Defense ties between France and the U.K. need a shot in the arm to ensure the two countries can remain closely aligned in a post-Brexit world, according to a pair of British and French think tanks.
London’s looming exit from the European Union has the potential to put a wedge between the two long-standing allies, as the Macron government in Paris see its future intertwined with that of a strong Europe, while the U.K. is about to walk away from that idea. That is the conclusion of a new analysis by the Policy Institute at King’s, which is part of King’s College London, and the Paris-based Institut Montaigne.
Former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve chaired the teams of analysts from both think tanks.
The two countries are unique in Europe because both have nuclear weapons, they have permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council and their militaries are built around the idea of going to war on their own if need be.
While past agreements, like the Lancaster House Treaties, remain important vehicles for channeling that common ground, there is nonetheless a risk of creeping alienation, according to the analysts.
“Beyond its practical consequences, Brexit amplifies tensions inherent in the UK-France relationship,” the report reads. “It will now be more difficult for France to reconcile its ambitions for European defence with its alliance with the UK, especially as France remains keen to involve the UK in this European architecture.
“On the other hand, the two pillars of the UK’s foreign policy — the transatlantic relationship and its European anchorage — are being questioned, leaving the country without a clearly defined and designed foreign policy: the ‘Global Britain’ doctrine designed to fill this gap still lacks substance.”
According to the authors, the solution lies in isolating the defense- and security-cooperation dimension from the rest of the ongoing Brexit talks. Mechanisms for including London not only in bilateral touch points with France but also with the rest of the EU must be found to ensure a seamless continuation of ties, they argue.
Negotiations continue behind the scenes to carve out access by non-EU members, first and foremost the United Kingdom, to EU-level instruments for strengthening the bloc’s military capabilities.
Under the banner of the Permanent Structured Cooperation initiative, or PESCO, the EU is nursing a policy framework for increased defense cooperation. A sizable funding stream is set up to power the effort.
Close U.K. allies in Europe, including France and Germany, seem eager to preserve relationships built over many years.
“It is very important that within PESCO, third-party states who we want to keep at our side have the ability to participate in projects in an uncomplicated way,” German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said in early October as she hosted her British counterpart Gavin Williamson for his inaugural visit to Germany.
Participating in EU military missions “certainly also” should remain a possibility for countries outside the union, she added.
According to the French-U.K. think tank study, additional focus should lie on increasing defense industry ties between the two countries. The governments should carry forward a bilateral next-generation aircraft program — dubbed Future Combat Air System (not to be confused with a French-German project of the same name) — to keep British companies in play for a European sixth-generation fighter aircraft, the authors recommend.
“It would be a pity to abandon a program in which significant financial investments have been made, as a feasibility study and technological work have already begun,” the study reads.