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Ben Harris-Quinney: The UK needs to be more active in its military bilateralism in Europe

Harris-quinney BenBen Harris-Quinney is Chairman of the Bow Group and International Security Research Fellow.

Many will recall the November 2010 London Summit between the UK and France to announce the formation of a defence treaty binding the armed forces of the two nations together in a bilateral military alliance for a 50 year term.

It was greeted with some consternation in both countries and largely absent of operational clarity outside of existing NATO partnership; yet was the foundation of a bond of trust formed between Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy.

In 2012, in the run up to the French election, the military partnership between the two nations was strongly cited as Cameron offered vocal support to Sarkozy’s re-election campaign.

A treaty such as this designed to span 5 decades clearly cannot rely on elected officials alone, however it would seem that the treaty was at least in part linked to the relatively strong relations between Cameron and Sarkozy. It would therefore be reasonable to urgently consider if it retains the same strength and relevance following the May 2012 election of Francis Hollande as it once did, especially with the real and imminent possibility of further conflict in the Middle East.

The NATO Secretary General, Fogh Rasmussen, has said that “in the future we will see stronger regional co-ordination, taking the form of active bilateralism—choosing partners for particular issues.” It is clear from this and other statements that this is not something he simply predicts, he has openly advocated regional bilateralism within NATO.

Other European politicians and observers also seem to have reached a consensus that closer co-operation is bound to emerge among NATO/EU members, but not always reliant on NATO as a whole; based upon smaller regional partnerships within NATO, able to react more swiftly and efficiently without the necessity for lengthy bureaucratic discourse among a wider range of nations.

Whilst I find of concern the notion of a military treaty too heavily based on the sharing of key assets and reliant on full mutual agreement on all tactical decisions, the spirit of European bi-lateral partnership is one to be strongly advocated. 

The most ardent eurosceptics are rarely against partnership with nations in Europe, but partnership with Europe itself. One of the worst legacies of the EU is that it has entirely skewed all bilateral relations between European nations, forcing any issue between nations in Europe into an EU context.

After less than two years the French treaty may no longer hold the same strength it did in 2010 but even If there was and is cause for a military treaty between France and the UK, it seems wise to seek similar treatise with other geo-political/ideological neighbours also. NATO and the UN may be too big to work effectively for swift deployment, but more legs on the table of bilateral partners beyond France alone would offer the UK the best of both worlds.

Germany has expressed an interest in a similar treaty with the UK, and it is likely with most European countries cutting military budgets, many other potential partners will be willing to negotiate.

In European terms the UK has considerable military assets, ranging from intelligence resources to field deployment. This not only offers us the opportunity to be the senior partner in any negotiations, it also increases the likelihood of the UK being primus-inter-pares in its selection of additional bi-lateral partners.

Further bilateral military alliances within Europe would not only offer greater stability and strength to the UK’s global strategic position, but also for the UK to hold significant partnerships and dialogues with other European nations, entirely separate from the European Union.


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