February 3, 2010 2:00 am

UK seeks French defence entente

Britain is calling for enhanced military co-operation between the UK and France, saying greater defence collaboration with the European Union may be essential if the nation's armed forces are to operate on a reduced budget.

In a green paper to be published today that sets out the terms on which Britain will conduct its forthcoming Strategic Defence Review, the Ministry of Defence will reassert that no military alliance is more important to the UK than the one with Washington.

But the document, drawn up by Bob Ainsworth, defence secretary, will put an unexpectedly strong emphasis on the need for the UK to work with the EU if it is to maintain its role on the world stage.

The 52-page document, called Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review, applauds the decision by Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, to take France fully back into Nato: "The return of France to Nato's integrated military structures offers an opportunity for even greater co-operation with a key partner across a range of defence activity."

The paper will underscore the importance of European security and defence policy to a degree not seen in a government policy paper for some years.

"The UK will greatly improve its influence if we and our European partners speak and act in concert," it says. "A robust EU role in crisis management will strengthen Nato. Playing a leading role at the heart of Europe will strengthen our relationship with the US."

The green paper even suggests that Britain may need to re-examine the weight it attaches to its relationships with Nato and the EU: "The review will need to determine where there is scope to increase the effectiveness of those relationships in delivering our security or to rebalance our investments across the organisations."

The next government will take decisions after this year's general election on how it will restructure the armed forces, given the pressure on the UK public finances. In particular, it must decide whether to proceed with the current decision to construct two aircraft carriers.

However, defence experts believe the forthcoming defence review must not only examine the balance between the three armed services, but whether the UK should reconfigure its alliances with the US and EU.

Few defence officials expect an immediate warming of relations between Britain, France and the EU. David Cameron's Conservatives have, in the past, expressed strong scepticism about the EU's defence arrangements. But pressures on the UK defence budget may force the next government to look harder at whether it can avoid duplicating key defence assets with France and other EU states.

Future of defence, Page 3

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