Hopefully, I spoke too soon. In a blog dated October 7, 2010, I noted the conspicuous absence of the United Kingdom from a then-upcoming French-generated meeting of France, Germany and Russia for discussion of common security interests. The suggestion was that the British remained by choice apart in important ways from their continental allies, preferring to maintain that “special relationship” with their cousins across the sea, who themselves were heard grumbling about disguised Franco-German challenges to NATO supremacy in the area of collective security.
As reported in The New York Times of November 2, “Britain and France signed defense agreements on Tuesday that promised cooperation beyond anything achieved previously in 60 years of NATO cooperation, including the creation of a joint expeditionary force, shared use of aircraft carriers and combined efforts to improve the safety and effectiveness of their nuclear weapons.” The story was covered prominently and in considerable detail in other newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, appropriately so given the ground-breaking nature of the agreements, and need not be repeated here. One exception is the The Independent which, characteristically, could not resist heading its follow-up report “Sarkozy launches new era with gaffe” and including a conservative comment to the effect that French duplicity knows no bounds, witness the fact that “the French act in what they see as their strategic interests.” (This writer’s comment: gasp!) The “gaffe” in question, apparently, was Sarkozy’s admission that “I know there is a channel between our two countries.” (This is the same newspaper that headed its report on last year’s EU presidential election of Belgian Premier Herman van Rumpuy with the question, “Herman….Who?”)
Sarkozy’s comment was, of course, nothing more than a harmless diplomatic gift to Prime Minister David Cameron, a public acknowledgment of British sensitivity respecting national sovereignty – an issue, however, of no less importance to France, the United States, Georgia or Sri Lanka. More important to record is the fact that, to achieve agreement, France had withdrawn its proposal to merge the two nations’ nuclear-armed, defensive submarine fleets so as to require the presence of only one sub – of either nationality – on patrol at any one time, clearly a step too far for the UK at this time. Most important is what can be seen as a major shift in British policy. This is not to say that the UK might turn its back on NATO or the U.S. and head into the waiting arms of its EU partners for security purposes. One can hope, nevertheless, that the new Franco-British agreements signal a growing understanding that the channel can be bridged to nobody’s disadvantage, and that Washington will recognize that its own security interests have been well served.