Daniel Korski

In defence of UK-French defence cooperation

In defence of UK-French defence cooperation
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The Entente Cordial Redux has generated a lot of commentary, most of it ill-informed, some of it ridiculous. Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, in particular, has singled himself out to be a perpetuator of stereotypes with his reference to the duplicitous nature of the French. But many historians, like the otherwise brilliant Orlando Figes, have not fared much better, talking about the Crimea War as if it had any relevance at all for modern warfare.

It’s good fun to tease the French. That is what boozy lunches ought to be about. But it should not pass for serious commentary by MPs.

Since the 1990s the French have worked very closely with UK forces, even when disagreements at the political level have been profound. UK soldiers have commanded French service personnel and vice versa. General Sir David Richards, the new Chief of the Defence Staff, had French forces under his command when he ran NATO's mission in Afghanistan. A French general was second in command of NATO's Bosnia mission - and so commanded UK soldiers.

In fact, there is a long history of that kind of cooperation. During World War II, the Vichy regime's intelligence agents never told their German overlords that the UK had cracked their codes - even though they knew (and had helped the UK obtain) the Enigma decryption techniques.


Amidst the noise, one commentator has been worth listening to: ex-MoD official Nick Witney. He has speculated that if the UK-French cooperation is successful, it would be hard not to include other allies in time. For example the Poles or those nations who have fought in Helmand - the Danes for example.

But if this happens, then how would such an expanding non-institutional defence relationship sit with those already organised by NATO and the EU. Britain, for instance, is committed to NATO's Response Force, the UK-Dutch battlegroup (under EU auspices) and now the UK-French Joint Expeditionary Task Force. But it has one, rapidly dwindling set of forces.

There are important questions to ask of the Anglo-French treaties signed yesterday, but none of them concern 19th century battles.