A new Entente Cordiale
Will David Cameron travel to Paris for talks on a civil, as well as defence, nuclear strategy?
Notwithstanding their tense relations during the EU summits of 2011-2012, Britain and France are to today sign a bilateral agreement to co-operate on civil nuclear energy. The agreement will encapsulate deals worth an estimated £500 million between British and French companies, and is the clearest sign yet that a new generation of nuclear power stations, such as the proposed Hinkley Point C in Somerset, England, will be approved for construction.
On the 2nd November 2010, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy announced the development of the Defence and Security Co-operation Treaty, which established a platform for the co-operative research and development of British and French military resources and capability, moreover: “to collaborate in the technology associated with nuclear stockpiles stewardship in support of our respective independent nuclear deterrent capabilities.”
At the time of the defence agreement, a significant number of MPs and members of the press voiced concern over the implications of a joint taskforce and shared capability - concerns that have resurfaced today in relation to the pooling of civil nuclear resources. Whilst both are generally acknowledged as necessary in the wake of fiscal austerity on both sides of the Channel, many have been quick to point out that bilateral agreements stifle each party’s ability to act independently if they need to.
Intrinsic to many of the more recurring concerns over the defence agreement was the issue of the Falkland Islands or Islas Malvinas, which in 2010 - as a result of the discovery of possible oil reserves in the archipelago - were high on the agenda of British foreign and defence policy. MPs such as Bernard Jenkin expressed doubt over the likelihood of French support in the event of a second Falklands War, describing the French as having “a long track record of duplicity” with allies, and recommending that the UK government be “realistic” in its hopes for their support.
Of course, the Falklands are as much an issue, if not more, today than they were in 2010. Hector Timerman, the Argentine foreign minister recently described the UK’s claim to sovereignty of the islands as that of “colonialists”, and insisted that the UK was in the process of “militarising the South Atlantic”.
Cameron’s visit to Paris today is no doubt prompted by a primary need to discuss the British and French civil nuclear agreement, but one wonders whether - in light of recent provocations by Argentina and news that the UK may have stationed Trident nuclear missiles off the coast of the Falklands - his talks with Sarkozy are likely to include frank discussions about the readiness of UK armed forces in the South Atlantic, as well as the possibility of French co-operation in the event of full-scale military action.