21st Oct 2018

France and UK to sign historic defence pact

  • Britain will use France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier (r) (Photo: US Navy)

Under pressure due to shrinking defence budgets, the governments of Great Britain and France will on Tuesday (2 November) sign an unprecendented pact on common testing of nuclear weapons - until now a no-go area due to Paris' insistence that nuclear weapons policy is a strictly national responsibility.

Under the deal, which will be penned in London by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the two countries will be able to carry out simulations of their nuclear arsenals at a joint facility in Bourgogne, France, Elysee sources told AFP. The new lab will be functional in 2014, along with a joint Franco-British research centre in Aldermaston, in the south-east of England.

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This is an "unprecedented co-operation" say French officials, as nuclear policy so far has been a field of solely national competence for Paris. The co-operation agreement will say, however, that both countries will maintain separate nuclear deterrents and have complete autonomy over their tests.

Mr Cameron on Monday told the nation's parliament that the treaties will not infringe on UK sovereignty. "So partnership - yes. But giving away sovereignty - no," he said.

The country's centre-left Labour opposition criticised the deal as outsourcing defence to foreign governments, however.

In a time of austerity, France and Britain, which account for half of the defence spending in the European Union, are being pressed by budgetary constraints to make use of joint facilities.

Last month, the new centre-right government in Britain announced cuts of eight percent in its military budget over five years. France's defence spending has also been steadily decreasing over the last 10 years.

The sharing will lead in the short term to increased costs worth "several hundred millions of euros," but result in significant savings later, both sides said.

A second accord to be signed on Tuesday will allow the deployment of joint expeditionary forces of some 5,000 troops from each side. Each country will retain a veto over every operation, which will operate under one military commander to be chosen at the time.

Both moves are set to be welcomed by Nato, which is trying to push European countries to share capabilities and to move from the static, land-based military model to more flexible units that can be sent abroad easily.

Britain will also be granted access to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, since its recent cuts left it with no carrier-strike capability for the next 10 years.

In return, the UK will offer France its spare air-refueling capacity and new drone technology. Other areas for co-operation will include training and support for the A400M military transport aircraft, military satellite communications and the development of "complex weapons" such as missiles and cyber-defence capabilities.

France and the UK have been military adversaries for a large part of early modern history in a legacy which continues to manifest itself in latter-day football rivalry and anti-French jokes.

Commenting on France's reluctance to let Turkey enter the EU, Turkey's chief negotiator on EU accession, recently told press in Brussels: "I sometimes joke with my French counterpart, Pierre Lellouche. I say: 'Pierre, if you can handle living in the same club as the British, you should not have a problem living with us, because none of the wars you had with us were as bloody as the ones you had with them."

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