The Independent newspaper this morning repeats a claim made by some organisation on Twitter that I read last week suggesting that France is gradually supplanting Britain as the leading European [military] ally of the US – further weakening the paper suggests, the so-called ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America at a time “when both Brexit and the isolationism of President Trump are weighing on British security officials”. OMG, what absolute nonsense this is!
I was absolutely appalled at the very suggestion that anyone could imagine France occupying a more up-front role as a military ally to the US than the UK. Notwithstanding that our political relationship may not have been as strong over the past ten years as we might have wished and the President Trump has rightly put European NATO members under pressure to spend more on defence, to suggest that we are no longer the first partner of choice for the US in regard of having an ally that you can absolutely trust, I have yet to see any evidence that anything has changed in recent years.
The article makes the quite ridiculous claim that Libya was really the “last gasp” of Britain as a leading military power. Brexit, they say, is “just a continuation and acceleration of the extended existential crisis”. Again, what absolute rubbish this is!
They appear to forget that for years the UK fought alongside the US in Afghanistan and of our continuing importance as the principle ally of the US fighting the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Was it French military aircraft that went out twice a day to bomb IS targets in Iraq and Syria over the past five years? No it was Royal Air Force Tornado and Typhoon aircraft alongside those of USAF.
And who is it that maintains investment in defence as per the 2014 NATO agreement to work toward each member state spending 2% of GDP on defence? Not France which spends less than 1.78% of GDP on defence compared to the UK’s consistent level of 2% of GDP. And who is it that has invested in two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy in order to rebuild carrier strike capability, is buying more F-35 planes, investing more in Typhoon capability, restoring Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability and replacing Sentry E3-D ISTAR capability – yes, it’s the UK that is doing this and all the time making sure that what we buy is interoperable with our US and NATO allies.
And what about all that surface and sub surface capability the UK is building for the Royal Navy is the form of the ‘Astute’ class submarines, Type 26 Frigates, new Offshore Patrol Vessels and is planning Type 31 frigates? Once again we find it is the UK rather than France that is all but completely rebuilding necessary capability it needs with speed in order to ensure that it can play the role that NATO and our own defence strategy requires.
Which country is investing in the longer term future for combat air power capability in the form of Tempest? Yes, it is Britain yet again while others such as France and Germany dream on about having a partnership that deliberately excluded Britain because they were fearful of our knowledge and expertise. And I wonder, while France is like Britain a nuclear power, who is it that is investing in the next generation of continuously at sea nuclear deterrent capability? Yes, once again it is Britain.
Importantly, who is it that most often rises to the challenge of supporting our US NATO ally by making troops and equipment available? Is it France? Well, I don’t recall seeing any French troops or equipment in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria although I acknowledge they played a part in Libya.
The Independent article harps on about an assumption that Britain would not fight another war without America to which my retort is nonsense. If it is necessary we would. UK military equipment is not badly sapped as the article claims and whilst morale in the armed forces may not be perfect following the damage done my SDSR 2010 but I would say that the biggest thing that UK defence has to fear in regard of strategy and policy would be if Jeremy Corbyn was to find a route to Number 10!
I note that my defence analyst colleague Julian Lindley-French is quoted in the article saying “austerity-shrunken Britain is retreating behind a nuclear shield, no longer with the popular will or capacity to defend the Continent”. Sorry Julian – that is nonsense. Brexit may have damaged our attitude to our European friends but come high or hell water, if heaven forbid Russia was to attack any of our NATO allies in Europe we, just as America and Canada would also, be there ready to defend the call of freedom that binds us.
Yes, I agree that given the increased level of threat that we are too small in respect of our military capability both in respect of personnel and equipment. But we have so much that our other allies do not have and we are the ones that are still the most respected as military allies to work with. And who was it that has provided France with so much transport and ISTAR support over in Mali over the past few years – Germany perhaps or the USA? Bo, it was the UK that has supported its French allies just as they have supported us at times as we lacked maritime patrol aircraft capability to spot US submarines around our shores.
The authors of this rubbish would do as well to look back on history of the US relationship with France since 1940. If they did they would quickly learn that ever since Roosevelt the US has distrusted France. Personally I do not see that anything has changed!
CHW (London – 29th April 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785