On 9 March 2010, the Royal United Services Institute and the Franco-British Council organised a roundtable on future Franco-British defence co-operation.
The deepening dialogue between British and French ministries of defence ahead of the next UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) prompted the RUSI and FBC to convene a high-level workshop in March 2010 designed to sustain and develop a common security and defence agenda between the two countries. Focusing on two major areas - defence industrial and military relations, as well as joint approaches to strategy and procurement - the conference's main ambition was to highlight the extent to which there may be growing agreement amongst government and industry representatives on either side of the Channel.
Bringing together government and ministerial officials, military officers, defence industrial and political influencers from both countries, the conference participants reached agreement that progress in terms of the defence bi-lateral, technically enhanced by the St Malo Agreements of 1998, had been too slow and that a qualitative step-change was now required. Indeed, since the Franco-British deployments to the Balkans during the 1990s, relations in the field between the two militaries had been few and far between.
The principle findings of the first roundtable were as follows:
- The UK and France are optimum partners for future defence cooperation in Europe.
- Franco-British defence co-operation must be based on a long-term sustained engagement rather than a temporary coalition driven by financial necessity.
- Industry is as responsible, if not more, for sustaining this relationship.
- Strong political will and leadership must be demonstrated by the respective governments of France and the United Kingdom, with the High Level Working Group an essential tool underpinning this process.
- Unlike St Malo, any agreement between France and the UK must be based on a shared interpretation of where one is heading and must endeavour to gain the support of the British public.
- The next UK Strategic Defence and Security Review is a good opportunity for Franco-British strategic co-ordination.
Second Roundtable on Franco-British defence Co-operation
Paris, 6 October 2010
With the first roundtable having been held in the UK before the General Election in order to help identify synergies in the security and defence agendas of the two countries, the second roundtable discussed what might now be done in a practical way ‑ in the defence bilateral relationship to address common challenges regarding future security policy priorities and defence costs.
With a busy schedule in the autumn (including the release of the UK's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), a Franco-British Summit, and the NATO Summit in Lisbon), real momentum has been building towards a renewal of Franco-British cooperation. Discussions started with an update on the work in progress with particular regard to the issue of cost saving through shared investment and procurement. This was followed by a debate on the potential for bilateral leadership within a renewed transatlantic framework, a session which concentrated on identifying practical co-operation dimensions as a result of shared strategic reorientations of the SDSR and French Livre Blanc.
The principle findings of the second roundtable were as follows:
- The governments of France and the UK must steer the process by giving an outline of future potential at the 2 November Summit.
- Success in the past has resulted best from the ability to work upstream on the convergence of national requirements. This must start early in any future acquisition programmes, such as in the field of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for example, with industry helping to rationalise the requirements of France and the UK.
- Differences of military culture and doctrine do exist, yet we must start by asking ourselves why we have previously done things in different ways. The political machinery which underpins our military forces must come together. If we were to undertake the same missions, with the same equipment, we would quickly develop joint approaches.
- It will be important to persuade the public and the electorate at large in France and the UK that sharing capabilities is a good thing, not a loss of sovereignty.
- Debates on future defence co-operation must rise to the strategic level to overcome inevitable barriers. St Malo in 1998 had strings attached, progress after the signing of new Defence Treaties in 2010 can only move forward if there are no hidden interests.
For more information please contact Alastair Cameron, Head of the European Security Programme at firstname.lastname@example.org.