In one of those deliciously Anglo-French moments this week President Hollande took a swipe at the London Olympics and David Cameron. Stung by Bradley Wiggin’s Tour de France Champs Elysee victory Hollande said, “The British have rolled out a red carpet for French athletes to win medals. I thank them very much for that”. It was also a calculated riposte to Cameron’s suggestion that the “red carpet” would be rolled out for French economic refugees seeking to escape Hollande’s tax hikes.
It would be easy to leave the Franco-British relationship at that – a tragi-comic little battle over whose declining influence is the greater. In fact the London-Paris axis is Europe’s only true strategic defense relationship and thus critical to the future defense of Europe. As Europe heads inexorably towards the coming Euro mega-crisis cross-channel defense relations will become more not less important and must be preserved at all costs. The political realism inherent to the relationship acts as strategic insurance against the woolly ideology of ‘Europe’ that has fathered the current disaster.
Therefore, the French-inspired decision to open up the 2010 Franco-British Defense and Security Co-operation Treaty to others appears all the more strange and could well mark the beginning of the end of this vital pact. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was not prepared to have a defense relationship with Britain that was separate from other European allies. Strangely, Philip Hammond his British counterpart, went along with this. The defense relationship is now at the mercy of Eurozone chaos. The timing could not have been worse.
Up to now London and Paris had shown both sense and restraint by keeping the two distinct. At this most sensitive of moments the move will certainly reinforce suspicions on the British right that the pact was a French plot to weaken NATO and sucker the British into what they see as the French-inspired EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Indeed, Hammond’s acquiescence looks to all intents and purposes as a political sleight of hand – give the French what they think they want knowing full well that in time it will destroy it.
The only possible practical argument for this decision is that most big, complex defense procurement projects are multi-national rather than bi-national, and that Germany and Italy have been pressing to be included. However, not only is that wrong; Britain and France share several major projects, it also wilfully misses the point of the 2010 pact. In any case, multilateral structures already exist and they are failing. Consequently, the pact will now become EU defense-lite…and fail.
This is exactly what happened to the 1998 St Malo Declaration which was meant to herald a new dawn in Europe-centric defense co-operation between Britain and France. However, St Malo was never given enough time to mature into a trusting strategic partnership. Rather, the Germans and others sought the early transformation of St Malo into the failed European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) because inclusivity was judged more important than credible capability. Subsequently, not only did the Franco-British strategic defense relationship falter (and then crash with the 2003 Iraq War) but European defense became mired in the EU’s political and bureaucratic morasse in which it has been stuck ever since.
The simple fact is that Britain and France are different and neither can afford any more of the strategic political correctness that has done so much to denude Europe of a sound defence. Britain and France together represent almost 50% of European defense expenditure. They are Europe’s only two nuclear powers (excluding Russia). They have by far Europe’s most experienced and capable militaries and best strategic thinkers.
The British will now move further towards an American-led defence Anglosphere, whilst the Eurozone and European defence will slowly become one and the same pulling each other into the abyss. The British will never join the Euro and for that reason the defense of Europe must be kept separate from it. Indeed, the timing of this move makes it even less likely that London will focus real political energy on CSDP.
Therefore, London and Paris need to pause and for once think together and think strategically. With the French about to draft a new White Book on defence (Livre Blanc) and the British moving towards the 2015 Strategic Security and Defense Review the Franco-British defense relationship must be seen by both for what it is; the most strategically-dynamic of its kind in Europe that given time can emerge as the central pillar of Europe’s future defense. Then and only then should the relationship be opened up to others.
The Franco-British strategic defense relationship must be seen as a long-term partnership above and beyond local and short-term vicissitudes, however severe. Only then will European security and defense be re-connected to world security and defence, whatever the downstream institutional arrangements that turn power into structure.
Perhaps President Holande’s concluding Olympic remark may have spoken truth. “The competition is not over,” he said. I suspect it never will be.
It is time for Euro-realism.
Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast. Photo Credit: Getty Images