L’Entente Frugale: is the Anglo-French defence treaty a Good Thing?

Aaron Ellis 7.46am

Those who were sceptical of the Anglo-French defence treaty will find it absurd that the House of Lords are due to discuss it today three months after it was signed. Countries don’t do confession boxes, so there is no good agonising over the virtues and vices of a deed if the deed was done some time ago. A lack of prior parliamentary scrutiny of a treaty is an unarguable criticism, but scrutiny now ought not to be as ignorant or as offensive as the reaction of some sceptics at the time.

Of the many things which encourage a mix of nostalgia and xenophobia in this country, being nice to the French is at the top of most lists. The mix is more potent when it comes to military co-operation. Peter Hitchens accused the Prime Minister of betraying the memory of Nelson; presumably the Royal Navy vacating the Mediterranean for the French before the First World War had not betrayed it already. Historian Andrew Roberts wrote that Britain has habitually found itself drawn into catastrophic wars whenever it has made an alliance with France. Even intelligent, critical commentators succumbed to la haine de la France.

The policy implications also excited hysteria. Hitchens raged that the treaty is “intended as the beginning of Federal European armed forces. These will be controlled by…the European Superstate they keep telling us doesn’t exist.” One serious blog on defence issues, Think Defence, took the same line as the not serious Hitchens.

We made the treaty with France because it was necessary for both countries to preserve their great power capabilities through this tough decade. As the expert Etienne de Durand wrote last year, “operational demands and the consequences of the financial crisis mean that Britain and France can no longer preserve independent military capability that fully support their aspirations as global powers.” This point was emphasised by The Economist a month later in it’s take on the treaty.

I believe the treaty is a Good Thing, and is not as extensive as the Treaty of Saint Malo, which Tony Blair negotiated with Jacques Chirac soon after coming to power. My concern is that the Government has not adequately explained this treaty in terms of its own grand strategy. That is a slippery slope towards making foreign policy according to treaties already made, and not the other way around.

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