Under heavy gray skies and unsettled seas off the coast of Scotland, French and British naval commanders stand side by side on the bridge of the French amphibious assault and helicopter carrier Tonnerre, observing their land, naval, and air assets operate seamlessly together.
It is October 2019, and the event is Exercise Griffin Strike, a bilateral amphibious exercise designed to validate the full operational capability of the maritime component of the Anglo-French Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF). When the CJEF becomes fully operational by the end of 2020, French and British forces will be able to deploy, at short notice, an “early entry” joint expeditionary force with command options in all three domains.
Building on NATO standards and procedures, and regularly assessed through large-scale exercises, the CJEF has increased the ability of both armies to swiftly intervene as a standalone force where and when necessary.
The CJEF is the result of the 2010 Lancaster House treaties, which codified the commitment of the French and British governments to strengthen their bilateral strategic, military, and industrial cooperation. Yet as the 10th anniversary of the treaties approaches in November, the future of Franco-British military and strategic cooperation is uncertain. The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union earlier this year, coupled with contentious negotiations over the future EU-UK relationship, has created a trust deficit that has put on hold any plans for revitalizing the UK-France bilateral defense partnership.
Yet setting the politics aside, it is clear that a constructive relationship between the United Kingdom and France remains in the national interest of both countries. Moreover, it is the best hope of generating a meaningful European security and defense capability capable of operating effectively both alongside and independent of the United States.
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