By JOHN F. BURNS and ALAN COWELL
LONDON — Britain and France signed two defense agreements on Tuesday that promise new and apparently far-reaching cooperation, including the creation of a joint force, shared use of aircraft carriers and mutual efforts on nuclear research.
“Today we open a new chapter in a long history of cooperation on defense and security between Britain and France,” Prime Minister David Cameron told a news conference alongside President Nicolas Sarkozy in London. Mr. Sarkozy said the agreements showed “a level of trust and confidence between our two nations which is unequalled in history.”
The agreements provide for Britain and France to create a joint expeditionary task force, and to cooperate on the use of aircraft carriers so that at least one — either French or British — is at sea and available for use by both countries’ warplanes. They also provide for joint research into nuclear safety — an agreement that Mr. Sarkozy called unprecedented.
But Mr. Cameron stressed that the new coziness would not extend to the deployment of nuclear weapons. “We will always maintain our independent nuclear deterrent,” Mr. Cameron said.
The deal between Europe’s two nuclear-armed powers comes at a time of straitened economic circumstances in both countries, with Britain in particular eager to preserve its defense industry despite drastic military spending cuts ordered as part of its most severe austerity program in decades. The agreements also provoked questions in both countries about their impact on national sovereignty.
“This is not about weakening or pooling British or French sovereignty,” Mr. Cameron said. “Britain and France are and will always remain sovereign nations able to deploy our armed forces independently.”
Mr. Sarkozy echoed those sentiments. “In France, sovereignty is as touchy an issue as it is in Britain,” the French leader said. “But together, we will be stronger, together we will do better, together we will better defend the values that we share.”
The agreements could have important consequences beyond the two countries’ borders and for the profile of European defense. Indeed, Pierre Rousselin, a columnist for Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper, said, “It is now up to the chiefs of staff and political leaders from both countries to achieve a tricky partnership from which their survival — and Europe’s as worldwide power — will depend.”
This was not the first time cooperation between the two countries had been mooted in recent years.
In the late 1990s, Tony Blair, then prime minister of Britain, and Jacques Chirac, then president of France, promised deeper defense cooperation, but that understanding did not survive bitter differences over the Iraq war. Britain has traditionally been unwilling to dilute control over its armed forces, particularly with a nation like France, which has displayed different strategic priorities like those over the Iraq invasion, the relationship with Washington and, in the 1980s, Britain’s campaign in the Falklands Islands when its Argentine foes used French-made Exocet missiles against British warships.
At their news conference Tuesday, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Sarkozy skirted around questions about the extent to which their alliance would hold up under competing geopolitical aims.
The new agreement was interpreted by some French analysts as a way for Mr. Sarkozy to project himself on a global stage, drawing attention away from unpopularity in France, which is recovering from a sustained bout of strikes and protests over his push to raise the retirement age.
The French leader is “calling to the international scene for help,” said Sabine Syfuss-Arnaud, an editor at the economic magazine Challenges in Paris, evoking the memory of Mr. Sarkozy’s prominence during successive crises in 2008 when France held the rotating presidency of the European Union.
But the agreements with Britain also seemed a further step by Mr. Sarkozy towards defense cooperation.
France remained outside NATO’s integrated military command for 43 years until Mr. Sarkozy led it back to full participation in the alliance in 2009.
Some analysts also questioned whether the deals had been dictated in Britain’s case by its crippling debt following the global financial crisis.
“The most cynical observers in Paris stress that, if London hadn’t been trapped by a monumental deficit, this rapprochement would perhaps not have taken place,” Ms. Syfuss-Arnaud wrote.
British political analysts noted that the defense deals came against a fraught history that fueled centuries of mutual hostility before the two countries became allies in two world wars and the cold war.
Tabloid newspapers in London chronicled hostility dating to the Norman conquest of England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and on to many other fights.
“Oh, where to begin?” The Daily Express said. “In 1066 perhaps?”
John F. Burns reported from London and Alan Cowell from Paris. Scott Sayare and Maïa de la Baume contributed reporting from Paris.Źródło: IHT, com November 2, 2010