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France, Britain sign treaties calling for unprecedented military cooperation

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) jokes with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Lancaster House on November 2, 2010 in London. Britain and France vowed to work hand-in-glove Tuesday as their leaders signed a
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) jokes with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Lancaster House on November 2, 2010 in London. Britain and France vowed to work hand-in-glove Tuesday as their leaders signed a "historic" deal to create a joint force and share nuclear test facilities in an unprecedented era of defence cooperation. (Lionel Bonaventure - Afp/getty Images)
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By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 7:17 PM

PARIS - France and Britain signed treaties outlining unprecedented military cooperation Tuesday, including a joint rapid-deployment force and shared laboratories for maintaining and testing nuclear warheads.

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The pacts, announced at a summit conference in London between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, represents a new effort by Europe's two nuclear nations to set aside long-standing differences and pool resources to ensure that the need for drastic budget cutting does not jeopardize their standing in the military big leagues.

"This is a decision that is unprecedented and shows a level of trust and confidence between our two nations that is unequaled in history," Sarkozy said at a closing news conference.

Officials in Paris and London emphasized that the accords, which are scheduled to take effect immediately, will not require either nation to sacrifice its sovereignty. In particular, they said, Sarkozy and Cameron will still have sole say over deployment of their countries' nuclear weapons.

"Britain and France are, and will always remain, sovereign nations able to deploy our armed forces independently and in our national interest when we choose to do so," Cameron said.

The implication was that despite the costs entailed, the British and French navies, at least at this stage, would each continue independent patrols by submarines equipped with nuclear missiles, the main tool in their nuclear dissuasion strategies, military specialists said.

Francois Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said the treaties nevertheless broke important new ground with an agreement for joint simulated warhead testing and research at a French nuclear facility near Dijon, in southeastern France, and Britain's Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, in southern England. Both countries signed the 1996 nuclear test ban treaty, making simulation the only way they can guarantee that their warheads remain operational; carrying out the tests in shared laboratories marks a money-saving departure.

"This is completely unprecedented among European countries," Heisbourg said.

A Sarkozy aide, briefing reporters in Paris before the summit, said each country's nuclear establishment would still retain sole control over its own test results. This was in line with French thinking that nuclear decisions are the ultimate expression of national sovereignty and cannot be shared. When Sarkozy took France back into NATO's integrated military command last year, for instance, he stayed out of the nuclear planning committee, where the United States and Britain coordinate nuclear weapons policies.

Aside from plans to form a 5,000-member joint expeditionary force, among the most notable cooperative projects in conventional weaponry was a pledge to make the two countries' aircraft carriers compatible for use by each other's warplanes. Such compatibility has been the rule between the U.S. and French navies, Heisbourg noted.

France and Britain also agreed o train their helicopter and transport plane pilots together to save money and to make sure refueling tankers can link up with warplanes from either air force. These have been features of French-German military cooperation for some time. Moreover, they often have been cited as examples of what the European Union's 27 member states should all be doing as part of their much-discussed but largely theoretical European defense program.

Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi in London contributed to this report.


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