While there have been many important news items recently, the agreements between the UK and France signed on 2 November 2010 to co-operate on military matters strike me as something monumental. Co-operating on nuclear facility and carriers – big kits in the armoury – is not something that’s done easily or lightly. It is not just a new entente cordiale, but an entente militaire, which may well lead to a more profound relationship between Britain and France.
Don’t under-estimate the French
In the famous line uttered by groundskeeper Willie, the French are cheese-eating surrender monkeys. This is somewhat ironic coming from an auld ally, but it reflects a general tendency in Anglophone media and minds to dismiss France as a second-rate military power. True, France is not in the league of the USA, China or Russia. But then, neither is Britain. Within Europe (excluding Russia), Britain and France stand out for their military strengths and ability. They are nuclear powers, and possess the personnel and the will to fight in different terrains. No other country within Europe can come close to these two states. Neither state is so large as able to more or less dictate the other: this is a partnership of equals.
To use an oft-used phrase employed by the writers of how-to-succeed-in-business books, 1 + 1 = more than 2. A combined British-French military is a formidable force, which will be acknowledged by other large military powers. There are naturally difficulties associated when two forces, each with a very proud military tradition, co-operate. Language of command, for example, may cause problems. Or something seemingly even more trivial. There is a danger that each country feels that it the other has gained more from the agreements. Be as that may, with sufficient will and flexibility, this will work well. Good military always has to be practical and adapt flexibility, otherwise it will run the risk of perishing.
A new Franco-British axis?
As mentioned above, military co-operation of this depth cannot be without political repercussions. These agreements could herald a new Franco-British axis in European and international politics and influence. Britain and France in unison will have more weight than Germany within Europe, and they will have a strong voice in world affairs, since they both are permanent members of the UNSC, and both countries retain strong influences and connections in many parts of Asia and Africa because of the past (colonialism) and immigration.
It will be fascinating to see if these two countries can co-operate. I think it is a win-win situation for both countries, even though this is a measure forced upon Britain and France who cannot spend much more on the military. If Britain and France were to retain and even extend their influence, then this is a necessary step, in a world full of emerging and resurgent powers such as China, Brazil, India and Russia.