France and Britain forge new path with defense treaty
France and Britain inked a defense treaty Tuesday that will allow sharing of nuclear secrets and the creation of a rapid-reaction force. President Sarkozy called the accord 'unprecedented.'
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Yet the treaty starts modestly, and both leaders stressed national sovereignty and practical cooperation.
The two navies have rarely cooperated, and a functioning carrier task force will not be ready until 2020. Currently, French and British jets cannot fully operate on each others' carriers because of technological and repair constraints. Battle readiness is an issue as well: The French carrier de Gaulle, which has a history of dry docking and repairs, had to return to base in Toulouse recently, days after being deployed to the Afghan theater.
Jean-Dominique Merchet, a defense specialist in Paris, says a special military relationship with Britain grew out of the widespread view that a common European defense has become “not serious” as an idea, especially as no one wants to pay for defense anymore. While France has rejoined NATO, the organization is considered “old-fashioned,” Mr. Merchet says.
But without a true joint aircraft carrier task force before 2020, the new treaty is "important for political reasons.”
Nuclear oversight remains sovereign
A separate treaty on nuclear cooperation will not involve joint oversight of nuclear use or deployment; this remains sovereign. But the two nations will build centers in each state that will share information on nuclear testing and warhead maintenance – avoiding duplication between the only two nuclear powers of Europe.
In France, the research site will be located in Valduc, southeast of Paris, where military nuclear research has been conducted for decades, and is expected to include a laser that simulates explosions. In Britain, the site is set for the town of Aldermaston, west of London.
The Daily Telegraph today cites British officials saying the joint nuclear agreement involves a greater level of French awareness of British nuclear technology.
Last month, the British government announced sweeping and controversial cuts as part of its austerity program that will make 8 percent cuts across its armed services. A carrier group was saved after it became clear the cost to scupper the program was more expensive than building it.
[Editor's note: The original photo caption incorrectly identified the man with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The man is unidentified.]