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  • Entente Cordiale, Meet Special Relationship
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 2:32 PM on Nov 02, 2010

    We'll forget about how you shot Lord Nelson as long as you let that Agincourt thing go.

    The Anglo-French accord announced today is big geopolitical news for a lot of reasons.

    Operationally and technologically, a 50-year agreement creates the dominant military power in Europe and the natural leader of any European defense union. Britain and France are the only European nuclear powers, the only European nations with any plans to operate full-size aircraft carriers, a key element in any expeditionary force, and the only European builders of nuclear-powered vessels. MBDA and Thales are major defense contractors with both UK and French segments.

    Culturally, the two nations have never been closer. Generations of adults have studied each others' languages and the Eurotunnel has brought Paris closer to London than England's own northern regions. In the process, a lot of the mistrust that slowed the UK's entry into the Common Market (the EU's predecessor) and that blocked the UK's entry into the Euro system has evaporated.

    In military terms, the two big issues are carriers and nuclear weapons.

    Both nations have decided that carriers are a central part of their forces. The argument is simple: if you want to send an expeditionary force somewhere, even a small air force that might be hostile is a huge problem if there's no carrier, because the warships covering your transports can't see beyond the horizon, and antisubmarine warfare helicopters are sitting ducks outside the envelope of the escorts' anti-air warfare systems.

    Problem:  you need two carriers to keep one available at all times, and neither the UK nor France can afford it. Sharing ships is a solution. Doing this required the UK to dump the F-35B for a conventional carrier aircraft. In the longer term, expect the UK and France to establish a common E-2 Hawkeye force (AEW&C was an unsolved problem for the STOVL ship). Also, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the French would decide, at some point, that the UK's spare carrier is a better deal than the smaller and troublesome Charles de Gaulle.

    The nuclear issue is fascinating. The UK continues to insist that it will retain its collaboration with the US and that its future SSBN will be developed alongside its US Navy equivalent. The result is that any nuclear-weapons collaboration between the UK and France will focus on warhead testing and stockpile management.

    How does this affect the US-UK relationship? At a forum Monday in Washington organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the UK's vice-chief of the defense staff, Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton, was at pains to reassure US pundits and advisers that a UK-France deal "could only be a good thing" for the US. "There was a period of time when a UK-France entente would be seen as destabilising to US-UK relations, but we have matured a long way beyond that." What happened, he said, was that "in the process of the SDSR, France and the UK looked at each other and said 'we need to talk'."

    Tags: ar99, france, england

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