Alphen, Netherlands. 31 January. Today is the Franco-British pub lunch, sorry, summit at which defence, energy, space and of course Europe will be discussed. Therefore, in honour of Prime Minister David Cameron’s infliction of an English pub lunch and a pint of that most venerable of beers Hook Norton on an unsuspecting French President Hollande today’s blog is devoted to an extract from my new book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (www.amazon.com).
“The November 2010 Franco-British Defence and Security Co-operation Treaty and air operations over Libya in 2011 confirmed the importance of the Franco-British strategic relationship. London and Paris share a classical state-to-state strategic defence relationship. However, Britain’s strategic relationship with France is important and complex in equal measure. That said it must be of concern to London that Paris was less than complementary about the support it received from Britain for their Mali intervention, even though France seems to have conveniently forgotten France’s unwillingness to support the British where it mattered in Afghanistan.
For all those irritations it is hard to over-state the importance of the relationship. Indeed, if the strategic utility of NATO depends to a very great extent on Britain’s strategic relationship with the Americans the future of European defence is dependent on the Franco-British relationship. A close strategic partnership with France is clearly in the interest of both countries because of the quality of their respective armed forces. Recent French operations in 2013 have confirmed that. The challenge Paris faced when four thousand French troops arrived in Mali in February was complicated to say the least. Tuaregs had taken control of northern Mali and sought separation. They were supported by a a particularly nasty bunch of Islamists (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Mujao) who had profited (literally) from the chaos in neighbouring Libya. To make things worse the Malian Army, or what was left of it, was in meltdown and the country’s political system with it….
With the conclusion of the first phase of the crisis the political battle for Mali is still to be won. And, of course, Serval has not stabilised the Sahel as a whole, partly because the West thinks states, Islamists think peoples and not too many strategic implications should be read into Serval. However, the French military success in Mali should not be under-estimated. Mali is a big and desolate place and as an example of statecraft France has every right to be proud of Serval whatever happens next, wherever it happens.
The lesson for Britain is clear. Britain and France must together work to build on the putative Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) concept and collaborate to being real military substance to both NATO 2020 and the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The need is pressing. As the failed December 2013 EU defence summit demonstrated the European defence effort is woefully inadequate and can only resolved by either structural increases in defence expenditure (unlikely) and/or much greater unity of strategic effort and purpose leading to deep defence synergy (necessary). For some of the smaller NATO and EU members that will mean defence integration that begins in the tail but reaches towards the teeth end of armed forces (desperate). Fifteen years on from the St Malo Declaration Britain again must seek common strategic cause with France.
The relationship with France will also be vital in rendering NATO fit for purpose. However, for France to overcome its latent suspicions of NATO, Paris will expect deeper British political investment in CSDP. One aspect of that relationship will be British support for the strengthening of the EU as a homeland security hub across the European security space. Indeed, if NATO is once again to become the strategic military sword and shield of the Euro-Atlantic Community, the EU should transform itself into a security hub better able to provide civilian protection of the European homeland through improved and enhanced resiliency. The EU must also provide a credible political option for leaders so that European forces can be used effectively under a European flag. This would better enable political leaders to feel confident in taking pro-active offensive action together when deemed necessary. The flag a force operates under is almost as important as the force deployed in a complex place where politics and insecurity are one and the same”.
As for the pub lunch it is perhaps reflective of the political problems the relationship faces that today’s summit is the first time that such an event has taken place in two years. The strategic logic for co-operation is overwhelming. However, a political gulf still exists between the two countries over the future orientation and direction of the European Union. Nothing that takes place today in an Oxfordshire pub is likely to change that.
Plus ça change, plus la meme chose?