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As usual the House of Commons offered on 2nd November a very rich and dense debate on the ins and outs of the treaties signed between France and the United Kingdom at the occasion of the summit.

I warmly recommend you to pay a visit to the video of the debate, that you will reach here:

Video: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=6763&st=16:03:20

Written report:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm101102/debtext/101102-0001.htm – 10110260000004

Dr Liam Fox, in the very first moments mentions three major axioms of this new cooperation: “The treaties do not diminish in any way our ability to act independently when the national interest requires “; “the UK welcomed the recent French decision to rejoin NATO’s integrated military structure. We believe it is good for NATO, good for the UK and good for France” (…) Closer co-operation with France will also provide better value for money for the British taxpayer”.

Regarding the freedom of action claimed by Mr Fox, I would be sceptical, as mutualisation of assets automatically implies a reduction of freedom of action, as highlighted by Mr Murphy (Labour), who raised a point related to this: “We hope and expect that the UK and France will increasingly find common cause, but there is no guarantee that that will be the case in all circumstances over the next 50 years. Reflection on even the past few years shows that that was not the case on the Falklands, Desert Fox in 1998, Sierra Leone and of course the Iraq war » and as well, Sir Tapsell (Conservative), with some more humour: “As I am married to a French woman, I have some experience of the unpredictability of Anglo-French relations, so may I take the Secretary of State back to the run-up to the Iraq war, when President Bush and Mr Tony Blair were hell-bent on invading Iraq but President Chirac took a different view-actually, the correct view? If, in the future, there are diversions in British and French policy on military or foreign policy matters, who then gets the helicopters and the fighters on to the aircraft carrier?”

Indeed, this reciprocal guarantee of support could form the most sensitive issue. But, it is not time to assess exactly what could be the outcome of this still to come cooperation: details of implementation are not public yet. Furthermore, since 1982, situation has changed a lot, and Great Britain has never more run a major operation on its own against a conventional enemy to defend its territory. May be, the origin is to be found in the situation that the Falklands remain one of the latest remote territory in the hands of the Kingdom. In any case, it seems that the protection of those islands is now performed by the nuclear submarines: “The defence of the Falklands depends on our ability to deter any aggression, and that is being done through the increased use of Typhoon aircraft, our increased air defences and the presence of hunter-killer submarines, which is quite sufficient. There are those who ask whether we have a plan to retake the Falkland Islands. No, no more than we have a plan to retake Kent, as we have no intention of losing them “.

Looking at the cooperation with the allies, France is clearly regarded as “biggest continental ally » (sorry for the other ones), but will in no case compete with the USA, which is confirmed in its role of “main strategic partner”, on the basis of the 1958 Treaty, amplified by the Nassau agreement of 1962, as nuclear deterrence is definitely the cornerstone of British defence organization. Of course, Dr Fox takes care of the other allies, with which the relations will not be weakened. From a political point of view, for sure. From a military one, it’s all but certain: following the principle of communicating vessels, money, assets and energy should shift from one priority to the other.

But in any case, I hope that France did not have some short-term hopes relating European Defence:

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): As a former member of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment-that noble Lord had some success in dealing with the French-may I ask the Secretary of State to reassure me that this is not a step towards a European army?

Dr Fox: One hundred per cent. Absolutely. This is not about increasing the defence capabilities of the European Union as an institution. I repeat-this is about two sovereign nations, which, between them, spend 50% of all the defence spending of the NATO members in Europe, and 65% of the research spending. It makes a great deal of sense for us to co-operate, but it is absolutely clear that this is about two sovereign nations that are willing to co-operate when it is in their mutual interest to do so, but keep their ability to act separately when their national interests require it”.

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