21 September | 01:59:46
 
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The New Entente
A new defence treaty ties together the old rivals of Britain and France. But can the new alliance work?
Wednesday, 10 November, 2010 | 09:00

A new defence treaty between Britain and France, forming the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, has been signed and sealed. The measures agreed upon by both governments include a combined expeditionary force, a sharing of aircraft carriers and even collaboration on nuclear research and technology. Providing the treaty is adhered to, it could prove to be a great opportunity for both countries.

Reasons behind the treaty stem from both nations still harbouring lofty military ambitions from their days as colonial powers, despite their distinctly middleweight size on the current global economic stage. France and Britain have the third and fourth largest military forces in the world respectively, and both are nuclear powers in their own right. This is anything but cheap; Britain spends £36.9 billion per annum on her defence budget, and the financial crisis severely weakened both nations’ capacities to splurge the money necessary to maintain a world class military force. The treaty therefore represents a decision to choose international cooperation rather than face the prospect of military demise.

The treaty allows such extravagant expenditure to be spread across the shoulders of both nations. Orders for new equipment can be shared for discounted prices, training facilities can be merged to increase training efficiency, and shared use of research centres will cut the hefty cost of nuclear research by the use of each other's techniques and innovations. The joint-command of aircraft carriers will ensure that there is always one aircraft carrier at sea, giving each country the luxury of always being prepared for a rapid military response to potential security threats. The combined expeditionary force provides an even greater means to project military power: with a Franco-British force of ten thousand men being able to make high-intensity strategic operations at the drop of a helmet.

Problems can potentially arise from a divergence in the respective national interests of both countries. If a crisis arose similar to the Falklands war, it is unlikely that the French would be willing to send a shared aircraft carrier solely for the benefit of British jingoism. Fears have been expressed about the loss of self-determination, the fact that any military excursion of either country may be reliant on the unquestioning backing of the other power. For now, such fears are mislaid. Currently their defensive and offensive tenets of foreign policy mostly converge: France and Britain are Allies in the war in Afganistan; both nations are permanent members of the UN Security Council; both nations now play a proactive part in NATO’s defence force. This should be sufficient to form enough of a common defensive interest to ensure that such a lucrative treaty for both nations does not come unstuck.

Charles De Gaulle once declared that "treaties are like pretty girls and roses: they last while they last." Let’s hope for the sake of France and Britain that this treaty does not wilt any time soon.

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