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Britain and France lack the budgets to back their ambitions

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  • Britain and France lack the budgets to back their ambitions

    Britain and France lack the budgets to back their ambitions
    Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent
    Britain and France lack the budgets to back their ambitions | News

    The new Anglo-French military agreement is an entente not so much cordiale as practical — or pratique as I suppose we have to say now.

    France and Britain are two medium powers with global ambitions, but less than global budgets to support them.

    So why not work together on military projects and missions where there is the same aim?

    Much of the detail has still to be worked out. The co-operation will cover three main areas; of using common equipment, training together in a variety of roles and tasks, and having the ability to put together a joint task force.

    It will not mean a surrender of sovereignty — a political Trojan horse leading to an all-European army. It will not mean Britain and France sharing aircraft carriers — at least not yet. Nor will it mean mixed British and French brigades like the Franco-German brigade of the Cold War years, which was little more than a diplomatic fig leaf in camouflage.

    There is a lot of co-operation already at the tactical level. British and French paratroops have often trained together. British forces were under a French supreme allied commander, Marshal Foch, in the First World War.

    A combined French and British artillery brigade, backed by Dutch heavy mortars, brought the siege of Sarajevo to an end in 1995. “The French and British armies are lot more similar in the way they go about things than they are to the Americans,” one British general told me. Of course French forces won't be involved in specific British interests, such as the defence of the Falklands — as British troops wouldn't be called to serve in specific areas of interest governed by French local agreements and treaties.

    However, there are several areas where French and British forces are already working together — in the anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, for example and in the tracking of al Qaeda from the Gulf and Red Sea down through eastern and central Africa.

    One small thought: this time a lot of British officers and NCOs are going to have to learn good military French — and no doubt the Foreign Legion is getting ready to help them out in this.
    2 November 2010 Last updated at 09:54 ET
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    Cameron and Sarkozy hail UK-France defence treaties
    BBC News - Cameron and Sarkozy hail UK-France defence treaties
    David Cameron has said new treaties on defence and nuclear co-operation with France marked a "new chapter" in a long history of defence cooperation.

    Speaking alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the UK PM said it would make both countries' citizens safer and would save money.

    A centre will be set up in the UK to develop nuclear testing technology and another in France to carry it out.

    The leaders also confirmed plans for a joint army expeditionary force.

    After both leaders signed the two treaties, Mr Cameron said: "Today we open a new chapter in a long history of co-operation on defence and security between Britain and France."
    'Hard-headed co-operation'

    He said it was not about a European army or about sharing nuclear weapons.

    "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."
    Continue reading the main story
    image of Paul Reynolds Paul Reynolds World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

    The plan to share aircraft carriers looks as if it will be quite ambitious. David Cameron talked of developing an "integrated strike force" to be used in jointly agreed operations.

    At the same time both sides are saying they will have a veto on the use of their carrier. This raises the "South Atlantic question".

    What would happen, for example, if Britain needed the only available carrier, which happened to be the French one, to defend some threat to the Falklands? And the same for the French with the British carrier of course.

    President Sarkozy evaded a query on this, saying that France would not "twiddle its thumbs", though that is precisely what it did in 1982.

    It is perhaps a mark of the confidence between the two countries that they do not think this will be a real problem.

    * Q&A: UK-French defence deal
    * The view from France
    * Nick Robinson: The entente frugale

    But Mr Cameron said the vast bulk of Britain's military operations over the past few decades had been carried out with allies and said co-operating on testing nuclear warheads would save millions of pounds.

    "It is about defending our national interest. It is about practical, hard-headed co-operation between two sovereign countries."

    He added that one treaty would commit the two countries' forces to work "more closely than ever before" while the other - to last 50 years - would increase co-operation on "nuclear safety".

    The nuclear treaty will establish a centre in the UK to develop testing technology and another one in France to carry out the testing. Warheads will be tested by technical means to ensure their safety and effectiveness, without having to test them by explosion.

    The other treaty will allow the setting up of a "combined joint expeditionary force", thought to involve a brigade of about 5,000 soldiers from each side which will operate under one military commander to be chosen at the time.

    The UK and France have also agreed to keep at least one aircraft carrier at sea between them at any one time. Each will be able to use the other's carrier in some form, certainly for training and possibly operations.

    Mr Sarkozy described the agreement as "unprecedented". He said the treaties would deliver "a truly integrated aircraft carrier group" but dismissed suggestion that they would infringe on either country's sovereignty.
    Carrier sharing

    The two leaders faced questions about what would happen if one country backed a military operation and the other did not. Mr Cameron said there would have to be "political agreement" for the joint taskforce to be deployed.

    Mr Sarkozy said it would be unlikely that Britain would face a crisis so great that it needed an aircraft carrier without France being affected: "If you, my British friends, have to face a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed, saying that it's none of our business?"
    Graph showing size of defence forces

    The summit comes two weeks after the UK government announced cuts to its armed forces as part of savings aimed at reducing the country's budget deficit.

    Defence Secretary Liam Fox told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while Britain did not have to think about buying new warheads until 2019 - they had to maintain the current warheads and it made sense to be involved in developing the facilities to do so.

    "That's a big cost saving to our taxpayers on both sides of the Channel but it does give us the ability to maintain separate nuclear deterrent programmes."

    The treaty will also allow France to use British A400M fuelling aircraft when there is spare capacity, with plans in place for common maintenance and training and there will be joint work on drones, mine counter-measures and satellite communications.
    Continue reading the main story
    Equipment UK France
    Aircraft carriers
    Aircraft carrier
    2 1
    7 12
    12 10
    jet fighter
    233 342
    Battle tanks
    battle tank
    345 451
    Nuclear warheads
    255 300

    Sources: IHS / Jane's /Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

    In a statement, the French presidency said the nuclear test centre in Valduc, eastern France, would start operations in 2014.

    The Valduc laboratory would work with a French-British research centre based in Aldermaston, Berkshire, it added.

    Together the facilities would involve "several dozen" French and British experts and cost both countries several million euros.

    The UK's shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: "I support the government's emphasis on international co-operation, taking forward the good work of the last government.

    "We share common threats with countries such as France, from terrorism to privacy to cyber-attack. Deepening military ties is an essential part of modern defence policy.

    "Interdependence, however, is different from dependence, and binding legal treaties pose some big questions for the government."

    Mr Murphy also questioned whether the the UK was entering "an era where we are reliant on our allies to fill in the gaps in the government's defence policy".
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway