Our geography, our history, and past experiences of wars and conflicts should inform us of the necessity of having a well armed, well funded military with primacy placed on our Royal Navy for protection of the realm, but also to nurture and build upon relationships with our allies.
The last NATO operations against Libya has proven why Britain desperately needs an aircraft carrier capability to be able to project power and influence across the globe.
I sincerely hope the introduction of the the HMS Queen Elizabeth as well as her sister ship the HMS Prince of Wales will do much to reverse this perception of decline, and also help encourage the UK to place primacy on rebuilding our maritime strengths and capabilities. But we should also consider the advantages of having greater bilateral relations with our neighbours, notably France.
A measure of a nation’s strength is the application of its maritime power globally to project its power and capabilities. With transnational terrorism, renewed Russian power in Eastern Europe, a nuclear North Korea, and the rise of China and the security dilemmas it presents, we can no longer be dependent upon the United States in order to guarantee our collective security.
European military forces need to become more self-sufficient in terms of its operational capabilities, its material strength, and funding. However, that does not mean that nations should not cooperate. On the contrary, despite these geopolitical challenges, this presents us with unique opportunities to build upon.
Historically Britain and France for over a 100 years have had a ‘special’ military relationship termed the Entente Cordiale which was a series of agreements signed on 8 April 1904 which helped improve relations between the French Third Republic and the United Kingdom. It also meant that at the outset of the First World War, the British sent an expeditionary force to France to meet the German offensive.
The same was said during the beginning of the Second World War, before the establishment of a pro-German Vichy Government. However, during the free French leader De Gaulle was a prominent ally during the Second World War, and helped free France along with allied forces from Nazi tyranny.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and France is a global military power, comparable in operational scope and capabilities to the United Kingdom, and has relatively similar sized economies and population size. Its proximity in terms of geography makes it a very good candidate to strengthen defence ties, including sharing military technology, intelligence and also operational duties. France has access to the Atlantic and Mediterranean, is an independent nuclear power, and has an advanced and sophisticated Army, Navy and Air Force.
It makes sense to develop greater ties.
As we have seen in the latest hurricane disaster, disaster relief vehicles and equipment for the French military have been delivered to Pointe-à-Pitre on the French Island of Guadeloupe aboard a Royal Air Force C-17. This demonstrates that Britain has an advantage in heavy lift aircraft. Furthermore the Royal Air Force has provided heavy lift capabilities in French counter-terrorism operations in Mali.
This is because the French do not have the military assets to lift large vehicles such as trucks and armoured vehicles in one aircraft and to take them long distance. While Britain has good relations with the United States, it does not mean it should neglect other allies. Collaboration with our European counterparts has already produced the Eurofighter, and the heavy lift Airbus A400M.
In my own opinion, as an international security scholar, and a graduate in international relations I believe this relationship of shared capabilities should be broadened out further to include sharing of troops, maritime assets, aircraft, and also technology and armoured units.
The only limitation in this military relationship I could foresee is the language barriers, but these could be overcome. Some may argue that NATO holds the best possible security architecture, but joint operations between nation states are still common, and having the best possible alliance with your neighbours in bilateral functions is still a necessary component.
Since 2017, the Royal Navy has now got an fully operational aircraft carrier, with helicopters already been successfully deployed and tested on its desks. This ship could easily support the inclusion of French aircraft if necessary to be deployed at times of an emergency, or French marines for that matter.
In comparison, the French still possess an independent aircraft carrier and have invested in a new generation of Mistral class amphibious warfare ships. With the decommissioning of our own amphibious warfare ship the HMS Ocean planned for 2018, the Mistral platform could provide an alternative to our needs. While it is mandated that British ships have to be built in British ship yards, I can see no reason why the Royal Marines, or our Apache helicopters could not use one of their amphibious warfare ships if an emergency were to arise.
In addition, British naval architects working alongside their French counterparts could design the next generation of Amphibious helicopter carriers based on the Mistral design, which would be both cost effective, and suit both of our national interests.
On another level, both the French and the British are looking at decommissioning their old assault rifles, with the British wanting to replace the old SA-85A2 bullpup assault rifle, and the French want to replace the FAMAS bullpup design. Both designs were innovative and allow for troops to operate within confined spaces. It would make sense if the French and the British were to collaborate in small arms developments, as both nations are looking for a replacement. There could even be an establishment of a joint small munitions production between the two countries, creating weapons platforms and munitions for the military and security services for the respective two nations.
So in conclusion, there is a historical, operational, technological and also logistical reasons to encourage the long held military co-operation between the United Kingdom and France. I promote the idea that we should extend this cooperation into joint operational duties in times of crisis, and also sharing of technology including that of small arms developments, and sharing of maritime assets as well as air and ground operations.
While both France and the United Kingdom are NATO members, bilateral military relations should still be considered in our respective national interests, and through cooperation we can build on our capabilities.
As the world is becoming increasingly multipolar, the United States is in decline internationally, and NATO will have to increase its defence spending and become more self reliant. It is only logical that France and Britain enhance its military relations and become more self-sufficient.