Europe’s World: Why their EU and NATO partners may look askance at the Franco-British defence pact

In a recent article in Europe’s World, Geoff Hoon discusses the implications of the new defense pact between Britain and France.

Nothing would more undermine the case for European defence co-operation than a sense that the two leading European nations in the area of defence were trying to carve-up the defence market between them.

The century-old bonds of the Entente Cordiale have never been stronger, as the bi-lateral agreement signed in November 2010 between France and the UK provides for a significant sharing of military resources between the two European powers. While there is little chance that this tightening of Franco-British ties will lead to a Great War in the way that their watershed 1904 alliance did, Hoon notes that the pact could have other serious consequences for the European community at large.

Hoon accepts that military cooperation can only serve to strengthen both the UK and France militarily, particularly since it would enable them to share resources at a time when both are trying to cut their defense budgets. This assumes, however, that the military interests of the two states will continue to be identical, which is far from certain. Furthermore, bi-lateral defense agreements may hinder the EU’s effort to create a common European competitive defense market. Hoon is deeply concerned about what this pact may mean for the future of European military cooperation, even as it represents a clear victory for cooperation across the English Channel.

If the defense agreement between the UK and France ends up setting a precedent for more bi-lateral pacts among EU and NATO members, it could spell the end for the dream of pan-European military cooperation.

2 thoughts on “Europe’s World: Why their EU and NATO partners may look askance at the Franco-British defence pact

  1. Harry Blaney May 11, 2011 / 5:07 PM

    Comments: French-British Defense Cooperation: Larger Implications

    Both Geoff Hoon and Alan Berlind raise questions about the Franco-British defense pact of Spring 2011 in which the nations agreed to cooperate in “sharing” the use of their two aircraft carriers. I think both make some important points about the nature and practicality of this arrangement. However, both come to the key point about the larger implications of this agreement for the EU (and perhaps NATO).

    For me how European unity is likely to be impacted and where that unity is going are in the end most important. Hoon sees it as possibly being against the larger EU unity, and Berlind finds that it will contribute to the larger European defense and political purpose and unity. Both likely want the same end but see the implications differently. That make for a nice lively and key debate on both ends and means.

    First, one comment about Geoff Hoon’s article. I think he has a point worth examination about exactly how this sharing between these two powers will work in practice and especially when there may be a disagreement between them about the merits of a particular mission or even objections by one to the use of their carrier on a mission they see as not being in their interest. However, at a time of budget restraints (that is the kind word) it makes good economic sense if indeed each sides is willing to truly share their resources in a crisis to the other.

    Second, Alan Berlind’s main point comes to the judgement that greater bilateral cooperation will, in the end, enhance larger European cooperation in defense and perhaps in others areas. I share with Alan that America has nothing to fear from such cooperation, so long as it does not means these resources can not be engaged in agreed NATO tasks. And agree with him that a democratic Europe more unified is in our fundamental interest. However, the Libya NATO deployment has made clear that reductions in key capabilities by both nations – some of the now deployed assets of both countries are scheduled to be scraped or deactivated under the present cuts to their defense budgets – can have their consequences when they result on serious restraints on mission accomplishment. Even together employed they have show major limitations without U.S. full engagement.

    As I have noted earlier, there is another question whether the current round of national economic, financial, and social support retrenchment will not, in the end result, in deeper divisions within Europe and perhaps in the Atlantic area. We see this today with the continued financial/economic crisis in Greece, a member of both the EU and the EURO, with the unwillingness of some in the EU, especially Germany, to support further rescue and stabilization of Greece’s debts (and likely other nations in trouble) and help in a “growth” rather than depression strategy. Some, including me, believe that insistence on draconian steps towards deep austerity and cuts in the social safety net could endanger the entire European prospect and support for a unified decent Europe. The outcome is likely to hurt those who now insist on this counterproductive path. More on this in another post.

  2. Alan Berlind May 11, 2011 / 3:58 AM

    Geoff Hoon’s expressed concerns about closer French-British defense cooperation and their potential effects on overall EU and/or NATO cohesiveness make little sense. Why should smaller friends and allies, with less to spend, suspect the motives of their wealthier partners in improving their ability to defend, not only their own territories, but the entire, unprecedented structure of like-minded states built up over the past six decades? Moreover, why should they object to an important step – last November’s cross-channel agreements – toward bringing the UK into a closer (and more economical) defense relationship within the EU? And, the U.S. for its part should warmly welcome this development, both for its contribution to Western security and whatever relief it might offer in terms of sharing the burden.

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