On the heels of its recently released defense review, the new British government has moved aggressively to restructure its strategic relationships both with Washington and its allies in Europe. As part of a new agreement on defense cooperation, Great Britain and France will substantially deepen their already extensive security collaboration.
For example, Britain and France will cooperate in one of the most significant areas of national security and sovereignty: testing the safety and reliability of nuclear warheads. The two countries are likely to develop arrangements for sharing the use of the new aircraft carriers now under construction. London and Paris have announced their attention to develop a joint rapid deployment force. According to the Financial Times, defense contractors in Britain and France want this week’s summit between David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, to boost bilateral industrial collaboration to help create a new generation of unmanned surveillance and combat aircraft programs.
The Cameron government strongly asserts that its efforts to draw closer to France do not constitute a rejection of the so-called special relationship with the U.S. Rather, it is a way for the U.K. to retain sufficient military relevance so as to be worthy of the special relationship. The ability to leverage French military capabilities and defense industrial resources will help to ensure that the U.K. remains Washington’s most capable ally.
The outstanding question is how the United States will respond to the U.K.-French initiative. The security relationship between France and the United States has a long and some might say checkered history. Paris’s recent decision to re-enter NATO’s integrated command structure and to deploy a significant combat force to Afghanistan have gone a long way to healing the decades-old breach with Washington. But the integration of French and military forces now gives the former a degree of control over the actions of the latter that are likely to give Washington pause in how it treats its closest ally.
Washington should consider the possibility that the Franco-British defense relationship could serve as the basis for a new strategic architecture for the defense of NATO and as a model for building partner capacity in other regions of interest. The sharing of military capabilities, the provision for mutual support and the integration of defense industrial capabilities are all examples of ways in which regional partners and allies can create a robust defensive capability greater than the mere sum of the parts.
The Obama Administration needs to consider ways by which it can leverage the growing interest of major regional allies and partners to cooperate more closely. Collaboration with France and the U.K. in nuclear weapons safety and surety is one potential area of interest. Another is in development of the next generations of tactical fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles. A third could be lift and logistics to support expeditionary operations. Both France and the U.K. have expressed interest in developing a European-wide missile defense capability, something to which the United States can contribute. By leveraging the Franco-British entente, the United States can not only maintain the special relationship with London and deepen its defense ties with France but create a model for empowering security partners in the Middle East and East Asia.
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