils are ever-present, as the British government’s own Strategic Defense Review recently acknowledged.
      Putting his bravest face on the situation, the new Chief of the Defense Staff, General Sir David Richards, told the BBC: “From a purely practical military perspective, we have been working very closely with the French ever since the First World War, but particularly in NATO.”
      If filling in the gaps on the Western front after the French army mutinied in 1917, sinking the French fleet at Oran in 1940 and being bombed in Gibraltar by the Vichy air force in retaliation, capturing Lebanon and Syria from the French in 1941, invading French North Africa and Madagascar in 1942, opposing French policy toward Bosnia, Rwanda and latterly Iraq, while watching General de Gaulle expel all NATO forces from France, can possibly be described as “working very closely with the French ever since the First World War,” then General Richards is right. If not, then it is—like the defense pact itself—merely wishful thinking.
      Mr. Roberts is a historian and the author, most recently, of “The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War” (Allen Lane, 2009).

    • Formerly Grant says:

      I do have to note it was a bit hard to read such a long piece and it might have been better to provide a link to the WSJ article.

      On Mr. Roberts, I suggest we take his advice with a grain of salt. As I am not greatly familiar with him I won’t say that his advice on state dealings is useless but I recall a certain article by him three years ago that made more than a few questionable statements including:

      1. Outright equating militant Islam to fascism to the point of even using the discredited phrase ‘islamofascism’ (something that should make anyone who has studied fascism cringe)

      2. An implication that the U.S.S Maine was sunk by the Spanish when this has not been conclusively proven

      3. Arguing that if the U.S and England were to leave Iraq and Afghanistan it would put the English speaking world in danger similar to that of NAZI Germany or the Soviet Union, even stating in regards to Afghanistan “Once again, therefore, the English-speaking peoples find themselves in the forefront of protecting civilization”

      I will reiterate that I have do not have a great familiarity with the person in question but his writing leaves me with serious concerns about taking his advice on strategic matters. His full article can be found at the Christian Science Monitor (link provided below)

    • David Betz says:

      FG, you have a very good shock absorber on your browser called the scroll button. I pasted the Roberts article because someone had sent it to me in email and I was too lazy to go find the link. I also assumed that WSJ was behind a paywall whether this is true or not. Anyway, on the matter of the Roberts piece I meant it as an example of the two poles that dominate this debate. The one claiming it’s France or the end while the other says its the US or nothing. I don’t think that either need be the case.

      Anyway, on Roberts he is certainly a prolific and admired popular historian. I quite liked Master and Commander and also History of the English Speaking Peoples. I’ve got his latest Storm of War on my mp3 player while I run. Easy reading popular history. But it’s not so much his historical judgement which is questioned as his contemporary strategic guidance. I agree he plays fast and loose with certain facts, such as the 6 Russian aircraft carriers now ‘being buily’ which are in fact not being built at all.

      On Islamo-fascism I don’t agree. Certainly its use has been disparaged and its use has come to be seen as a sure symptom of Neo-Conism but I don’t really see the problem with it. Al Qaeda and its ilk draw their ideology at least as much from Western sources as they do Islam and ‘fascism’ is a reasonbly fair descriptor of those sources. True, the term ‘fascist’ is widely and sloppily used as a general term of abuse. But in its proper sense there seems to me quite a lot of commonality between the fascists of the mid 20th century and those labelled Islamo-fascists today.

      The rejection of the Enlightenment and what they see as the shallow materialism and individual self-indulgence of the West is the same. The belief in the therapeutic power of violence is the same. The glorification of the Volk and of martial power is the same. The fascination with death/contempt for life, their own as well as others, is the same. The obsession with the unique evil of Jews is the same. Personally I don’t use the term because others are sufficiently effective for most purposes and because it’s a red flag to a bull for some people but I don’t agree that it is discredited at all.

    • David, thanks for your detailed and careful answer. I should have answered sooner but was attending a French-German strategic dialogue workshop where incidentally the FRUK deal got once more attacked as betraying ESDP. I’ll try and be quicker next time.

