In French military circles they are known as the “crown jewels,” the fleet of Mirage fighter jets kept in the sky and devoted to delivering a nuclear strike. In Britain, the four Scottish-based submarines armed with 200 Trident nuclear warheads are considered untouchable.
So when the leaders of France and Britain agreed to combine military operations – including an astonishing deal to unite testing and maintenance of their nuclear arsenals – many senior military figures in both countries were aghast. There was talk, on both sides of the Channel, of Waterloo, Trafalgar, Agincourt and more recent instances of Anglo-French discord.
The agreement was nonetheless signed on Tuesday by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron, both of whom are struggling with deep budget cuts and sagging economies. It will place British and French special forces together in a joint force of 10,000 troops and permit the sharing of aircraft carriers, unmanned drone aircraft and other military hardware. Most controversially, it will combine the testing and oversight of the two countries’ nuclear arsenals at a joint facility near Dijon, France.
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A few years ago, such a deal would have been unthinkable. But France has rejoined the senior command of NATO after a four-decade absence, and its refusal to participate in the Iraq war no longer outrages Downing Street. The prospect of an entente cordiale, or even an entente budgétaire, is now politically acceptable, at least to Mr. Cameron’s circle of moderates.
The very annoying contrast between a militaristic United States and a pacifistic Europe holds true inasmuch as the member-states of the European Union spend less, relative to their GDPs and absolutely, than the United States on their militaries. The two exceptions are France and the United Kingdom, which devote more than two percent of their GDP to their militaries. Germany follows behind in absolute expenditures and in terms of people in service, but is less militarized than the other members of the EU-3. Italy and Spain follow behind more distantly. Together, France and the United Kingdom account for almost half of the European Union's defense spending, with their large and experienced ground forces, substantial air and naval forces, and their previously mentioned nuclear weapons.
Assuming that this deal works, this--more than the Treaty of Lisbon--could precipitate the formation of something like a single European military. Close French military integration with the United Kingdom, that most Eurosceptic of states, would create a fairly attractive nucleus for some sort of more coherent European military constellation. Certainly a militarily integrated Europe wouldn't look like French hegemony. nwhyte, others, your thoughts?