France and England – The Two Stilts of a Solid European Defence

  • The European political situation is becoming less and less visible.
  • Some believe that defence cooperation is being undermined.
  • But France and England remain two very close partners.

Current political turmoil on the continent may have some believing that international cooperation may be entering a strategic winter. But, despite some areas of irrational decision-making, France and England will continue to be the West’s most reliable defence partner on the old continent, come what may.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries. The organization implements the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949. NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO’s Headquarters are located in Evere, Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of Allied Command Operations is near Mons, Belgium.

According to Brussels, the cooling of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the mainland, caused by Brexit, may weaken the capacity of European countries to defend themselves. However, the EU will clearly be on the losing side of any potential change for Defence, as England was clearly a contributor to European Defence. Strategy specialist Stephanie Hofman, from the Washington Post, writes: “However, the E.U. has lost a broker between itself and NATO at a time when it is worried about the policy actions of an unpredictable U.S. president. It could be that an alternative broker — such as Germany — will emerge.” So, considering that Europe’s losing of one of its military champions is Europe’s problem, and that Europe will eventually figure it out, that leaves London to figure out what its next international move will be, to re-create solid partnerships. And the most likely privileged European partner, with whom it shares similar strategies and faces similar threats, is France.

A depletion of Europe’s defence capacities is unlikely, because Brussels never succeeded in taking over the military independence of its member-States. Despites years of rumours, attempts and wishful thinking, European countries have pooled many of their strategies and resources, but have always kept the traditional one-to-one independence stance when it came to the military. The creation in the 1980s of the Eurocorps never amounted to much, and what is left today, despite being under European command, is still composed of purely national troops. Sophia Besch writes for the Center for European Reform: “The Franco-German joint brigade illustrates as much. Though created in 1989, it was only first deployed (and then only partially) as part of a training mission in Mali last year. In Afghanistan, the two countries were unable to agree on an acceptable level of risk for the troops involved, blocking deployment. The problem would only be worse in multinational EU units.” In other words, the British, who have never relinquished any of their military power to Brussels, will not lose in the transfer. But that doesn’t mean they will not need trustworthy partners in the future.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD or MoD) is the British government department responsible for implementing the defence policy set by Her Majesty’s Government and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces. The MOD states that its principal objectives are to defend the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its interests and to strengthen international peace and stability.

If indeed French and English military cooperation ties are to be salvaged through Brexit, or even tightened, it may however be more to the credit of the French than of the English. Eager to keep its sole credible military partner in Europe, France has been sending warm signals towards MoD in recent months, as a strengthening of the Lancaster House treaty which founded the modern-day military ties between the two countries. Defense News Pierre Tran reported on the defence revitalization initiated by French Defence minister Florence Parly: “We have with the United Kingdom very close and deep relations in defence. That was formalized with the Lancaster House Treaty and will not be be called into question by the decision that the United Kingdom has taken to leave the European Union. In defence, there is a shared determination to pursue and deepen this relationship.” France has, in recent multinational operations, been glad to find England by its side, as a high-potential warring partner, and so has England.

On the English side, however, MoD may be barking up the wrong tree and hoping to mollify the spite of the EU by cozying up to Germany. Defence News Andrew Chuter reported: “The MoD chose 5:30 p.m. on Easter Saturday to announce its controversial intention not to hold a competition to procure an 8×8 for the new Army strike brigades being forming as part of a wider restructuring plan. Instead, the U.K. will take a significant step towards buying the German-built vehicle in a single source deal.” Defence Minister Gavin Williamson is ready to axe his own procurement procedures to buy billions of pounds worth of German Mechanized Infantry Vehicles. News reports indicate that MoD wants to replace its aging fleet of vehicles with the German-Dutch Artec Boxer. It is worth noting that many experts and observers consider this decision as relatively surprising, as such a move would amount to a three-fold mistake. The Artec Boxer is the heaviest vehicle in its category and would be very difficult to deploy swiftly in an overseas operation; it would invest political capital towards Brussels, with whom England does not cooperate militarily; finally, buying direct from Germany, instead of running a standard competition would lead to a very high purchasing price, which the MoD can no longer afford. Those who do believe the rumour credit it to Gavin Williamson’s lack of military understanding and strategic vision or understanding. Regardless, the next post-Brexit MoD will surely acknowledge that the future of British military cooperation lies across the Channel, and not in Brussels or Berlin.

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Joseph Gamble

I am a retired economics professor. I like to write about topics that interest me such as international relations, globalization, technology etc.

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