Friday, March 01, 2013

Libya. Mali. Falklands?

British-French military integration is continuing as both countries attempt to afford real capabilities with diminishing money.

I am not pleased with British-French defense integration. Britain is kidding itself if it thinks that helping France in two military conflicts that Paris pursued (Libya and Mali) will get the French to help fight Argentina. Remember, the last time Britain fought Argentina, the Argentines fired French-made missiles at the British fleet.

This article paints a nice picture of French and British military cooperation, while making light of political differences:

"While the politicians may trade barbs, defense knows there's nowhere else to go other than working closely together," said James Arbuthnot, head of the British parliament's Defense Select Committee.

"At the defense level the cooperation and friendships are more than cordial, they are warm," he said, joking that he had forgiven France for killing an ancestor at Trafalgar.

That's lovely, and all, that their military personnel get along. No worries. I'm sure all the kinks of joint British-French operations have been worked out by now.

But to be sent to war requires the politicians to agree. And for quite some time, Britain will need France for sea-based air power. So what do the French think about that, given Arbuthnot's concerns about capabilities like naval aviation that Britain relies on France to provide?

"How can we be sure, and this is an existential question, that that capability would be available even after a change of government in our allied country and in circumstances where that ally profoundly disagreed with our policy?"

Paris sees the issue differently. "The Falklands is not a good question. What if? You have hundreds of cases with no answers," the French official said, adding the real question was whether a country could afford full military capability alone.

See? Nothing to worry about, Britain! The Falklands isn't a good question to ask when wondering about relying on the French. The French say so!

If I was a British planner, I'd watch French-Argentinian contracts very carefully. You never can tell what might be the tipping point that leads the French to let Argentina know when France's aircraft carrier will be unavailable for many months due to a major overhaul. Then, when the British ask France to borrow the carrier, the French can tell Britain it isn't a good question since the carrier isn't available even for France. So sorry.

And that's best case. The French politicians might not even worry about pretending to want to help. Is it really inconceivable to imagine the British asking France to expose their only carrier to Argentinian air power and submarines over the Falklands and the French telling the British to go to Hell? Britain can't imagine going anywhere else but to France, huh? Well there's one more, eh? The French politicians might even enjoy the look of surprise on the faces of the British, after the British mistook good military-to-military relations for a political willingness to help out Britain.

Look, I respect the French military. They have some good capabilities. But the French leadership has such a narrowly focused (and in my view warped, sometimes) view of their interests that Britain shouldn't count on the French sailing to the rescue.