Geoff Hoon’s article raises some interesting questions about the now-famous Lancaster House treaty at the end of the UK-France defence summit between David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in early November last year. Along with the strategic concept approved at NATO’s Lisbon summit, I would say it was one of the rare pieces of good news to come out from the alliance's European side.
Officials and commentators hailed the Anglo-French agreement, whose origins date back to 2009, as a truly historic development. Soon after NATO leaders in Lisbon said: “we welcome the outcome of the France-UK summit, which will reinforce their security and defence cooperation by introducing innovative methods of pooling and sharing. We believe that such bilateral reinforcements of European capabilities will contribute to NATO’s overall capabilities”. And on both sides of the Channel, press comment was positive. “An unprecedented triumph of pragmatism over ideology” said The Guardian; “A new entente for Paris and London” reported the Financial Times, while in France Le Monde told its readers “Paris and London seal the reconciliation of their nuclear forces” and Le Figaro spoke of a new “entente cordiale”. More sceptical comments were best summed up by the headline "Anglo-French accord is bound to end in tears’” in The Times.
So the question really is whether the Lancaster House treaty is opening a new chapter in the defence relationship between Paris and London with its unprecedented level of ambition, or whether it is precisely that ambition that will make it difficult to deliver.
The nuclear dimension is going to be very important, and indeed was among the triggers that led to the treaty because it paves the way towards a long term defence capability sharing process under the rubric of “mutual interdependence”. The nuclear provisions of the treaty are to span 50 years and include the building of a shared installation by 2022. And no doubt this wide ranging form of cooperation will take into account all previous agreements concluded by both France and Britain with other countries.
Just how ambitious are the new treaty’s cooperation aims can be judged by its article 6 which stipulates that both nations will have unlimited access to any equipment that has been developed in common. And no less than 17 projects are now being considered, with the common aircraft carrier project to be followed by the creation of a common approach to the maintenance of the A400M military Airbus and a joint 8,000 strong operational projection force with land, sea and air components is to be established. Research projects in the fields of underwater technologies and UAVs (drones) will be developed, and both sides will also develop shared consultation processes in advance of any decision that deals with future capability objectives.
So are all these plans likely to be at the detriment of other European initiatives? It doesn’t seem to be the case, and certainly it doesn’t close the door on any further plans among European partners like France and Germany. Priorities like the need to develop Europe’s own heavy helicopters, which the European Defense Agency (EDA) has identified as a key capability, along with the technologies to fight IED improvised bombs will still be pushed ahead on.
In other words, the Lancaster House pact will give new momentum to defence cooperation not just between France and the UK but between other European allies and partners at a time when Europe seems far from being overstretched by new projects, and heightened ambitions. It offers a very real opportunity that is not to be missed.
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