      1/ Again, this deal between the UK and France is neither with the EU nor a trap to drag you guys into the EU in a salami fashion. When I said more might come, I meant at the bilateral (and technical) level: on choppers, logistics, training infrastructure, munitions stockpile and the like. If FRUK is one day extended, it will in all likelihood remain within a bilateral or “multi-bilateral” framework – interestingly, some German officials around the table yesterday wondered aloud about a possible “ménage à trois” or “ménage à quatre” with Poland included down the road. Given German attitudes towards defence and political realities in their country, however, let’s just say there’s a long way to go.

      2/ The “Oblivion” thing. The simple reply could be “never pass up a catchy title, however hyperbolic”. But in fact I’m dead serious about it. The salami phenomenon you mentioned is all too real, but not because of the FRUK deal or cooperations in general. It’s exactly what’s been taking place in your country and mine for the past 20 years: the simultaneous demands of readiness, modernisation and operations have hollowed out our militaries, with successive rounds of cuts in both overall force volume and capabilities (SEAD ops, amphibious warfare, stealth techno etc., and a British Army that will soon fit in the Wembley stadium). Do you find that to be OK? If not, what do you intend to do about it? Commonwealth? You’ll remember that during that RUSI conference, someone suggested that Britain should rather cooperate with Pakistan than with France. A question of trust I guess. Seriously, neither Australia nor Canada have the technological base (or financial wherewithal) required to work on attack subs or UCAVs. If you intersect political will and technological base, there’re simply very few countries around. If nothing’s done, and fast, we will have passed the point of no return. It takes 10 years to raise a regiment from scratch. And at least as much for research departments. Do you think we will have the political will and financial strength to reconstitute once the crisis is over? I think not. Therefore we’ll just slide into strategic irrelevance, like the rest of Europe, and end up as regular contributors to UN PKO like the Nordics. If, from a strategic perspective, this is not oblivion, what is?

      3/ Why not just the US then, as you suggested for nuclear stuff, and why the French? The French want to ensure that they won’t end up alone in Europe in the nuclear game, so that’s a political reason but a solid reason nonetheless. But in truth – sorry that I have to be blunt here – Britain has little to offer here: from a technical and financial perspective, it’s a sweet deal for you, and would be a complete one-way street for Uncle Sam. BTW, and according to a top Pentagon official whom I asked about it, the whole deal, nuclear and conventional, has their blessing. Their only worry: that our two governments don’t use bilateral cooperation as an excuse to cut defence budgets even further.

      4/ To sum it up: you’re right that future governments on both sides could undo the whole thing. It’s fragile precisely because it’s bilateral and non institutionalised – you can’t have it both ways. And yes, there could be trouble with capability sharing, if we want the same stuff at the same time for different operations. But that risk can be managed well in advance at the technical level. Finally, I won’t dignify Mr Roberts’ Frog-bashing orgy with a proper answer. Suffice it to say that A/ most of it is lies, distorted facts, and crass prejudice (ask the Serbs if we were with them in Bosnia) B/ I can on any day write something similar on “la perfide Albion” C/ shame on him for what he says of World War 1 – one of the greatest, if dearly bought, FRUK victory ever.

    • Rob Dover says:

      Do you happen to know whether this was negotiated in a similar way to Saint Malo 1998 or in a slightly less frenetic pace? The implication for some of what was written above (I’ve lost track of this enormous page now!) is that the pre-election Conservatives had done some of the negotiating with their French counterparts. I’m just interested! Saint Malo was a particular kind of diplomatic moment, my hunch is that this is far better thought out.

  6. Sorry, I should have included up front a long post warning!
    I can confirm that negotiations or rather discussions had been underway for something like two years prior to the FRUK accord. I’m not aware of a pre-election Conservative involvement. The two MoDs were involved, and I would bet that the previous Cabinet Office was involved too. The Elysée certainly was. In short, Rob you’re absolutely right: this time around, there was real preparation and serious thinking.
    BTW, French security circles always have been in favour of an intergovernmental approach, and overwhelmingly so. Very few people, even on the (serious) left, advocate the supranational route for defence.

    • “BTW, French security circles always have been in favour of an intergovernmental approach, and overwhelmingly so. Very few people, even on the (serious) left, advocate the supranational route for defence.”

      That is very reassuring to hear, thank you.

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