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British press fears for Falklands amid military tie-up with France

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2010-11-02

Elements of the British press have expressed concern that despite close political ties at present, a 50-year military treaty with France could jeopardise Britain’s ability to react independently.

It has been dubbed the ‘Entente Frugale’ – the United Kingdom and France on Tuesday signed an unprecedented military cooperation treaty designed to help both countries remain global players while also saving money.

The 50-year deal includes a new joint rapid reaction force of up to 5,000 troops, a shared nuclear testing facility and, by 2020, the sharing of aircraft carriers.

The deal is seen as essential by defence leaders on both sides of the channel as huge cuts are made to military budgets.

Defence chiefs from both countries set out their stall in editorials in Britain’s respected right-leaning broadsheet the Daily Telegraph and France’s equally conservative Figaro on Tuesday.

UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC there was “nothing in this treaty that restricts either country from acting where we want to in our national interest."

But in Britain’s traditionally anti-French popular press the mood was far more sceptical.

The UK’s two biggest-selling tabloids, the Daily Mail and the Sun – which together sell almost six million newspapers a day –, both raised the spectre of a catastrophic falling-out over issues that have the potential to divide the two nations politically.

Top of the list for the tabloids are the Falkland Islands, a small archipelago in the South Atlantic that was the scene of a bloody conflict in 1982 between the UK and Argentina, which both claim the Islands as their own.

Both papers argue that having an operational aircraft carrier – backed by independent political will – would be essential to counter any renewed aggression from Argentina.

And both believe this is an issue over which the French – unlikely to be led by a right-wing anglophile President like Nicolas Sarkozy for ever – would be likely to offer a “so-what” Gallic shrug and resolutely refuse to cooperate.

200-year-old prejudices

An opinion piece in the Daily Mail by retired Royal Irish Regiment Colonel Tim Collins – titled “Will we ever trust the French?” – opens with a reminder that “Horatio Nelson famously instructed his officers that, ‘you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil’ and that the Duke of Wellington proclaimed: ‘We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be detested in France.’”

“Well it seems now we are to be one with them – at least militarily,” he writes. “I must admit I am sceptical.”

Col. Collins remembers that France opposed British deployment to the Falkland Islands after the Argentine invasion of 1982, and worries that reliance on French aircraft carriers could put the British territory at risk.

“The problem is that, if we want to use a French aircraft carrier, we then have to seek the permission of the French,” he says. “If, for instance, the Falklands crisis were to flare up again, would they agree to their aircraft carrier braving the French-made Exocet missiles they sold to the Argentines to recover our islands? I very much doubt it.”

The Sun, which supported British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative election campaign, is equally wary of cooperation with France.

Political editor Tom Newton Dunn writes that when the sharing of carriers begins in 2020, Britain and the UK “will take turns to jointly operate the 65,000-ton HMS Queen Elizabeth and 42,000-ton Charles de Gaulle.

“Paris could veto any British plea to dispatch the Charles de Gaulle to the South Atlantic if Argentina threatens UK territory again.”

Remembering France’s staunch opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion, he concludes: “A strong, right-wing president like Nicolas Sarkozy would seem the perfect ally to our PM.

“He may be right. Today. What happens when elections come, faces change and agendas are redrawn?

“Neither man would have cooked up such a wing-and-a-prayer strategy if they weren't both broke.”

Date created : 2010-11-02


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