PARIS—France and England, historic foes, will embark on a defense partnership that will pave the road for joint military actions and nuclear weapons programs, leaders of both countries announced in London on Tuesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the U.K. and France have opened a “new chapter” in defense and security cooperation as the two countries signed treaties pledging to work more closely together. Under the agreement, aircraft carriers will be adapted to enable both countries to use them and a combined joint expeditionary force will be formed.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy called the decision “unprecedented” and said in a statement that it “shows a level of trust and confidence between our two nations, which is unequalled in history.”
As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, NATO Allies, European Union members, and nuclear weapons states, France and U.K. account for half of the combined defense budgets of Europe and two-thirds of the spending on military research and technology. They are also among the few European nations that can fulfill the most demanding military missions, especially anti-terror operations. They are also the only two nuclear-armed countries in Europe.
“Britain and France have a shared history through two world wars. Our brave troops are fighting together every day in Afghanistan,” Cameron said in a statement adding that it is a “treaty based on pragmatism, not just sentiment.”
“We face new challenges such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, terrorism, cyberattacks, maritime, and space security. We must be ready to prevent, deter, defend against, and counter those threats. More than ever, we need defense capabilities that are robust, can be rapidly deployed, and are able to operate together and with a range of allies,” he said.
In their joint declaration, Cameron and Sarkozy explained they want to “obtain greater value for money” on defense investments, hoping to see up to 30 percent savings.
Such cost optimization will be found through sharing and pooling materials and equipment, the building of joint facilities, and cooperating on industrial and technological development. For instance, nuclear weapons development and testing for both countries will be carried out at a new joint facility near Dijon, in the center of France.
The U.K. and France also aim to develop by the early 2020s a U.K.-French integrated carrier strike group incorporating French carriers and U.K. fighter jets.
A Long Way Before a European Defense
While indicating that the two countries have reached a rare level of mutual confidence, both Sarkozy and Cameron added that their countries would remain sovereign nations able to deploy their armed forces independently.
The reassurance is likely meant to counterbalance the perception of the treaty as an early indication of a long-expected European defense system.
David Cameron represents British conservatives who remain largely skeptical of the U.K.’s integration into Europe, as reflected in some press headlines. The Daily Express, for example, ran a front page headline reading, “British Army under French Orders.” Online comments from readers were massively opposed to the move, many invoking the word “treason.”
Previous attempts to strengthen military links between the two countries have stalled at the letter of intent stage.