From James Blitz, the Financial Times: French officials are quick to talk up the warmth of the relationship. “Ideally we would have had a lot more time for our defence treaties to take effect before Libya got under way,” says a French diplomat. “But our military leaders now talk to each other without any difficulty. On helicopters – where we are both mounting missions over Libya – we have instinctive collaboration over where and when we fly. You would not have seen this a year ago. . . .”
At the same time, closer defence collaboration will not, by itself, give both countries a bigger global voice. The big security question facing the UK and France is whether their governments can pay for their visions for national armed forces at the end of the decade. Britain will need a hefty real terms increase in defence spending of 2 per cent a year after 2015 if it is to pay for the Cameron government’s plans for UK armed forces in 2020. After next year’s French presidential election, Paris must decide whether it will pay for the ambitions it set out in its 2008 defence policy document.
Still, the bilateral atmosphere has rarely been better. “I can’t think of a time since the early 1990s, when we were both heavily engaged in diplomacy over Yugoslavia, when the relationship has been this close,” says a Downing Street official. “It will remain close – until we fall out again.” (graphic: Peter Schrank/Economist)