Thursday, November 11, 2010

The UK-France defense deal

Britain and France, in an agreement reached last week, decided to co-operate on nuclear warhead testing and to set up a joint 'expeditionary' (read: intervention) force, as well as to co-operate when it comes to aircraft carriers. Britain presently has two carriers, France has one, and they've agreed that at least one of these will be at sea at any given time. According to a summary at Spiegel Online: "Britain will install catapults on a new aircraft carrier under construction so that both French and British jets can operate from it. By the early 2020s the two nations aim to combine their carrier operations." This makes some sense, inasmuch as it must be damned expensive to keep one aircraft carrier, let alone more than one, buzzing around in circles in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic or wherever.

An IR scholar who happens to be a friend was saying, when this came up in a recent conversation at a slightly drunken (on my part at any rate) dinner, that the agreement to share aircraft carriers shows that Britain and France have now established a "joint identity" -- well, maybe he didn't say that precisely, but the word "identity" was definitely used. I'm a bit skeptical about this, partly because I'm not totally sure what it means (though I have a reasonably good idea) and partly because this agreement seems to be driven primarily by budgetary considerations. Some in Britain are apparently worried about whether the French carrier, if that were the one at sea, would deploy to the Falklands if that were required. Others dismiss this concern.

The nuclear agreement would "establish a centre in the UK to develop testing technology and another one in France to carry out the testing" (BBC), starting in 2014. This is being called revolutionary and unprecedented. But is it that surprising? It's not like either country is going to use its nuclear weapons against the other. Actually, the chances of their ever using their nuclear weapons at all are, mercifully, infinitesimal. The British and French nuclear arsenals are largely status symbols, signs that their possessors are great powers, and from a security standpoint it would probably make no difference if every British and French nuclear warhead were dismantled and destroyed tomorrow. Who, after all, are they deterring? They don't work against people like the 2005 London subway bombers. You can't threaten to drop a nuclear bomb on an individual's house, for example. That would be absurd and crazy. Nonetheless, we have to at least pretend that this whole deal is a noteworthy development. Otherwise IR types would have less to argue about at drunken dinners.


Anonymous said...

Very entertaining post driving the reader somewhat crazy with curiosity.??? scholar/friend, reputaion of scholar based on what? Dinner where? at Restaurant? home-cooking? Which wine? More, more, more!Faithfully yours, Novel-reader

LFC said...

Dear Novel-reader,
Restaurant; red wine; I don't recall which variety (for reasons having to do with the general setting of a reasonably large group). I'm afraid further details should probably remain confidential, at least for the time being. :)